Fauci the Follower

Author’s note: For the indefinite future, my digital articles will be short and shorter. Why? Because I’ve gotten myself ensnared in writing another book – a book that will appear after the next one. My next book – to be published in September by Cambridge University Press – is co-authored with Todd Pittinsky. It is titled, Leaders Who Lust: Power, Money, Sex, Success, Legitimacy, Legacy. 

For the better part of this year, Dr. Anthony Fauci was the apparently ready and willing follower of President Donald Trump. Though it was clear all along that Fauci was expert on the pandemic and Trump, to understate it, inexpert, the former was nevertheless willing to bow to the latter in what he publicly said, when he publicly said it, and how he publicly said it.

Though Fauci tried as he might to accommodate his boss, in time the relationship between them became untenable. Interestingly, it became untenable not so much, as I would have predicted, from Fauci’s side as from Trump’s. Given that Fauci was willing to play along for many months – play the part of scientist in an administration that was militantly anti-science – what reasons did Trump have for turning against Fauci?

Here three. First, because no matter how circumspect Fauci, no matter how cautious and careful his every syllable, the differences between him and his superior became blindingly clear. Second, because the facts on the ground changed. While Trump repeatedly wished the virus away, not only did it not in time vanish, it became in time more pernicious. Finally, and most importantly, Trump soured on Fauci because in recent months his approval ratings soared sky high. They were much higher in fact than were Trump’s, at least as they pertained to the all-important question of who was better at handling the virus crisis. For the president such a comparison was unacceptable, intolerable. He cannot stomach polls that show Fauci or anyone else for that matter with as much as a 27-point lead.

No wonder then that for the time being at least Trump has frozen Fauci out. On several occasions the president muzzled his underling by, for example scuttling some of his previously scheduled television appearances. And since early June Trump has effectively locked him out of the Oval Office. To his media pal Sean Hannity the president avowed that while Fauci was a “nice man,” he made “a lot of mistakes.”

Which raises the question of what will be Fauci’s response? I have long thought that he should quit the administration that has been so obviously opposed to everything he stands for. But, for reasons of his own, reasons that I do not agree with but do not question, Fauci has chosen to stay. Will he still stay? If yes, will he still do what Trump wants him to do? Or will he find his own voice, say his own piece, chart his own course – whether inside the administration or out?

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