Dr. Amy Acton resigned suddenly last week as the Director of the Ohio Department of Health. She had been the widely-popular face and voice of the state’s efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus, being a featured part of Governor Mike DeWine’s daily televised briefings. For many, the briefings were a must-watch program largely due to Dr. Acton’s direct, honest and compelling updates and advice. According to an April 2020 poll, Dr. Acton, a Youngstown, Ohio native who grew up abused, neglected and periodically homeless, had a favorable rating of nearly 64% among Ohio registered voters, with nearly 84% saying that they trusted the coronavirus information she provided.¹ Many videos have been posted on line by young children — especially girls — playing the role of Dr. Acton in her daily broadcasts, complete with a white lab coat she wore daily. A Facebook fan club has 132,000 members. An adoring cartoon celebrating her warm, calm and professional demeanor and a testament to her popularity, based upon the 1970s television program ‘Laverne & Shirley,’ was produced by an unemployed Ohio citizen as an opening to the governor’s daily briefings.² Perhaps the ultimate testament to her popularity: a bobblehead of Dr. Acton was released recently by the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum.³ (The Hall of Fame, which apparently does exist, had previously released bobbleheads of Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx.⁴)
As they say in public health circles, don’t expect to be a rock star. Aside from Dr. Fauci, the exception may be Dr. Amy Acton.
But that all came to an abrupt end last week with her resignation, as the country approached the 2.1 million mark of confirmed COVID-19 cases and surpassed 115,000 deaths.⁵
As has been the case throughout the country, state public officials have come under increasingly emotional, if not truly vicious, pressure to reopen the country. Dr. Acton, with the governor’s support (a Republican, if that matters), took the side of caution — to the benefit of Ohioans. Despite being the 7th most populous state in the nation, Ohio ranks 35th in total coronavirus cases per 100,000 people and 19th in COVID-19 deaths per 100,000. “It’s not true all heroes wear capes,” said Governor DeWine. “Some of them do, in fact, wear a white coat, and this particular hero’s white coat is embossed with the name Dr. Amy Acton.”⁶
What undoubtedly contributed to the ire directed at Dr. Acton, as evident by the signs of protesters, some carrying rifles — rifles — outside of her suburban Columbus, Ohio home and in front of the state capital, is the fact that she is Jewish. The photo above, taken outside the Ohio Statehouse, captures but one example of the anti-Semitic vile directed at her.⁷ Indeed, some found Dr. Acton’s being Jewish a useful and convenient rallying cry for her attempts to ‘destroy Ohio.’ This repugnant view was shared by Ohio State Rep. Nino Vitale, who referred to Dr. Acton in a Tweet as a ‘globalist,’ which is a long-standing anti-Semitic epithet.⁸ Previously, the wife of Ohio State Senator Andrew Brenner used Facebook to compare statements by Dr. Acton to ‘edicts of Nazi Germany,’ to which Brenner added his support: ‘We will never allow that to happen in Ohio.’⁹ The post was taken down and apologies abounded, but the damage was done.
Hate is in the air — and is deeply embedded in the hearts of many. There are those who hate the Black Lives Matter movement and those who hate that overt signs of African American oppression — the Confederate flag, statues depicting Confederate generals and slave traders — are being expunged from the country. There are those who hate anyone who would consider renaming U.S. military bases named to honor Confederate generals and those who hate those who believe that policing in this country needs a significant makeover. There are those who hate officials delaying the reopening of the country and those who hate the requirement that everyone wear masks and practice physical distancing (regardless of the risk they pose to others if they choose not to). There are those who hate Republicans, those who hate Democrats, those who hate Fox News and those who hate MSNBC. There are those who hate immigrants and those who hate Jews.
There are plenty of the latter in Ohio. Just ask Dr. Acton.
It takes work to hate. From a psychological perspective, hate requires an enormous amount of psychic energy, making it difficult to attain and maintain the high level of emotion required to sustain hate over an extended period of time. This may explain, in part, why humans seek out others who share their particular hatred. Being surrounded by others who feel similarly may provide the reinforcement needed to sustain their hate.
Many argue that those who hate do so to increase their personal sense of power and self-esteem. If true, hating may produce feelings of strength and a sense of purpose, even self-righteousness, within the hater. Unfortunately, those who are the target of hatred experience only fear, insecurity and oppression. Precisely as the haters intend.
Hate is not a natural human state. We are not predisposed to hate. Children are fully unaware of and, for the most part, incapable of hatred. They must learn to hate, a process that takes careful training and reinforcement (a concept captured beautifully in Rogers & Hammerstein’s ‘You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught’ from their 1949 musical, South Pacific¹⁰).
There is nothing redeeming or attractive about hate. It prevents discussion, undermines relationships, inhibits progress and wreaks havoc on a community and on the larger society. Hatred produces nothing. It does, though, reveal the true, inner workings of those who hate. And while the hater may feel justified and emboldened, the rest of us see only a shallow, petty, insensitive, self-centered, close-minded, ignorant individual bent on destruction.
Protesters with rifles and anti-Semitic signs and legislators spewing hate took their toll on Dr. Amy Acton. She will be remembered with the fondness and admiration she earned, and for the many lives she helped save. Those who drove her from office for anti-Semitic reasons, including Nino Vitale and Andrew Brenner and his wife, will be remembered for their spite, selfishness and bigotry.
⁵ As of 9:00 p.m., ET, June 14; https://www.cnn.com/interactive/2020/health/coronavirus-us-maps-and-cases/