It’s Pretty Tough Walking a Tightrope
It was notthe way you would expect a scientist to be celebrated. InStyle, an American fashion magazine showed on its cover Anthony Fauci, America’s frontline warrior against the COVID-19 virus. Fauci has been director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984, and has been honored by presidents since Ronald Reagan, battling against HIV/Aids, SARS, swine flu, MERS, and Ebola. He is, BBC News stated, “the face of America’s fight against COVID-19”. The virologist, wrote online magazine The Daily Beast (July 16), has spent most of this year as an avuncular figurehead for many Americans desperate for facts and dealing with a truth-adverse administration. InStyle portrayed him sitting by a pool, button-down shirt, dark sunglasses, relaxed, a touch of Hollywood—without face mask though. “Whatever Fauci may lack in outright glamour, he makes up in ubiquity”, observed the Daily Beast. “For much of 2020, his celebrity remains unparalleled … Without trying—only by showing up to work and sharing facts—Dr Fauci has reached the type of all-out idolization Trump so desperately craves”.
Fauci is one of the most-trusted medical figures in the U.S. and, globally, one of the most-cited scientists in scientific journals. He is a low-key, sober civil servant. The 79 year old has turned, almost naturally, into a cult figure. Fauci fans wear Fauci t-shirts, drink their coffee out of Fauci mugs, wear Fauci masks. Others are threatening to kill the ever-calm scientist for advocating lock downs of bars, bowling alleys, schools, and sport stadiums, supported in their anger by Donald Trump, who retweeted a post calling for Fauci to be fired and demanded, months ago, during a dramatic rise in COVID-19 infections, that the economy should be ‘liberated’. Former basketball player Fauci is shadowed by secret service agents or accompanied by members of the FBI. Despite his warnings and predictions, COVID-19 is exploding in the United States, forcing Trump-aligned governors in Texas, Arizona, and Florida, and Democrat-led California, to scale-down business, and delay the reopening of schools.
This goes against the demands of Donald Trump, who wants to present to Americas voters in three months a return to normality. More than 150,000 deaths have been recorded in the U.S., and 4.5 million citizens have tested positive for the coronavirus. The figures are dramatically escalating, and TV news flashes images America had hoped never to see again: refrigerated trucks parked near hospital emergency wards, ready to receive patients felled by the virus, the morgues overflowed with corpses. Dr Fauci predicted that 100,000 infections daily could happen. And ten of thousands more deaths.
‘I Don’t Like to Be Pitted Against the President’
Fauci is prepared to question in public the President’s distortions and lies. Already by mid-April, he stated that if the administration had “started mitigation earlier more lives could have been saved”, and “no one is going to deny that”. However, Fauci stated publicly that the decision-making on implementing mitigation measures was “complicated”, because “there was a lot of pushback about shutting things down back then”. Even now Donald Trump is unwilling to suggest national mandatory wearing of masks, because he does not want to impinge on the freedom of speech rights of his loyal supporters. Nevertheless, alarmed by negative opinion polls about his leadership, Trump started wearing a mask and declared the wearing of masks “patriotic”. Weeks ago Fauci shared, almost daily, the White House podium with the President and other members of the Coronavirus Task Force. Trump advanced various conspiracy theories and, among other things, suggested that chemical detergents, used to clear pipes, could be used to flush the virus out of lungs. Whenever asked by reporters to share his views about the President’s contradictions and failures, Fauci chose his words carefully, never ready to ridicule the President of the United States standing next to him. “Sometimes you say things that are not widely accepted by the White House, and that’s just a fact of life”, he admitted in his interview with InStyle. “I am an apolitical person. I don’t like to be pitted against the president. Its pretty tough walking a tightrope while trying to get your message out and people are trying to pit you against the president. It’s very stressful”.
‘Wrong About Everything’
Gone is his diplomatic reluctance to publicly criticize the government’s decisions; suddenly the U.S.’s lead scientist (along with many of his colleagues) is stepping up blunt talk on the pandemic, risking open confrontation and conflict with Donald Trump and his administration. The President finally exposed his usually privately expressed anger at his leading scientist on Fox News, his favorite network, stating that Fauci had made “many mistakes”, which the President’s advisers summed up in documents mailed to the national media in order to discredit the civil servant. Fauci’s opposition, in January, to the stopping of flights from China to the U.S., his initial judgement, long corrected, that the virus posed a “very low risk” and there was “no reason to be walking around in a mask”, were some of the items on the list.
On July 15, Peter Navarro, a close adviser to Trump, responded to the decision of the Editorial Board of the national daily USA Today to name Anthony Fauci a “national treasure”, with an op-ed in which he declared “Anthony Fauci has been wrong about everything I have interacted with him on. When you ask me whether I listen to his advice, my answer is: only with skepticism and caution”. It was the “latest salvo in a war that has broken out in the middle of a pandemic between the government’s top infectious disease expert and a White House that has never evolved beyond the bare-knuckle tactics of the 2016 campaign”, wrote New York Times reporter Katie Rogers (July 15). In one corner of the debate was Trump, insisting that “we are in a good place”, in the other Dr Fauci, who has been increasingly vocal in his disagreement with the president’s enthusiasm for reopening high risk venues such as schools or sporting arenas. “Anthony Fauci isn’t about to quit”, reported The Atlantic after several interviews with the scientist (July 15), “despite the White House’s clumsy attempts to stain his public image. More so now than at any other point in their uneasy partnership it seems that if President Donald Trump wants to be rid of Fauci, he will need to fire him”. A move, Fauci knows, that would “ultimately hurt the President”.
The opinions expressed in this article belong to the author.