Many Americans wondered how long it would take for the White House to launch a smear campaign against Dr. Anthony Fauci. Dr. Fauci, a world-renowned infectious disease expert and member of the White House coronavirus task force, has displeased Donald Trump by daring to allow science to contradict Trump’s narrative about COVID-19. Last week, the Trump administration doubled down on its verbal attacks in efforts to discredit Fauci.
The world has become accustomed to Trump’s need to vaporize officials and others who disagree with him. Even experts presenting scientific facts are not immune; Trump sees adherence to scientific facts—at least those that are not in line with his messaging—as political ideology to be disempowered. Since science disagrees with the truth as created by Trump, science must be discredited. It’s not as surprising as it is disconcerting that Trump has attacked Fauci.
What’s a malignant narcissist to do, though, when he learns that 67 percent of Americans disapprove of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic? Or when he sees that X percent of Americans are taking the virus more seriously than Trump wants them to? What other option is there, really, than for Trump to detract from the crisis and sow doubt and mistrust for the medical expert who, according to polls, Americans trust more than they trust Donald Trump? (And who, for that matter, has been portrayed affectionately by Brad Pitt on Saturday Night Live?)
Fauci has not undercut the president, publicly undermined him, or attempted to discredit him. He has simply spoken the truth, however grim and frightening, about the coronavirus pandemic that has killed 135,000 Americans to date. Truth has rarely aligned with the president’s agenda and world view, though, so Fauci must be dealt with.
As early as April, Trump was criticizing Fauci in response to Fauci’s candidness about COVID-19, and even retweeted a call for him to be fired. The two have not spoken in recent weeks.
Trump needs for the virus to just go away so that businesses can reopen, children can return to school, the economy can boom, and Trump can be re-elected. The way for the virus to go away, in Trumpworld, is to simply gaslight it away (along with “slowing the testing down, please,” since in Trumpworld, the reason we’re seeing more cases is that we’re doing more testing).
Fauci presents us with the facts about why COVID-19 continues to spread (we’re not following the recommended health and safety guidelines, which are just too inconvenient for some Americans to tolerate); and how we can help contain it and keep the death rate down until a vaccine is available (take responsibility, follow the recommended health and safety guidelines, and take the virus seriously). Recently, Fauci corrected Trump’s claim that “99 percent” of coronavirus cases in the United States are “totally harmless.”
“Obviously, that’s not the case,” said Fauci.
One only has to look at the statistics across the U.S. for proof that Fauci is right about that, as well as about his recommendations for social distancing and mask-wearing. Those states that have more closely followed the public health guidelines have had greater success in containing the virus; those states, such as Florida and Arizona, that went along with Donald Trump’s narrative about the virus and refused to follow guidelines as closely, are now paying the price with skyrocketing numbers of cases and deaths.
Again, truth is often not palatable in Trumpworld. Better to malign the tellers of truth than acknowledge an error of one’s own, or take leadership and address the pandemic head-on. And what more subtly effective way than to plant the idea that the truth spoken by Dr. Fauci is not reliable?
“Dr. Fauci is a nice man, but he’s made a lot of mistakes,” Trump said last week.
White House Trade Advisor Peter Navarro said, “Dr. Fauci has a good bedside manner with the public, but he has been wrong about everything I have ever interacted with him on.”
It’s helpful to keep in mind this administration’s tenuous relationship with truth-telling.
In a different administration, President George W. Bush once called Fauci, who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, his hero.
In addition to its demeaning personal comments about Fauci, the Trump administration’s tactics have included using a video clip taken out of context where Fauci appeared to be downplaying the virus and advising against masks. Viewed in context with the cut portions of the video, it’s evident that Fauci was advising Americans early in the pandemic, based on what information was available at the time. Since then, as new information has come to light about the virus, Fauci has been candid about updating his advice.
Along with the video clip, the White House provided some journalists with what resembled opposition research on Fauci, as if Fauci were a political opponent instead of a member of the president’s own White House coronavirus task force.
On Saturday, a White House official said that “several White House officials are concerned about the number of times Dr. Fauci has been wrong on things.”
The White House has shown that they have to resort to vague comments, aggressive “research,” and cherry-picked, out-of-context video clips and quotes in its attempts to denigrate Fauci.
Donald Trump would have difficulty firing Dr. Fauci, who has served under six different presidents as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Not only would Fauci need to be fired for cause by a direct supervisor, it would be a lengthy process. It’s much easier and faster, then, to try to go about damaging Fauci’s reputation and credibility. Unfortunately for Trump, that may be a challenge, since Fauci is widely regarded as credible and competent by a great number of Americans, including members of Congress.
Donald Trump is not threatened by world leaders. He doesn’t care who is smarter than he is, though he likes to proclaim how smart he himself is. He’s not daunted by those who have made Nobel-worthy contributions to mankind. He is threatened by those who are more popular than he is, and that includes the people that others tend to give credibility.
Though it’s clear that Trump has many things to envy about Dr. Anthony Fauci, what gets to Trump is that people are listening to Fauci, whose science contradicts Trump’s meaningless and senseless happy talk, and interferes with Trump’s goal to pretend that the virus will just fade away and all will be well again. Americans trust Fauci.
Fauci’s goal is to help save Americans. Donald Trump’s goal is re-election. To get to re-election, Trump has shown that he needs to take down whatever, and whomever, is in his way. The coronavirus is in Trump’s way, and Anthony Fauci, by virtue of his response to the coronavirus, is also in Trump’s way. Perhaps Trump thinks that if he could just succeed at his smear campaign against Fauci, his coronavirus nightmare would be extinguished, as well.
Trump takes aim at Dr. Fauci as coronavirus cases surge nationwide |
As COVID Infections Soar, Trump Attacks Dr. Fauci, CDC & Pushes Schools to Reopen at All Costs | Democracy Now! [2020-07-13]