“It was a tough situation, it really was.” The speaker was Dr. Anthony Fauci, in conversation with MSNBC host Rachel Maddow on January 23. He was describing what it was like to serve during the pandemic in the administration of former president Donald Trump.
I have written before about Fauci’s role in the Trump administration, for example in a piece posted on December 5 titled, “Fauci’s Failure.” https://barbarakellerman.com/faucis-failure/ Still, for someone with my interests – as much in followership as in leadership – it seems important to do so again now, for three reasons.
First, more than anyone else Fauci has been able to surmount the stain of having been an integral member of Trump’s pandemic posse. He not only emerged from the experience unscathed he has become the most visible member of President Joe Biden’s pandemic posse.
Second, in witnessing Trump’s second impeachment trial I cannot help but wonder yet again about his legions of followers – in this case most Republican members of the U.S. Senate. What were they thinking during the time of the Big Lie – the two-month period after the election in early November and before the insurrection in early January? What exactly was it that made them mute as the president continued, tirelessly, relentlessly, repeatedly to regurgitate a flagrant falsehood?
And third is an extended interview that Fauci gave to a reporter for the New York Times in late January, in which he discussed at length his rationale for having stayed in the service of a superior who in his own political interest undermined the public interest . https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/24/health/fauci-trump-covid.html
In his interview with the Times Fauci acknowledged the following:
- That Trump invariably downplayed the bad news – of which there was plenty. Much of the time the former president simply ignored what he did not want to hear.
- That Trump repeatedly conveyed false information – sometimes dangerously false information based on personal anecdote as opposed to scientific data.
- That because Fauci came to be regarded as a bit of a contrarian he, his wife, and his children were harassed and threatened, subjected to attacks by right-wing extremists that went on for months.
- That because Fauci increasingly felt ineffective as well as endangered, he increasingly felt “anxious.” At one point in the interview, Fauci said something that happened had made him “really concerned.” At another point in the interview, he described his “anxiety as starting to escalate.” At still another point in the interview he admitted that he was “getting anxious.” He even volunteered that, “we started getting into things I felt were unfortunate and somewhat nefarious.” Interesting choice of a word by Fauci, for the definition of a “nefarious” act is one that is “wicked or criminal.”
The Times interviewer asked Fauci if he ever thought about quitting – leaving the administration in protest. To which he replied, “Never. Never. Nope.” To Fauci’s credit he admitted that his wife raised the possibility. And, according to him, he and his wife did discuss it. But Fauci would have none of it. He wanted to stay in his post and so he justified it by saying, “I always felt that if I did walk away, the skunk at the picnic would no longer be at the picnic.”
We will never know what would have happened had this skunk made a stink. We do know that he did not. And we do know that as of today some 468,000 Americans have died of Covid-19 – a ghastly national tragedy that is a ghastly national embarrassment.