T

he deadly violence last Saturday in Charlottesville, Va., gives all Americans pause about our country and whether we will insist on upholding our values as a nation. Ken Frazier, chief executive officer of Merck, did not pause. He acted and he led. By resigning from a high-profile White House advisory panel, he demonstrated the courage and conviction called for in response to a vague and morally ambiguous “many sides” defense of the weekend’s atrocities and, in a single moment, showed us what real moral leadership looks like.

Edmund Burke is often quoted as saying, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” This neatly sums up the opportunity and the imperative of this moment. For two days, there was no clear condemnation of the attack from the White House that immediately called it what it was — an intense desire on the part of some individuals to terrorize other Americans in the hopes of diminishing their rights as fellow citizens. And still nothing came until a backlash from all corners of the political spectrum forced the president to make a public statement denouncing bigotry in all its forms, revising his reflexive initial comments.

In contrast, Frazier did something by publicly proclaiming, “I feel a responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and racism.”

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I began my professional career as a physician. I took an oath to do my best to extend and save the lives of patients who entrusted their care to me. When I moved to the pharmaceutical industry, my first job was at Merck. There I learned a key corollary to the oath I took: George Merck’s famously quoted admonition to “always remember to put the patients first and the profits will follow.” This doing-well-by-doing-good contract was a cornerstone that Merck set for me and that still dictates how I think about this industry and operate within it every day.

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The position Frazier has taken, that I am taking, and that many others around the country are taking, is an extension of the social contract to enhance the lives of others by standing against what is wrong and, in doing so, following the principle of personal conviction and fulfilling the great design of our nation’s most sacred values.

The sole purpose of science is to allow life to be better lived. Our politics should undergird and guarantee this, not diminish it.

There are not “many sides” to what happened in Charlottesville. There are only two: justice and the fact that all men and women are created equal on one side, hatred and bigotry on the other. The former is the cornerstone of the founding of our country; the latter compromise and erode the American values we hold dear.

I hope that the courage of one person who has taken an unequivocal stance against hatred and bigotry will inspire others to do the same thing at a moment when our tolerance for injustice and the limits of our morality are being sorely tested.

Tony Coles, M.D., is the chairman, chief executive officer, and co-founder of Yumanity Therapeutics in Cambridge, Mass.

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  • This is what real leadership looks like and what our country needs. What good does it do to have a voice in a position of authority, but not use it for the good of all people? Thank you to Ken Frazier for using his voice boldly ~ and to Dr. Tony Coles for helping to ensure we heard it. I appreciate this article and the share. Dr. Coles, what a wonderful experience it was working with you at Onyx ~ thanks for continuing to put people first!

  • Thank you Dr Coles. I think the point being missed is that human choice and decency is the priority. There was no bashing when Ken Frazier withdrew. He made his choice in a professional, respectful manner. No one seems to understand any longer that patients (healthcare industry) or customers (other industries) matter. When they are not valued our business do not survive. That said, all the rhetoric becomes a mute point. We should remember to put our patients first especially when we agreed to do just that as we studied as healthcare providers.

  • I read the article. Trump’s response was not a “vague and morally ambiguous ‘many sides’ defense of the weekend’s atrocities”. It was a correct chastisement of all the participants in the Charlottesville riots. The views of the Antifa crowd and the views of the White Supremacists — two groups that were present in Charlottesville, among other groups of people who were also there — represent two sides of the same coin, from the standpoint of anyone who supports a colorblind society based on real civil liberties. Neither group is representative, in any way, of the constitutionalist right.
    Neither one of these groups accepts the view (to quote from the article again) “that all men and women are created equal”. The Antifa group is a confused group who see themselves as both anti-capitalist and anti-fascist, and – I guess mainly – as anti-authoritarian. As anti-capitalists, the Antifas are no lovers of freedom. They are terribly authoritarian themselves, and their leaders speak approvingly of violence. They are against free speech as we all normally understand it. As an article from Atlantic said, “there’s something fundamentally authoritarian about its claim that its activists—who [sic] no one elected—can decide whose views are too odious to be publicly expressed”.
    It’s said that Antifa is on the left, politically. I think it’s hard to tell because their viewpoints are quite a mish-mash. One confusing point is that fascism is a left-wing form of government, and they are “anti” it, but still said to be on the left. Capitalism is on the right, but they’re against it, too. (Many of them also claim to be anarchist, but anarchism is an extreme right-wing view. And how would an anarchist society be able to stop people from committing capitalist acts?) Anyway, if it were determined somehow that they are indeed on the left, we shouldn’t be surprised, because across many decades the left has raised violence to a fine art. Trump’s offense seems to be not reading the press memo that says we forgive violence from the left but not from the right (like those marauding Tea Partiers – you could accidentally get poked in the eye by a flag from one of those guys).
    Frazier’s action simply makes no sense as a reaction to Trump’s response to the Charlottesville riots. Trump’s comments were correct, and – as he explained to the members of the press at his conference, who were apparently too busy trying to not listen to him – were delivered in a timely, measured manner to the extent allowed by the pace at which information about the Charlotteville riots was being released.

  • History has proven that ignoring white supremacists and allowing them to “march peacefully” usually ends up with truncated civil liberties for the rest of the existing population.
    Never, ever remain silent in the face of this horrible hatred.

  • Could not disagree with you more. There was indeed more than one side to the story that has been totally ignored by the bias liberal media, that being the counter-protestors who showed up without a permit to “demonstrate” and who were also armed with weapons that could do harm to those that they disagreed with. That is why the violence erupted. Why isn’t the liberal media making a story of that? The film coverage from many outlets clearly shows “another side” to the story that is being buried. The simple truth is that if everyone in town, along with the media had simply ignored the white supremacy rally as if it didn’t even exist, then they would have completed their ranting and raving and more than likely dispersed and gone home without incident. THAT is the best way to deal with those people – just turn away and ignore them – no media coverage, no film crews, no “counter” protests, period. Trumps initial comments were spot on because he was perceptive enough to see the truth, that indeed violence was perpetrated by more than just the white supremacy rally participants. Don’t take my comments above that I am a supporter of that movement because I don’t – however, as an American who believes in the Constitutional right to freedom of expression, I do believe that they have the right to PEACEFULLY express their political beliefs and not be suppressed by those who disagree with them, which is EXACTLY what the hysterical liberal media is preaching – suppression of their constitutional rights to peaceful expression of speech and lawful assembly (they did have a permit). If they had been left alone and ignored, but then became violent and hurt innocent people or destroyed property without provocation, then they should suffer the consequences. By the way, why didn’t the liberal media go nuts condemning the radical leftist demonstrators in Berkley, CA who incited riots and destroyed property and cars a few months ago because they were upset that a right-wing speaker had been invited to campus? What about that? One day of coverage, then buried ….. if you want to preach social justice against bigotry and hatred, then don’t cherry pick your targets.

  • Frazier may be principled but is a principled hypocrite. Trump let Frazier take credit for the deal that Trump brokered between Merck, Pfizer and Corning on the new vial technology. Ken returned the favor with his “principled” act of taking his toys and going home.

    I don’t expect “fair and balanced” given the Boston Globe ownership of this column. I really like the writers but there is enough written in these pages to suggest liberal bias, editorial censorship, or both.

    Hence it is up to us on the conservative side to present the other side. Even on straight pharma stories, guys like Scott Gottlieb get more negative than positive STAT ink because Scott worked “the enemy”, the AEI.

    You may be thinking “this us a Trump guy”, he must must be a racist.” Go ahead, I don’t give a crap.

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