The appeal of such politicians and the incoming Biden administration is always to public-health experts, even though they, too, have largely jettisoned any claim to public trust.

To simplify and generalize, at the start of this year, they downplayed the virus for fear that it would stoke xenophobia. Then, they lurched into five-alarm-fire mode.

They poured cold water on masks, before turning around and insisting on them despite ambiguous evidence on the efficacy of cloth masks.

They preached the gospel of social distancing, until mass Black Lives Matter protests erupted, blessing these huge, often unruly gatherings because fighting racism is supposedly a paramount public-health issue.

The upshot will be poisonous contention in the months ahead before the advent of that most American solution — the clever technological fix, in the form of transformative vaccines.