The best and the brightest; The worst and the dumbest

in Coronavirus/Voices by

By David Taub 

It is May 22. American deaths from COVID-19 have reached a staggering 95,000 plus, the highest in the world.

This pandemic has stolen our friends, neighbors and families in the blink of an historical eye in barely three months. Daily, two thousand or more are being added to this ignominious list, whose names will remain etched in our hearts and memorie

It is tens of thousands more than the 58,220 Americans killed during the many long years of the ill-fated Vietnam War, of which the hallowed names of the dead are etched in granite to live as a reminder and memorial to their gallant sacrifices.

I reflect on the Vietnam war because too few folks remember how divided our country was over that hollow tragedy.

As a UCLA graduate student, I vividly recall running from the police on campus as they fired teargas and viciously swung truncheons — they seemed to be having fun. Us students wore masks, too, but for vastly different reasons.

When the most trusted name in journalism, Walter Cronkite, told the nation that “the war is lost,” LBJ knew he was done. “I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your president …” he announced to a stunned public.

The toxic reality of sharp destructive divisions engulfing our republic today is not so dissimilar from what I experienced half a century ago. Both were engendered by a failure of leadership.

David Halberstam, a brilliant historian, published The Best and the Brightest in 1969. He vividly demonstrated that decisions by our smartest civilian and military leaders were responsible for the shameful deaths of many thousands of America’s young warriors (and millions of southeast Asians, mostly civilians), all for naught.

That list of LBJ’s best and brightest included the Bundy brothers, LBJ’s closest advisors, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, General Maxwell Taylor and members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

General McMaster, Trump’s first Secretary of Defense, and his “best and brightest” (regrettably McMaster did not last long at the military’s helm) published a searing indictment, titled Dereliction of Duty (1997), detailing the vast government conspiracy of out-and-out lies intentionally perpetrated by LBJ and his henchmen to underwrite their decisions.

A devastating recital, what Mark Twain would tell us was, “lies, damned lies and statistics.”

Remember the daily statistic of “enemy body counts,” a disgusting index that indicated we were “winning?” The mother of all lies.

There are too many correspondences between these seminal events — the Vietnam War and COVID-19 pandemic — to give me comfort that we are again being led by our “best and brightest.”

Outrageous lies and falsehoods laid upon the American people about COVID-19 by our “leaders,” parallel the volcanic interface with Americans characterizing the Johnson Vietnam era. We all know how that turned out: Not so good.

I have opined at length about the critical importance of trust in our government, which continues to slip away, as a flood of polls reveals that a majority of the public is losing confidence in government. Providing strong and competent governing captaincy is difficult enough in “normal” times; even more so in abnormal times.

We need our “best and brightest” guiding us through the treacherous minefield of our most existential challenge in over a century. Fortunately, a cadre of our “best and brightest” heroes seems to be located in the health and science arenas.

Sadly however, too many national and state leaders are intent on either ignoring them or contradicting their sage common-sense advice. Instead, they proffer outlandish conspiracy theories or imaginary protective remedies.

Indeed, our real heroes are now being called “the enemy” by our so-called “leaders.”

Hello! In case you haven’t noticed, the “enemy” is a coronavirus-caused illness named COVID-19.

Our leaders have politicized and weaponized what should be a unified, non-partisan, cooperative effort to conquer this non-partisan killer. Instead, we get daily servings of cold pabulum, masquerading as truth (small “t”), spewed from lying mouths for personal naked political purposes. It is just the groan of “white” noise — division, distraction, destruction.

Have we now “the worst and the dumbest?”

Our political leaders should be guided by our third President, Thomas Jefferson, truly one of the best and brightest minds of any generation: “He who permits himself to tell a lie once, finds it much easier to do it a second and a third time, till at length it becomes habitual: he tells lies without attending to it, and truths without the world’s believing. This falsehood of the tongue leads to that of the heart, and in time depraves all its good dispositions.”

To that, I say, Amen!

David M. Taub was Mayor of Beaufort from 1990 through 1999, and served as a Beaufort County Magistrate Judge from 2010 to 2015. He may be contacted at david.m.taub42@gmail.com.