The dan­ger­ous ef­fort to den­i­grate Dr. Fauci

USA TODAY US Edition - - NEWS -

Sup­pose your doc­tor, one of the na­tion’s lead­ing car­di­ol­o­gists, told you that you are at risk of a heart at­tack and that you need to make some life­style changes. You prob­a­bly wouldn’t say he or she is wrong, is ask­ing for too much, or is a know-it-all whose ad­vice counts for less than some mir­a­cle cure you heard about on the in­ter­net.

Yet that is es­sen­tially what the Trump White House is do­ing by re­peat­edly deny­ing re­al­ity, ig­nor­ing ex­perts and propos­ing quack so­lu­tions to the COVID-19 cri­sis. Nowhere is this clearer than in the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s at­tempts to sideline and un­der­mine Dr. An­thony Fauci, di­rec­tor of the Na­tional In­sti­tute of Al­lergy and In­fec­tious Dis­eases.

Fauci, 79, is a na­tional trea­sure. He is one of the lead­ing au­thor­i­ties in his field. He com­bines ex­tra­or­di­nary ex­per­tise with an ex­cep­tional abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate. He has held his po­si­tion for 36 years, earn­ing the ad­mi­ra­tion of mul­ti­ple pres­i­dents, in­clud­ing Ge­orge W. Bush, who awarded him the Pres­i­den­tial Medal of Free­dom.

But to Donald Trump, Fauci’s an an­noy­ing truth bomb that keeps go­ing off in his gar­den party of false­hoods and blame shift­ing. With­out con­fronting the pres­i­dent di­rectly, but rather sim­ply by of­fer­ing fac­tual state­ments and well-con­sid­ered rec­om­men­da­tions, he re­minds Amer­i­cans how wrong Trump has been about COVID (“One day, it’s like a mir­a­cle, it will dis­ap­pear”), with dev­as­tat­ing con­se­quences.

From the out­set, Fauci em­pha­sized the need for ro­bust test­ing that could pro­vide quick re­sults to iso­late the in­fected. When Trump talked about pack­ing churches on Easter Sun­day, Fauci in­ter­vened with models that pro­jected hor­rific death tolls if so­cial dis­tanc­ing was re­laxed pre­ma­turely.

Fauci was also one of the many health ex­perts who cau­tioned states on re­open­ing be­fore they met guide­lines put forth by the White House Coro­n­avirus Task Force. To vary­ing de­grees the gov­er­nors went against this ad­vice, in part be­cause Trump pres­sured them.

Now that the num­ber of new cases is surg­ing in the very places that dis­missed the ex­perts most ve­he­mently, and as test­ing con­tin­ues to fall short de­spite four months to come up to speed, one might think that Trump would have learned his les­son.

Just the op­po­site is true. Weeks ago, as it piv­oted to eco­nomic re­cov­ery, the ad­min­is­tra­tion be­gan try­ing to limit Fauci’s pub­lic ap­pear­ances. More re­cently, the pres­i­dent has be­gun pub­licly crit­i­ciz­ing him, as he did in a Fox News in­ter­view last week, while aides cir­cu­lated neg­a­tive talk­ing points as if they were do­ing op­po­si­tion re­search on a po­lit­i­cal ad­ver­sary.

Trump’s top trade ad­viser, Peter Navarro, whose state­ment ac­com­pa­nies this editorial, has been more force­fully den­i­grat­ing the doc­tor. That Navarro, an economist by train­ing, is the one do­ing the deed shows how hard it is to find an ac­tual med­i­cal pro­fes­sional will­ing to un­der­cut Fauci.

Fauci and other health pro­fes­sion­als are not al­ways right. Ini­tially, for in­stance, they down­played the im­por­tance of masks and travel bans. But as more ev­i­dence came in about this brand new virus, they changed their views. That’s what sci­en­tists do when ad­di­tional facts emerge.

Trump does the op­po­site. He has delu­sions of in­fal­li­bil­ity and keeps dou­bling down on mis­takes.

In the dif­fi­cult weeks and months ahead, Amer­ica’s best hope in­volves lis­ten­ing to the peo­ple, like Dr. Fauci, who have de­voted their lives to pub­lic health and science-based so­lu­tions.

ALEX BRAN­DON/AP

Dr. An­thony Fauci and Pres­i­dent Donald Trump in April.

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