It was only a matter of time before Anthony Fauci would be history. The earnest, public-spirited infectious disease specialist, who had helped to guide the nation through previous public health challenges ranging from AIDS to Zika to Ebola, was a perfect contrast to this president. On one hand you had professionalism, modesty, and integrity. On the other—well, let’s put it this way, they are such diametrically opposed types that it’s amazing they were able to stand on the same platform without causing a matter/anti-matter explosion.
It was obvious to everyone except Trump that the way to handle the administration’s response to the virus was to make Drs. Fauci, Birx, and other professionals the public face. The president’s ideal role would be to work, mostly behind the scenes, with governors, health experts, educators, military and business leaders, close allies, and the Congress to craft creative solutions to supply and other issues. The president’s most important public role would be modeling seriousness about the threat (by social distancing, wearing a mask, etc.) and highlighting the work of others.
Trump was incapable of following that script. Instead, he made himself the star of the daily briefings, with results that will surely be remembered as among the most mortifying in presidential history. Research has shown that Americans living abroad actually shrank several inches in height after each presidential health tutorial.
The strain began to tell on Fauci early. Challenged in March to explain why he didn’t correct the president’s false statements, Fauci replied with exasperation, “I can’t jump in front of the microphone and push him down.”
He kept his job despite that—though close observers started the countdown clock.
In the long weeks that followed, Fauci attempted to do his best. While offering hope of an early vaccine, he refused to engage in happy talk. Tiptoeing around the chief executive, he kept his dignity, seemingly focused on conveying accurate information to the public. It was an intricate verbal dance. Trump would say something cracked and eyes would turn to Fauci, who would try to contradict him in a way that everyone with an IQ above 90 would understand but Trump would miss.
A June poll found that 76 percent of Americans trusted Dr. Fauci for accurate information about the coronavirus versus 26 percent who trusted Trump.
At the end of June, Dr. Fauci testified before Congress that we were in deep trouble. Warning that we could soon see 100,000 cases per day, he acknowledged, “Clearly we are not in control right now.” That could not have been well-received in the West Wing. Then, on July 10, clearly concluding that the jig was up, he went further, telling the Financial Times that “I have a reputation, as you probably have figured out, of speaking the truth at all times and not sugar-coating things. And that may be one of the reasons why I haven’t been on television very much lately.”
That did it. But Trump didn’t fire Fauci, he fired at him, through leaks. The press office circulated an opposition research document with “bullet points” showing errors Fauci had made early on. The good doctor had recommended against mask-wearing! Yes, but he later acknowledged the error. Well, they say, the hoity toity Fauci said on February 29 that there was “no need to change anything you’re doing.” Yes, but what the oppo dump left out was that he added that his advice “could change if we see community spread,” which we did soon thereafter.
People of good character who attempt to tell the truth and conduct themselves as honorable public servants cannot survive in this administration. This president exalts Roger Stone, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Rudi Giuliani, and Steve Bannon. He attempts to destroy Alexander Vindman, Marie Yovanovich, and James Mattis. Fauci was doomed from the start because he is serious, sober, dedicated, and independent, not a lackey for the Bad Orange Man. Above all, he was doomed because he tells the truth. And this administration is one continuing lie.