More appropriate nominees for ‘Person of The Year’
Albeit in a unique context, December 2021 features family gatherings, resolutions for 2022, and all sorts of awards. Here are three nominees for Person of the Year, selected for their efforts to address the existential crises we face: the pandemic, global warming, and threats to American democracy.
1) A world-renowned epidemiologist, specializing in the regulation of human immune responses, Dr. Anthony Fauci has been director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984, serving under seven presidents. Fauci’s portfolio at the NIAID includes preventing, diagnosing, and treating established and emerging infectious diseases. He was a principal architect of President George W. Bush’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, credited with saving millions of lives around the globe.
A leading member of President Trump’s Coronavirus Task Force, Fauci acknowledges he made some mistakes. In the winter of 2020, for example, when relatively little was known about how COVID-19 spread, Fauci indicated that most Americans did not need to wear masks. But his principal challenge was balancing recommendations that followed the science with the public pronouncements of Trump, who declared that the virus would disappear, “like a miracle,” with warm weather; mocked masking; asserted that the United States was conducting too many tests; claimed that “natural immunity” provides better protection than vaccines; deemed hydroxychloroquine a “game changer”; and told opponents of mitigation mandates to “liberate Michigan.”
In 2020 and 2021, when he became President Biden’s chief adviser on the pandemic, Fauci, who has never endorsed a political candidate, has been subjected to vitriolic denunciations from opponents of his common sense, life-saving recommendations. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), whose state requires schoolchildren to be vaccinated against many diseases, railed against a “Faucian dystopia” in which Americans cannot decide how to protect themselves in a pandemic. U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) proclaimed that Fauci should be jailed for five years for lying to Congress and fired because “he cost people’s lives through misinformation.” Death threats compel Fauci and his family to be shadowed by security guards. This week, Fox News host Jesse Watters told students at a conservative conference that a video in which Fauci was ambushed with “kill shot” questions and “Boom, he’s dead” was sure to go viral.
At age 80, Fauci soldiers on: “You train as an infectious disease person and you’re involved in public health as I am, if there is one challenge you cannot walk away from, it’s the most impactful pandemic in 102 years.”
2) Founded 25 years ago, the Clean Air Task Force is a modern-day David confronting fossil-fuel corporate Goliaths and politicians who take campaign contributions from them. Having received a 4-Star rating from Charity Navigator, the Task Force was recently named the most high impact, cost-effective, evidence based climate change organization. The Task Force has helped put in place policies that dramatically reduce emissions causing smog and soot and mercury; that upgrade, retire, and replace diesel engines causing disease and premature death; that require utilities in a few states to deliver carbon free electricity by 2050; and that reduce methane emissions from oil and gas equipment.
Current Clean Air Task Force initiatives include: large scale carbon capture and storage deployment through government subsidies for private sector programs; defending regulations on coal power plants and oil and gas emissions against attempts to get federal agencies and courts to dilute or replace them. The Task Force has also committed to a rigorous assessment of nuclear power as an alternative form of energy.
About 60 percent of Americans say it is “very” or “extremely” important for the government to address global warming. An even greater percentage want tougher restrictions on carbon emissions from power plants. But very few Americans make climate change legislation one of their top priorities.
The clock is ticking.
Much more must be done. And so, the Clean Air Task Force and other non-partisan, non-profit environmental organizations with modest budgets and small staffs, continue fighting on behalf of future generations.
3) Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) is a conservative Republican. She voted with President Trump 92.9 percent of the time, more often than Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), and Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.). Cheney declared that impeaching Trump for holding up arms shipments until Ukraine announced an investigation of Hunter Biden would “damage our Republic.” She voted against President Biden’s American Rescue Plan, voting rights legislation, background checks on guns, and reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act.
But she voted to impeach Trump in January 2021 and warned her Republican colleagues that “Remaining silent and ignoring the lie emboldens the liar.”
“Almost all of you know in your hearts that what happened on Jan. 6 was profoundly wrong,” Cheney added. “You know there is no evidence of widespread fraud sufficient to overturn the election; that the Dominion voting machines were not corrupted by a foreign power. You know those claims are false.”
Republicans removed Cheney from her leadership position in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Wyoming Republican Party formally censured her. Officials in one-third of the counties in the state no longer recognize her as a Republican. And she faces an uphill battle for re-election to the House in 2022.
Cheney remains undaunted and undeterred.
In choosing its Person of the Year, Time Magazine says it seeks someone who “most affected the news and our lives, for good or ill, and embodied what was important about the year.”
These days, it seems to me, we should give a shout-out to a person or group who inspires us to follow the science, pursue a career in public service, choose principle over party, speak truth to power, protect and preserve our democracy and our planet.
Glenn C. Altschuler is the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies at Cornell University. He is the co-author (with Stuart Blumin) of “Rude Republic: Americans and Their Politics in the Nineteenth Century.”
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