Dr. Anthony Fauci has been one of the few White House voices trusted by the nation to deliver serious scientific information about the COVID-19 crisis. He has a storied career, during which he has served the United States doggedly. But with the nation now above three million cases, with 133,000 Americans dead, with cases exploding, ICUs filling, and the future more uncertain than ever … the White House is silent. Worse than silent, because what is emerging from the White House is a stream of self-praise, actions certain to make things worse, and a very deliberate message that experts, like Fauci, should not be trusted.
As Fauci has sought to deliver some sense of the danger facing the nation, Donald Trump has repeatedly undercut that message. Worse, it’s clear that Fauci himself has moderated his tone, especially in appearances with the Coronavirus Task Force. Even so, Trump has intentionally limited Fauci’s appearances before the public. With the White House determined to ignore the mounting crisis until people simply become inured to death on a mass scale, it’s time for Fauci to realize that he has accomplished everything he can through trying to stay, even marginally, in the fold. His greatest value is as a public face for pandemic response, telling Americans the truth about what’s coming and what should be done. It’s time for Dr. Anthony Fauci to tell the whole, raw truth, and to do so loudly and frequently. Even if that means defying Trump’s orders.
On Tuesday, it was more clear than ever that Trump is utterly done with listening to Fauci, or to anyone, who is saying anything other than things are great, and we should press full speed ahead. In an interview on Fox, Trump openly stated that he disagreed with Fauci, then he went on to disparage Fauci’s knowledge of how to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Well, I think we are in a good place,” said Trump. “I disagree with him. Dr. Fauci said don’t wear masks, and now he says wear them.” That wasn’t the end of Trump’s efforts to dismiss Fauci’s knowledge. “And he said numerous things. Don’t close off China. Don’t ban China. I did it anyway. I didn’t listen to my experts and I banned China. We would have been in much worse shape.”
This isn’t the first time Trump has blamed his failure to address the pandemic on others. Back in April, Trump claimed that “very good experts” told him that COVID-19 “would never affect the United States.” At that time, Trump wasn’t accusing Fauci by name. Now he is.
If the evidence suggested that, even as Trump continued to use him as a punching bag, Fauci was being given the resources and freedom to direct a government response to the virus, his remaining within the White House might make some sense. However, that is clearly not the case. The handful of federally sponsored testing locations have been closed. No more are coming. The effort to trace cases has overwhelmed the states. Trump is making no effort to assist. The need to wear masks could not be clearer. Trump is almost single-handedly wrecking that effort. The idea of reopening schools in the face of case counts that are raging ever higher is ludicrous. The White House is issuing edict after edict, making it clear that unless students are marched into the fire, funds will be cut off, foreign students will be deported, and statewide education systems could be driven to failure.
It’s obvious that Trump sees the COVID-19 crisis as yet another opportunity to operate through the shock doctrine. He has no intention of making things better because he is not interested in making things better. Instead, the White House is now viewing the crisis as an opportunity. An opportunity to provide even greater power to ICE and to limit all types of immigration. An opportunity to crush public education between impossible demands. An opportunity to push state and local budgets and infrastructure to the brink; to leave every form of public assistance starved for funds and facing overwhelming demand; to deliberately spark a crisis in evictions and foreclosures.
Trump hasn’t just surrendered to the coronavirus, he is eagerly feeding it victims. By staying in his post, by obeying restrictions on his appearances, by moderating his statements, Fauci is, at best, failing to provide the full benefit of his knowledge to the nation.
This is a difficult demand. It’s almost certainly unfair. To ask anyone to step forward from the White House and clearly oppose Trump is asking that they subject themselves to a thousand disparaging tweets, suffer scorn on a network of right-wing radio and threats through social media, and that their name be trampled regularly on Fox. Even those who have spoken out against Trump months after they’ve departed have been subject to withering public assaults.
But Fauci is perhaps the one person whose vocal break with Trump might still be heard. Every day that he remains, the value of his voice is diminished. He can stand up now, call out the failings of the White House response, demand that Congress move to install a strong centralized program of testing and case management, state clearly the need for a national mask mandate, insist that no school be opened unless the area meets strict guidelines, make obvious the need to better protect healthcare workers and essential workers of all types. Or not.
Dr. Fauci can break with the White House and deliberately oppose the effort underway by Donald Trump to not just refuse to act, but to exacerbate the crisis. Or he can remain a prop at Trump’s side; someone to be trotted out for the occasional appearance, but whose knowledge and evidence is brushed off without a thought. He cannot have it both ways.