Heal our Nation and Repair the World — Vote for Change

Rear Admiral Mitchell Cohen, MD, USPHS (Ret),
Rear Admiral Scott Deitchman, MD, MPH, USPHS (Ret),
Rear Admiral Jim Lando, MD, MPH, FACPM, USPHS (Ret)

Is not this the fast that I choose — to unlock the shackles of wickedness, and loosen the bonds of the yoke, to set the downtrodden free — and to break every yoke? Yes, to offer your bread to the hungry, and bring the wretched poor into your house. When you see someone naked, you should clothe him, and your own flesh do not ignore. — Isaiah 58:6–7

Less than a month ago, Jews around the world spent the days of awe reflecting on our relationship with God and our fellow human beings. Once again, we heard the revolutionary and timeless words of the prophet Isaiah, and were called to be active partners in the aspirational idea of tikkun olam, repairing the world. These words conveyed special meaning this year as the Jewish people, our Nation, and the world confront a deadly global pandemic that has already sickened well over 8 million Americans and killed more than 225,000.

The three of us have served in senior leadership positions of the US Department of Health and Human Services as Assistant Surgeons General. We have dedicated our lives to creating a more just society by improving the health of all Americans. We have been involved in epidemic and pandemic responses that were national crises, from Legionnaires’ disease to the anthrax attacks to SARS to pandemic influenza. As physicians, scientists, and public health professionals whose careers in public service have been firmly rooted in our Judaism, we see that the health of our nation is currently broken, but believe that voters from all faith traditions can have a significant role in repairing it. The upcoming election will determine whether we finally address the deadly pandemic and begin improving the general health of the Nation.

During our careers, we have witnessed effective crisis leadership. Previous presidents understood the importance of national leadership, truthful crisis communication, science and expertise, and coordination and collaboration with all levels of governmental, public, and private sector partners. They valued and depended on the expertise and recommendations of experts in scientific agencies throughout the government. They recognized that “no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy”. They learned, evaluated data and advice, and adapted. Their primary goals were to rapidly control the crisis and prevent unnecessary illness and deaths.

President Trump’s mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on our nation’s health. He repeatedly downplayed the threat, spread misinformation, pushed ineffective and dangerous treatments, and displayed risky personal behaviors. He attempted to influence Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations and Food and Drug Administration approvals and criticized or silenced the country’s public health experts. He undermined the most basic, but effective prevention strategies available to all Americans: wearing masks, observing social distancing, and avoiding crowded high-risk environments. The politicization of public health by the Trump Administration has resulted in a toll of disease and death greater than in any other developed nation, as well as societal turmoil and economic ruin. Far too many of the President’s Congressional enablers have been either silent or complicit.

When combined with the underlying poor health of many Americans, President Trump’s mishandling of the pandemic has had devastating consequences. Despite all the advances in medical treatment during the last century, we are still not a healthy society. Over half of Americans have one or more chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, and 42 percent of adults and 19 percent of children are obese. Poor health is affected by disparities in income, employment, education, housing quality, environmental conditions, public safety, health systems and transportation. One of us lives in a county that has as much as a 12-year difference in life expectancy between zip codes. Considering the millions of Americans who lack health insurance or access to quality health care, it is not surprising that we have such a high burden of ill health.

Yet for almost four years, President Trump and his supporters in Congress disparaged science and sabotaged efforts to encourage healthy behaviors while cynically attacking many of the structures that support our public health. Efforts to overturn the Affordable Care Act, withdraw from the World Health Organization (WHO), weaken regulations on environmental hazards, and ignore human causes of climate change all have serious health implications, which often disproportionately affect the most vulnerable members of our society.

Our best hope for healing our Nation and repairing the world lies with new leadership. We need leaders who speak the truth, listen to experts, value science, display empathy toward their fellow citizens, and bring people together to assure the common good. We need leaders who understand that to be a healthy nation, we must support education, science, and technology; address disparities in health equity; provide accessible, affordable, and quality health care; emphasize preventive health; and rebuild a strong public health system to prepare us for the next pandemic. We believe Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are the leaders our country needs to make this happen.

We can begin to fix our broken world. Tikkun olam begins by voting for a President and a Congress that share our vision for a healthy and United States of America.

All three coauthors are former Assistant Surgeons General and retired Rear Admirals of the US Public Health Service. Mitchell Cohen is a physician who led infectious disease organizations at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Scott Deitchman is a physician who led CDC public health emergency responses and served in the White House 2006–2007. Jim Lando is a physician who led the CDC’s 2003 coronavirus Emergency Response Team in Taiwan and served as a Regional Health Administrator for the US Department of Health and Human Services.