Victor Davis Hanson
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is another classical example of mission deviation and subsequent enfeeblement—a sort of organism that mutated from its birthing and now simply becomes anything it wishes. In 2010 while on a visit to Cairo, then NASA chief Charles Bolden told Al-Jazeera that President Obama had outlined three new missions for NASA: to “re-inspire children to want to get into science and math,” to “expand our international relationships,” and, “perhaps foremost, he wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math, and engineering.”
Exploring space was not at the top of the Obama-Bolden agenda.
If one wondered why the U.S. had not returned to the moon or had not mounted a major new space initiative until May 2020, or why space exploration had become increasingly a matter for a more adept private sector, perhaps in part it was because NASA’s “foremost” expressed mission for eight years was no longer space exploration and travel, but inter alia to ensure that Muslim nations felt “good” about themselves.
Now again back to the CDC, which we remember had devoted its attention to fighting everything from racism to obesity, as if it had become the Center for Everything and thus Nothing.
When citizens wished to track the progress of the virus, they did not necessarily consult the CDC website. Instead, the “Worldometer” and the Johns Hopkins University websites were more detailed and more likely to be updated. More importantly, increasingly public officials began to distrust official CDC statistics about the number of cases and fatalities due to the virus, because of the agency’s lack of accountability or its susceptibility to political or media pressures and trends, or government programs that provided funds to hospitals on a per-Covid case basis. In May, critics argued that the CDC had overcounted the number of COVID-19 dead by as much as 25 percent, for a variety of political and financial reasons. Dr. Birx, the Coronavirus Response Coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force, in exasperation at the CDC’s various agendas and inability to track deaths, reportedly concluded, “There is nothing from the CDC that I can trust.”
The media understandably canonized the doyen of American epidemiologists and viral specialists, the septuagenarian Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), a “heroic” figure during the AIDS epidemic, and later the leader of the Trump Administration’s White House Coronavirus Task Force. Yet Fauci during the initial weeks of the infection reassured Americans that it would not be more pernicious than a bad flu year, and that everything from cruises to blind dates need not be cancelled.
Fauci then abruptly warned that shelter in place policies were critical to “flatten the curve” and avoid jammed hospitals incapable of admitting infectious COVID-19 patients.
When such scenarios rarely materialized, the mass quarantine was extended with the warning that vaccines were unlikely to be on the horizon, that the lethality to case rate might exceed 2-3 percent, that handshaking might disappear forever, that Americans would never return to “normal,” and that any state after two months of shut-downs that reopened might be subjecting its residents to mass death. (A shut-down New York would consistently record a higher fatality rate per million persons from COVID-19 than would open Florida and Texas, despite media condemnation of Floridian and Texan governance and praise for New York governor Andrew Cuomo’s stewardship that resulted in an Emmy Award for his press conferences—at least before he resigned in disgrace and was stripped of his Emmy.)
Then Fauci would reboot, and express optimism about vaccines, about the reduced fatality rate of the virus, that we likely would not reach his early death estimate of 240,000 Americans (The CDC says that over 705,000 have died from COVID-19, with more perishing in 2021 than in 2020), and about the deleterious effects of the lockdown that might exceed the dangers of the epidemic. The cycles of doom and optimism repeated without apologies for past error, but with greater certainty about predictions of future calamities, as the public did its best on its own to balance conflicting concerns over a declining economy, a devastating mass quarantine, mass rioting and protests, and terror over infection.
By mid-July 2020, the finest minds of the state medical public agencies could not decide whether the virus was waning, mutating, or strengthening, or infecting more or fewer, hospitalizing more or fewer, or killing more or fewer people. Definitions of what constituted the denominator total of those actually infected and the numerator number of those perishing from the disease were still rarely agreed upon and so changed frequently. Thus, the real lethality of the virus remained unknown, although it was soon growing clear that somewhere around one percent or less of those infected under the age of 65 would die from the disease, over 90 percent of whom suffered from serious comorbidities. What was certain was that tens of thousands of the unelected in hundreds of state and federal agencies were weaponized and—as supposedly disinterested professionals—predicated much of their medical, military, media, and government analyses on perceived political pressures and agendas.
What will future generations say of COVID-19?
1) That its outbreak in an election year and the era of Trump meant that almost immediately it was weaponized in “don’t let a serious crisis go to waste fashion”?
2) That as government agencies proved politicized, ossified, and often wrong, the more so they were given power over the lives of Americans. What started out as federal agencies rushing to stop a pandemic ended up with unelected health officials determining whether Americans could go to church, collect rent on their properties, and be fired for work for not having been vaccinated, even though artificially acquired antibodies proved less efficacious against the virus than the naturally acquired immunity that had developed from a prior case of COVID-19—which some 100 million Americans possessed.
3) That “science” suffered a tremendous loss of prestige as health-care professionals en masse sign petitions exempting BLM protestors from quarantine, masking, and social distancing edicts, as Dr. Fauci could never explain why a soldier or federal employee with proof of prior infection was required to be vaccinated, even though he was more immune to infection than the vaccinated, and why medicines and treatment protocols were not systemized and disseminated to the general public, rather than the chimaera of a perfect, pandemic-ending-for-good magic vaccination.
4) That the Chinese government repeatedly lied, covered up the origins and nature of the virus, refused to release critical records, and was caught in serial untruths—even as grandees in the West from Bill Gates to Anthony Fauci praised their pseudo-ecumenical outreach to combat the pandemic that they birthed.
5) That the Constitution is waning in the hearts and minds of Americans when a virus that kills less than 1 percent of those under 65 can become a reason to suspend many of the guarantees in the Bill of Rights, change the very nature of 233-years of voting in national elections, and vastly empower those who were never elected to anything.