On August 5, 1966, Martin Luther King Jr. marched through the streets of Cicero, Illinois, a racist white town not known for its acceptance of people of color. And that’s putting it mildly. King was met with hurled bricks and bottles. One rock struck him and brought him to his knees.
“I have never seen, even in Mississippi and Alabama, mobs as hateful as I’ve seen here in Chicago,” King said at the time.
Yet, he kept marching, right up to the day he was murdered in Memphis on April 4, 1968. He was courageous, speaking out when he was confronted with falsehoods, unafraid of any blowback from racists, police, or politicians.
Earlier this year, April 23 to be precise, Dr. Deborah Birx, the “response coordinator” for the Trump administration’s White House Coronavirus Task Force, sat rigid in a Pence-like stupor as President Donald Trump dangerously suggested that we all should consider injecting ourselves with disinfectants, UV rays, or some combination of the two, to rid ourselves of COVID-19. Although he denies it, Trump was directly addressing Birx with his snake oil proposals. She looked uncomfortable, but she remained silent, perhaps thinking about her scarf.
But not for long. She soon popped up on FOX News to defend Trump. “When he gets new information, he likes to talk that through out loud.”
Dr. Birx defends the President: When he gets new information, he likes to talk that through out loud and really have that dialogue and so that’s what dialogue he was having. I think he just saw the information at the time immediately.. and he was still digesting that information pic.twitter.com/3XrNvs8UjX
— Acyn Torabi (@Acyn) April 24, 2020
Then, making the rounds of the Sunday news shows, the good doctor who was bothered that the story was still in the news cycle told FOX News’ Jesse Watters: “I think the media is very slicey and dicey about how they put sentences together in order to create headlines … We know for millennials in other studies that some people may only read the headlines. And if there’s not a graphic, they’re not going to look any further than that.”
In between Doc Birx dutifully reciting the West Wing’s talking points, many of the well-compensated talking heads on CNN and MSNBC shook their collective coiffures and, reciting their own talking points, said wasn’t it a shame that an eminent physician such as Birx was placed between “a rock and hard place”? She can’t really push back against the president’s quackery, they lamented, because she might lose her seat at the table.
This, of course, is the “adult in the room” theory that has dogged our combustible president since the day he took office. Without the steady hand of the generals to guide him away from his instincts, well, who knows what might happen? The generals were all chased away from the table and, today, all that remain are loyalists and blood relatives.
Yet, I would have much more respect and admiration for Birx if she had stood up during that infamous press briefing, adjusted her Hermes scarf, and said, “No, Mr. President, those unproven ideas are wrong and extremely harmful to Americans. We would never want our citizens to ingest, insert, or inject disinfectants into their bodies.”
This is a good time to remember the physician’s Hippocratic Oath: “first, do no harm.”
This past weekend, the New York Times further exposed Dr. Birx’s complicity in an article that outlined the many failures of the Trump administration as it basically downplayed, ignored, and passed the buck in its non-handling of the pandemic. According to the article, Dr. Birx “was a constant source of upbeat news for the president and his aides, walking the halls with charts emphasizing that outbreaks were gradually easing.”
Imagine the worst thing that might happen if Birx had ever pushed back on the president. Trump has a temper tantrum and she gets dismissed from the task force. At 64 years old, one speculates that she has more than enough resources to live out the rest of her life. She might even be hailed as a hero. And we’d still have Tony Fauci.
I would never compare the level of Dr. King’s singular bravery to anyone in this solar system, but I would like to draw your attention to Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and Navy Capt. Brett Crozier.
In Vindman’s case, this decorated war hero told the truth about Trump’s dirty dealings with Ukraine during the president’s impeachment trial. Trump then summarily insulted him (‘very insubordinate”), dismissed him from the National Security Council, and had him unceremoniously escorted from the White House.
Navy Capt. Crozier, commander of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, was so alarmed by the Navy’s rather tepid response to his crew’s growing COVID cases that he dared write a letter to his superiors pleading for help. He was rewarded with a dismissal from his command and the usual out-the-door insults that Trump loves to lob toward military men. “I thought it was terrible, what he did, to write a letter.”
Both Vindman and Crozier risked their careers because they had taken their own oath: to tell the truth no matter what. History will remember them as men of character and courage.
When historians look back at the spectacular failure of the Trump administration’s response to the worst pandemic in our lifetimes, how will they remember Dr. Birx? I doubt it will be for her scarves.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.