It is time for Dr. Anthony Fauci to quit government. Indeed, resigning might be the best thing he can do for the country's public health — not to mention his own dignity.
Back in the early days of the pandemic, when President Trump was still veering wildly between wanting to be seen as combatting COVID-19 and urging the reopening of the U.S. economy, Fauci's presence on the coronavirus task force — and, often, at the podium in the White House press room — offered reassurance to Americans that Trump was taking expert advice. There was a tradeoff: Fauci was used as a fig leaf for Trump's incompetence, but he got to use the presidential bullhorn to warn the country against taking the virus lightly.
That is no longer the case. The president has evidently given up on battling the pandemic, choosing instead to declare victory even as cases and deaths surge across the country. Meanwhile, recent days have brought ample evidence that Trump has sidelined, silenced, and undermined Fauci, who continues — mostly behind the scenes — to argue for a cautious approach to reopening the country. His fact-based pessimism about the country's progress against the coronavirus has provided too stark a contrast with Trump's magical thinking.
So Trump and his allies have chosen to discredit Fauci instead of listen to him, sending a list of his errors to journalists and publicly criticizing him.
"Dr. Fauci is a nice man, but he's made a lot of mistakes," Trump told Sean Hannity last week, while telling another interviewer that he disagreed with Fauci's attitude. "I think we are in a good place," the president 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," Peter Navarro, Trump's trade advisor, told The Washington Post. (Judge accordingly: Navarro used his Sunday morning TV appearance to suggest that China purposely unleashed the COVID-19 virus on the world, even though scientists believe the virus developed on its own.)
"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 told the FT.
It is true that Fauci has been wrong about some things during the pandemic — most notably, he discouraged Americans from wearing masks during the first weeks of the national lockdown. He also admitted the error and reversed course in the face of new and additional facts. That's what scientists do.
More importantly, Fauci has been perhaps the country's most credible voice on how to contain the virus — warning against the temptation to reopen the country too quickly, quashing improbable presidential notions of miracle cures, and pleading for continued social distancing. For this, he has been treated with derision by public officials across the country as they work, impossibly, for a return to normalcy that probably can't happen until a vaccine emerges or effective treatments for COVID-19 are made available.
"Clearly we are not in total control right now," Fauci told the Senate in late June. The weeks since then have confirmed that analysis, and revealed the president's happy talk to be hollow and dangerous.
The doctor is more than a public relations mouthpiece — as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, he plays a key role in overseeing the development of a vaccine and treatments for the coronavirus — but his best and perhaps most effective role during this crisis has been as a sober voice urging Americans to be on guard. It may not be a coincidence that, as Fauci has receded from public view, Americans' caution has ebbed and COVID cases have surged.
And so, Fauci should quit.
Quitting would allow Fauci to speak to the public more freely about the ongoing health crisis than he can now. Even without an official portfolio, he would almost certainly still be welcome on any news network, podcast, YouTube channel, or newspaper op-ed page to sound the alarm and make the case for what he believes is the correct approach to containing the pandemic. He wouldn't even have to criticize Trump directly, since he clearly seems averse to doing so. But he would have the freedom to offer his best advice to the American public, who right now seem more willing than the president to take Fauci seriously.
Many state and local health officials across the country have faced death threats and vicious personal attacks for the crime of trying to keep their citizens alive by disseminating scientific information. That is terrible. Unlike those officials, Fauci is positioned to affect the public discourse even after he leaves government. For the sake of America's health, he should do so.
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