Who was that masked man going nuclear on Trump proxy and part-time ophthalmologist Sen. Rand Paul?
Could that be Anthony Fauci, usually as buttoned down as his shirts, shooting down Paul’s nonsense about COVID-19, the same Dr. Paul who tested positive for the virus and then swanned around the Capitol without telling anyone? Yes, the same Paul who praised Sweden’s herd immunity that didn’t save lives or its economy, and dumped on New York’s draconian measures that ultimately did work, and criticized Fauci’s “authoritarian mandates” of “the nanny state.”
Fauci was having none of it. “I challenge that,” he said and asked for more time “because this happens with Senator Rand all the time.” On community immunity—Paul’s euphemism for killing us to save us—Fauci told the lawmaker, “You’re not listening,” and that if he believed that 22 percent of the New York population testing positive constitutes herd immunity, “You’re alone in that.”
The problem is that Paul is not alone in that. On the virus, Paul and Trump are two bodies, one mind, both prescribing that we take two aspirin and call our governors in the morning, and leave time for herd immunity to have its way—or not. Not only is herd immunity cruel and inhuman, and 65 percent immunity a long way off, it’s less likely to work against a virus that’s been shown to infect victims a second time.
But Fauci hasn’t convinced Trump of that. After serving six presidents who put public health before themselves, this president is a shock to Fauci's system and he has nothing in his doctor’s bag to heal him. Instead, like so many formerly respected “wise men of the party” and “grownups in the room,” Fauci has chosen to humor Trump and let him save face rather than anger him and lose the chance to cajole him into doing the right thing.
Retired Marine and Chief of Staff John Kelly couldn’t convince Trump to forget about his hair and honor the war dead, so it’s no shame on Fauci that he couldn’t get Trump to keep the country locked down long enough to save tens of thousands of lives, even those in the red states like Texas and Florida that the president cares the most about.
But there is shame in staying. We’ve arrived at summer’s end, infections are rising with some states bracing for second and third waves, and Fauci’s capacity to affect it is all but gone.
If he stays on Trump’s fake task force, Fauci risks becoming the Robert Mueller of microbes, a great man playing by rules that no longer apply.
It’s not Fauci’s failure that Trump doesn’t listen to him. The president’s gone full authoritarian and doesn’t listen to anyone with the exception of Jared and Ivanka, occasionally Peter Navarro and Stephen Miller, and the attorney general when he’s serving as Trump’s personal attorney. Even they wouldn’t recommend that Trump broadcast that he’s ready to reject the results of the election if he doesn’t win, proclaim the planet is cooling as wildfires consume the West and insist that there’s a vaccine imminent when there isn’t though, well, maybe Jared’s in on that last one.
Trump so feasts on his power to say whatever he feels like and not lose one supporter that his aides were afraid to slip him a note mid-rally that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died for fear he would dishonor her memory and the crowd would chant “fill her seat.” No one could stop him from calling her dying words fake, not taken down on her death bed by her granddaughter but the work of the devil in the guise of Schumer, Pelosi, and Adam Schiff. Trump wore a black face mask, identical to the one he makes fun of Biden for wearing, at Ginsburg’s memorial. It didn’t protect him from being booed, but it did get him admitted into the court to pay his respects, such as they are.
Fauci has to leave so that he can call out Trump as he accelerates his rejection of science. Monday, the CDC’s warning that droplets could float more than six feet was taken down because of a “technical error,” or maybe because that information was inconsistent with Trump’s message that everything is awesome. He had Alex Azar, who’s competing with William Barr for most slavish Cabinet secretary, issue a memo stating that only he can rule on anything affecting health and safety, which means the buck stops at his desk to decide on the safety of the next hydroxychloroquine or convalescent plasma or bleach cure.
Thursday, Trump said he would reject any decision on a vaccine if he thought it was political. That’s rich. Trump’s so politicized a vaccine by promising one before the election that two-thirds of the country tell pollsters they will be afraid to take it. If Fauci weren’t relegated by Trump to giving a second opinion, he’d be all over that.
He could, if he left and said why, dropped the second opinion business and the bedside manner, and treated Trump to the same full-throated criticism he delivered to Paul.
Fauci’s stayed until now to do good, not to do well like so many still sniffing the rarefied air of the Oval Office who hang on for the power, the glory, and the car service. Fauci happily drives himself 10 miles from his government-issue suburban office to the West Wing and has turned down repeated offers of a loftier title and larger salary to toil in the trenches. That’s more than enough for Trump to consider him a loser, like those buried in Belleau Wood and Sen. John McCain, who went and got himself shot down and locked in a tiger cage in Hanoi for five years while Trump’s war was avoiding STDs in Manhattan, as he boasted to Howard Stern in a radio interview.
On Wednesday, John’s widow Cindy McCain rejected Trump’s Republican party, announcing she would be voting for Joe Biden for president. I’d love to know who Fauci’s wife, Christine Grady, chief of the Department of Bioethics at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center, is voting for.
Paul was speaking for Trump when he upbraided Fauci at a June hearing, telling the doctor who’s advised seven presidents that he was not the “end-all,” and instructing him to be more humble—a requirement for those who would work for this president, thus the excess of family and friends on his staff. To breed humility and keep Fauci in his place, there was an aide in Azar’s office whose job it was to keep Fauci off TV.
If he stays on Trump’s fake task force, Fauci risks becoming the Robert Mueller of microbes, a great man playing by rules that no longer apply. So far, the only time Trump has been truthful about the virus was when he admitted to Bob Woodward that it would wreak horrible sickness and death, not to warn or protect the American people, but to play the big shot.
The only way Fauci can bring his talent to bear on ending the pandemic is to get far, far away from the man who boasts that he’s doing a “phenomenal job” by presiding over only 200,000 deaths—so far. There’s no fixing a man that broken even by a doctor who’s cured thousands. It’s unfortunate but Fauci has to leave the coronavirus task force to help save us from the coronavirus.