There’s a scene in the film The Death of Stalin, where Stalin suffers a cerebral hemorrhage, and Nikita Khrushchev suggests calling a doctor, but Lazar Kaganovich observes a Catch-22: “The best doctors are in the gulag or dead, so any doctor still in Moscow is not a good doctor.”
Donald Trump has a good doctor in Anthony Fauci, but he is trying to assassinate his character and sideline him. Eventually, there will be no good people left who are willing to advise Trump—and fewer still who will have the guts to save him from himself.
Just as Li Wenliang, the Chinese doctor who tried to warn about the dangers of coronavirus, was punished and humiliated (before dying of the virus), Trump also has created a culture that figuratively murders the messenger and rewards the executioner.
The result is adverse selection—a situation where the decent and competent are purged, while the corrupt and incompetent are promoted and rewarded.
Consider how Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman was pushed out of his job simply because he complied with a congressional subpoena and took his oath seriously.
Or consider the case of how Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher (accused of war crimes by his colleagues) was granted clemency by Trump, while the Navy Secretary who wanted to revoke Gallagher’s Trident was removed.
Or consider the Intelligence Community’s inspector general, who followed the law appropriately with regard to a whistleblower's complaint, only to be fired for his efforts.
I could go on. Heck, even Jeff Sessions couldn’t survive Trump because, despite his sycophancy in other areas, he harbored a pesky vestigial allegiance to the rule of law.
It goes without saying that this trend is bad for America, but I can’t help thinking that it might be one harbinger of Trump’s downfall.
Having purged the adults—the Mattises, Boltons, McMasters, et al.—he is left with incompetent “yes” men who only reinforce Trump’s worst instincts, while shielding him from those who would speak truth to power.
Dr. Fauci is the latest victim of this character assassination.
In case you’ve been under a rock the last couple of days, the White House has dropped “opposition research” on Fauci, seeking to discredit him. But it’s not just Trump’s comrades. According to The Washington Post, Fauci is “directly in the president’s crosshairs.”
You might be asking, why would Trump attack his own top health official? My theory is that Fauci’s very existence complicates matters for Trump.
Certain topics have built-in (or acquired) skews. You would be wasting your time trying to spin them in your favor. If the public is even talking about a topic that skews against you, you are fighting a losing battle. At some point, Trump decided COVID-19 was a loser, so he decided to (a) quit talking about it, and (b) distract the public with other topics. It’s no coincidence that Trump has been sidelining Dr. Fauci since early June.
But Fauci isn’t in the business of ignoring a pandemic and hoping it will just go away merely to advance and protect Trump’s political interests. Fauci’s choice, of course, is a cardinal sin. Nothing can come between Trump and his interests.
“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,” Fauci said in an interview, while warning the public about the ongoing seriousness of the virus.
When Fauci talks about COVID-19 these days, he is going off-script. And when Fauci becomes a darling of the media for doing so, Trump perceives this even more as a personal slight. And Trump always counterpunches twice as hard.
Dr. Fauci appears to be Trump’s latest sacrificial lamb. But again, this latest incident is merely a microcosm. The macro problem is that Trump has created a regime where the worst get on top, and the best get the boot.
It’s unclear whether Trump will actually try to fire Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, or even if he can. As CNN notes, “Aside from the regulatory hurdles, Trump has also recognized it would be politically damaging if he sought Fauci's removal because Fauci is considered credible by a large swath of Americans and by members of Congress.” Indeed, Fauci’s popularity is still high, with 67 percent of Americans polled expressing trust in him.
But it doesn’t really matter if Fauci is officially fired. He is being sidelined and undermined. He is still being purged.
Trump punishes the real heroes and rewards the villains. Instead of survival of the fittest, it’s survival of the (morally) sickest.