The New England Journal of Medicine was founded 208 years ago. In that time, the journal has shied away from weighing in on U.S. presidential elections. That long precedent was broken this week when they urged citizens to vote Donald Trump out of office.
The Journal published an editorial signed by all 34 of its editors condemning Trump over his response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Understanding a global pandemic as a test of leadership, the NEJM editors wrote that “our leaders have failed that test.”
“Our rules on social distancing have in many places been lackadaisical at best, with loosening of restrictions long before adequate disease control had been achieved. And in much of the country, people simply don’t wear masks, largely because our leaders have stated outright that masks are political tools rather than effective infection control measures.”
“They have taken a crisis and turned it into a tragedy,” they wrote. “The magnitude of this failure is astonishing.”
While the U.S. government had every advantage needed to effectively confront the coronavirus, the editors wrote, “when the disease first arrived, we were incapable of testing effectively and couldn’t provide even the most basic personal protective equipment to health care workers and the general public.”
“And we continue to be way behind the curve in testing,” they added, pointing out that U.S. testing rates are still far behind much less wealthy countries including Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, and Kazakhstan.
The editors also made reference to many medical experts, including Dr. Rick Bright who resigned from his position at the National Institutes of Health Tuesday in public protest over the administration’s failures.
“The United States came into this crisis with enormous advantages,” the NEJM wrote. “Along with tremendous manufacturing capacity, we have a biomedical research system that is the envy of the world. We have enormous expertise in public health, health policy, and basic biology and have consistently been able to turn that expertise into new therapies and preventive measures. And much of that national expertise resides in government institutions. Yet our leaders have largely chosen to ignore and even denigrate experts.”
Titling the editorial, “Dying in a Leadership Vacuum,” the NEJM condemned Trump for choosing not to lead the country in a moment of crisis.
“Most of the interventions that have large effects are not complicated,” the editors wrote. “The United States instituted quarantine and isolation measures late and inconsistently, often without any effort to enforce them, after the disease had spread substantially in many communities. Our rules on social distancing have in many places been lackadaisical at best, with loosening of restrictions long before adequate disease control had been achieved. And in much of the country, people simply don’t wear masks, largely because our leaders have stated outright that masks are political tools rather than effective infection control measures.”
Editor-in-chief Dr. Eric Rubin told the New York Times that after spending months in which “pretty much every week in our editorial meeting there would be some new outrage” over Trump’s actions and inaction, the publication was compelled to respond.
“It should be clear that we are not a political organization,” Rubin told the Times. “But…how can you not speak out at a time like this?”
The NEJM did not directly endorse Biden but made clear that it is crucial to vote Trump out this November.
“Anyone else who recklessly squandered lives and money in this way would be suffering legal consequences. Our leaders have largely claimed immunity for their actions. But this election gives us the power to render judgment,” wrote the editors.
“When it comes to the response to the largest public health crisis of our time, our current political leaders have demonstrated that they are dangerously incompetent,” they continued. “We should not abet them and enable the deaths of thousands more Americans by allowing them to keep their jobs.”
You can read the full editorial HERE.