Sidelined by the White House and harshly criticized in an extraordinary op-ed from a top adviser to the Trump administration, Anthony S. Fauci — the nation’s top infectious-disease expert — said in an interview with the Atlantic published Wednesday that the country needs to focus on a surging virus “rather than these games people are playing.”“We’ve got to almost reset this and say, ‘Okay, let’s stop this nonsense,'” he said after being asked to state “the truth about the federal response to the pandemic” in the United States. “We’ve got to figure out, How can we get our control over this now, and, looking forward, how can we make sure that next month, we don’t have another example of California, Texas, Florida, and Arizona?”
Fauci then issued the sagest advice the president and his Keystone Kops advisers have ever received: "Ultimately, it hurts the president to do that. When the staff lets out something like that and the entire scientific and press community push back on it, it ultimately hurts the president.”
The remarks were triggered by an op-ed published in USA Today from economic adviser and protectionism-promoter Peter Navarro (widely disparaged in his own field and lacking medical expertise), who accused Fauci of being wrong about everything.
As the day played out, we witnessed a comedic house of mirrors: The president disavowed the op-ed, which a White House aide said was untrue (Trump encouraged it, the aide anonymously told the Los Angeles Times, as anyone who casually follows politics would believe), which chief of staff Mark Meadows said is not true (meaning Trump wasn’t behind the op-ed, so he simply doesn’t know what his seniors advisers are doing). In the end, the episode confirmed Fauci’s observation. The administration is simultaneously so incompetent and dishonest that it is hard to tell which flaw a given statement or action reflects.
In the meantime, what is certainly not happening at the White House is any sign of leadership on the worsening pandemic or any policy initiative regarding Americans’ well-being. The three-ring circus at the White House is all about Trump and his cronies; out in America, people are still dying.
Trump’s overall approval ratings (36 percent in the most recent Quinnipiac poll; 42 percent in the most recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll) and his rating for handling the pandemic (35 percent and 37 percent in those two polls respectively) have tanked because he is not handling the virus at all. Whatever belated action is taken to address the full-blown crisis is happening at the state level(even Alabama put in place a statewide mask requirement). Trump, by contrast, is arguably making it harder to tell how bad the virus is, ordering information on cases to go to his highly politicized Health and Human Services Department rather than the respected Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Trump’s efforts are directed at obscuring, hiding and lying about the pandemic, not addressing it. His “suggestions” — such as forcing kids back to school even if the pandemic is still raging — turn out to be scientifically absurd and politically toxic, according to multiple polls. Again, Trump’s actions are not directed at controlling the virus; instead, they seem designed to give the appearance of normalcy.
None of his shenanigans work, of course. States, most notably California, are moving in reverse on reopening, and others are simply freezing in place. The result of all Trump’s antics is both a higher death count and a worse economy than would have resulted had he recognized the virus earlier and reacted responsibly.
In that sense, Fauci didn’t (for self-preservation purposes) spell out the entire story: Trump’s aides make Trump look bad, but no one does more damage to Trump than Trump.