A Follower Who Lives in Fear

Author’s note: For the indefinite future, my digital articles will be short and shorter – and few and fewer!

Why? Because I’ve gotten myself ensnared in writing another book – a book that will appear after the next one. My next book – to be published in October by Cambridge University Press – is co-authored with Todd Pittinsky. It is titled, Leaders Who Lust: Power, Money, Sex, Success, Legitimacy, Legacy. 

No need to go to Russia to find one – followers living in fear. We have them here, quite a number, in fact, easily found working in or near the White House.    

Look, for example, at Stephen Hahn. Poor, poor Stephen Hahn. He’s in an esteemed position, highly esteemed. He’s the Commissioner of the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA). So, what’s the problem? Can he possibly be a follower who lives in fear? The follower to whom I refer?

Well, yes, he can be, and yes and he is. What a week Hahn has had! Last Saturday President Trump charged the FDA was making it hard for drug companies to enroll people in clinical trials for vaccines and therapies to combat Covid-19. He suggested the agency’s slow walking was intentional, deliberate, that Hahn’s agency was doing it for political reasons. “Obviously, they’re hoping to delay the answer until after November 3rd,” the president tweeted.  

What happened after that? Hahn caved. Within no more than a day or two he, in tandem with the president, made a grand announcement at a specially called press conference, both telling their eager audiences that a new convalescent plasma was “a major advance in the treatment of patients.”

What happened after that? Virtually immediately Hahn was attacked. Mercilessly savaged by his medical and scientific colleagues for having used a deeply misleading statistic to back his claims that the plasma treatment would save 35 out of every 100 lives. One medical expert, Dr. Eric Topol, told National Public Radio, “I can’t remember a mistake by the FDA or the commissioner as serious as this one.”      

What happened after that? Hahn caved again. This time to apologize, admitting that the criticisms of him were justified, trying to explain his error by saying it was a poor choice of words. “What I should have said better is that the data show a relative risk reduction not an absolute risk reduction.”

What an awful story. Awful because it undercuts still further Americans’ trust in the scientific establishment. Awful because demeans and diminishes the man whose word we should be able without even a scintilla of doubt to accept. Awful because it reveals Donald Trump yet again to be a bully. A backyard, barnyard bully who is able over and over, and over again to insult and intimidate his underlings.

Had Hahn had the fortitude to stand up to the president’s bullying, he might’ve been fired. But unlikely he would’ve been, as Putin has been known if not prone to do, poisoned. Of what then followers like Hahn are afraid of remains one of the mysteries of the human condition.

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