Many American Mindset readers no doubt saw the internet dustup recently about Joe Biden’s wife Jill insisting she be called “Dr.” because of her Doctorate in Education (her Twitter handle is of course @DrBiden and her Twitter title is the full and pretentious “Dr. Jill Biden”). Hillary Clinton waded into this controversy with her usual sanctimony:
At the Claremont Institute and The American Mind we mock relentlessly anyone who insists on being called a Dr. because of their non-medical graduate degree. You might merit “Professor” if you are actively teaching undergraduate or graduate students, and even then only by your students or other non-peers at your institution. Anyone who has a cursory knowledge of the corruption of the education establishment (especially K-12) knows that for the most part graduate degrees in Education are kind of a joke and that the “Education” field in higher ed is a malevolent force in American society. (No insult meant to the many hard-working public school teachers out there who get Masters degrees in Education to max-out their lifetime compensation and help support their families.)
Another outrage on and around Twitter at about the same time was brought to us by a quote in a New York Times piece about COVID vaccine distribution:
Harald Schmidt, an expert in ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania, said that it is reasonable to put essential workers ahead of older adults, given their risks, and that they are disproportionately minorities. “Older populations are whiter, ” Dr. Schmidt said. “Society is structured in a way that enables them to live longer. Instead of giving additional health benefits to those who already had more of them, we can start to level the playing field a bit.”
But to protect older people more at risk, he called on the C.D.C. committee to also integrate the agency’s own “social vulnerability index.”
The index includes 15 measures derived from the census, such as overcrowded housing, lack of vehicle access and poverty, to determine how urgently a community needs health support, with the goal of reducing inequities.
The man’s an expert, you see, and our expert class get more “woke” by the day. Vaccine rollout should not primarily be focused on preventing deaths (that is, on “health”), but rather on “reducing inequities.” “Dr.” Schmidt has a Ph.D. (no, wait, two of them!) in Public Health.
Much of our current COVID ideological posturing (and thus our often confused, arbitrary, and capricious policies around it) is explained by the history and evolution of our “public health” regime in America. The modern public health profession was born in the progressive era, reached adolescence after the New Deal and into the 1950s, then grew into adulthood during the Great Society. In other words, it is part of the “expert” or “scientific” (or to get fancy, “rational”) governing superstructure that has been grafted onto our founding constitutional system, but which has never been integrated in consonance with American constitutionalism or self-government.
This new way of doing governance is best understood these days as a public-private partnership and ecosystem that encompasses: our universities, national and state bureaucracies and administrative agencies, big philanthropy, and linked at the hip with like-minded NGOs across the world.
“Public health” as a discipline in America was always a project infused with the progressive spirit: if we could only have the right scientific expertise, efficiently organized, funded, and deployed from the center, we could solve our most pressing problems of public health. The sentiment is not evil and need not necessarily be corrupt, but it tends to resist or disdain the genius of American republicanism given to us by the Founders: the sovereignty of the people wielding power and control (yes, even over scientists and administrators) through elected representatives and executives. Public health is one of many modern professional administrative disciplines that hide behind a myriad names that sound benign. Who could be against public health?!
Progressivism has grown arrogant and overconfident in “science” (hence the haughty bark, “trust the science”) over the last century, and has always wanted to place “expertise” on one side and “politics” on the other (hence the demigod-like status given to unelected officials like Fauci and Birx). The progressive mentality is also bipartisan. There are precious few politicians of any party at any level that consistently and intelligently resist deference to administrators and “experts.” Governors like Ron DeSantis and Kristi Noem stand out as exceptions that prove the rule.
Especially in the last 10 years, progressivism has gone increasingly “woke.” This goes for the entire public-private ecosystem described above. The Association of Schools & Programs of Public Health (ASPPH), the self-described “voice of academic public health” commits itself to be “directed in our efforts by the tenets of public health: human rights, social justice, and health equity.” Conspicuously absent is an unadorned commitment to, simply, public health.
We all need to reorient ourselves and our understanding of modern government. Our default response to government and its claims to expertise ought to be extreme skepticism. This is increasingly so post-COVID, which has turned out to be a half-manufactured crisis cynically exploited to transfer wealth and political power. Those rents will not be clawed back anytime soon, alas, and government-by-crisis will be the new norm. The U.S. was already trending in that direction.
We should reserve our most extreme skepticism for the increasing number of academic, “expert,” and government claims on matters of identity politics, whether based on race, gender, sexual identity, or whatever else. This latest obsession of the left threatens to unmake America. The power, prestige, and wealth transfer opportunities are nearly endless given the size and trajectory of our state and federal governments.