Suppose your doctor, one of the nation’s leading cardiologists, told you that you are at risk of a heart attack and that you need to make some lifestyle changes. You probably wouldn’t say he or she is wrong, is asking for too much, or is a know-it-all whose advice counts for less than some miracle cure you heard about on the internet.
Yet that is essentially what the Trump White House is doing by repeatedly denying reality, ignoring experts and proposing quack solutions to the COVID-19 crisis. Nowhere is this clearer than in the administration’s attempts to sideline and undermine Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Fauci, 79, is a national treasure. He is one of the leading authorities in his field. He combines extraordinary expertise with an exceptional ability to communicate with ordinary people. He has held his position for 36 years, earning the admiration of multiple presidents, including George W. Bush, who awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
To Donald Trump, however, Fauci is an annoying truth bomb that keeps going off in his garden party of falsehoods and blame shifting. Without confronting the president directly, but rather simply by offering factual statements and well-considered recommendations, Fauci reminds Americans how wrong Trump has been about the pandemic.
From the outset, Fauci emphasized the need for robust testing that could provide quick results to isolate the infected. When Trump talked about packing churches on Easter Sunday, Fauci intervened with models that projected horrific death tolls if lockdowns were eased prematurely.
Fauci was also one of the many health experts who cautioned states on reopening before they met guidelines put forth by the White House Coronavirus Task Force. To varying degrees the governors went against this advice, in part because Trump pressured them to do so.
Now that the number of new cases is surging in the very places that dismissed the experts most vehemently one might think that Trump would have learned his lesson.
Just the opposite is true. Weeks ago, as it pivoted to economic recovery, the administration began trying to limit Fauci’s public appearances. More recently, the president has begun publicly criticizing him, as he did in a Fox News interview last week.
Trump’s top trade adviser, Peter Navarro, has been more forcefully denigrating the doctor. That Navarro, an economist by training, is the one doing the deed shows how hard it is to find an actual medical professional willing to undercut Fauci.
Fauci and other health professionals are not always right. Initially, for instance, they downplayed the importance of masks and travel bans. But as more evidence came in about this brand new virus, they changed their views. That’s what scientists do when new facts emerge.
In the difficult weeks and months ahead, America’s best hope involves listening to the people, like Dr. Fauci, who have devoted their lives and careers to public health.