That was a hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a train wreck.” – Jake Tapper, CNN

Editor-In-Chief, Chester “Trip” Buckenmaier III, MD, COL (ret.), MC, USA

On Sept. 29, 2020, the first presidential debate was hosted in Cleveland by Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Clinic. Like millions of other Americans who believe the upcoming election is one of the most consequential in our 244-year history, I settled in with a beer to watch. I have been consuming the historical fiction series, “Vikings,” on Hulu that involves considerable hacking and slashing battle scenes. During the course of the debate, I was tempted to turn back to “Vikings” for something a little less traumatic and disturbing. The utter lack of decorum, disrespect and behavior not worthy of an angry toddler that characterized the discourse was indeed shocking for a United States presidential debate (I have witnessed more coordinated and informative discussions during barroom brawls). Following the debate, as my wife and I sat stunned on the couch like so many viewers worldwide who are concerned about the planet’s greatest democracy, Jake Tapper summed up the television experience perfectly. For a country failing miserably in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, many thousands out of work and concern about the viability of our democracy pervasive in the population, the presidential debate was not the affirming moment for which many citizens were hoping. I would suggest that Americans are thirsting for leadership, and the debates offered nothing but an intellectual desert.

As I pen this editorial, millions of Americans are actively voting in this historic election. My wife and I walked the 5-mile round trip to the post office with our mail-in ballots for the exercise and peace of mind that comes with knowing the vote made it. Maryland, where we vote, has the added advantage of allowing voters to track their ballot electronically through the board of elections website. As I wrote this sentence, my OCD kicked in, and I just went online to check that my vote is still marked as received—It is. Whew! Unfortunately, this editorial will be published well after election day on Nov. 3, 2020. However, I am confident the consumers of this column have all exercised their right and responsibility to vote. I am encouraged that early voting appears to be at historically high levels, especially since even the routine, peaceful transition of power that makes America the envy of the world has been called into question by our current leadership. In my 30-plus years of federal service, I have never felt this conflicted and fearful about the survival of the democracy I serve.

As American families struggle with the death, illness and financial uncertainty that have defined 2020, the need for clear, concise information and direction has rarely been as poignant as it is today. The secret sauce for surviving the seemingly endless body blows of 2020 to our society is leadership. I do not think it is unfair or overreaching to state that traditional sources of governmental leadership in our country have been fractured and failing in the face of COVID-19. Historically, when Americans have been told the truth concerning a challenge that faces our society, our society has responded with might and cohesion that has amazed our allies and dumbfounded our adversaries. When armed with correct information and led in a direction that benefits the union, our democracy has enjoyed awe-inspiring success. World War I and II, the Bill of Rights, equal rights, the moon landing, desegregation, Silicon Valley, modern medicine, and the list goes on. I am convinced that our society can overcome this latest challenge and emerge more robust and more resilient than ever before, if we are provided the leadership we desperately desire and constitutionally deserve. America blessedly has another opportunity to stake their claim on better leadership this November.

Throughout history, healthcare providers have served as key and essential givers of truth and leaders within their communities. Pam, a registered nurse, and I routinely are called upon by our neighbors to clarify medical concerns or provide advice. We even maintain a first-aid kit to bandage the cuts and scrapes that do not warrant a trip to the emergency room. Serving in this role is, from my perspective, part of the duty healthcare professionals assume when they take on the title of doctor or nurse.

The American healthcare community’s heroic and selfless efforts during this pandemic have been an inspiration and worthy of this nation’s gratitude. The “stock” of the healthcare profession has rarely been higher than it is today. Federal medicine has always been the prime example of selfless service to one’s fellow man. The purpose of this editorial is to both remind and thank all of you for your leadership during this pandemic. While many (politicians in particular) will be glad when 2020 is in the history books, many federal health providers, like you, will recall this time as their finest hour. As I stated earlier, my confidence in our democracy has been shaken. Still, my pride in my profession has never been greater. You guys are heroes and will be remembered as such when our society reflects back to try to understand this time.