Editor’s Note: Michael D’Antonio is the author of the book “It’s Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Quest for Success.” His next book, “The Hunting of Hillary: The Forty-Year Campaign to Destroy Hillary Clinton,” will be out later this month. The opinions expressed in this comment are yours. See more opinions at CNNE.COM/OPINION.
. – Since 1984, scientist and physician Anthony Fauci has led the United States’ response to infectious diseases, saving countless lives and earning the world’s gratitude by advising five previous presidents. Now, as the number of deaths from the coronavirus pandemic in the United States exceeds 135,000, a sixth president needs Dr. Fauci and his experience. Instead, President Donald Trump’s aides are tearing Fauci apart, and apparently preparing him for bureaucratic murder.
At other times, press reports of the plot against Fauci would provoke disbelief. Who would order officials to talk about America’s best germ fighter when we need it most? Currently, when the Washington Post reports that its count of Trump’s false and misleading statement surpassed the 20,000 mark, the logical answer is: the president, of course.
As anyone who has seen Trump up close understands, he has a habit of attacking those who have tried to serve ethically in difficult federal jobs or having them blamed in a timely manner. It has done so with former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, former Defense Secretary James Mattis, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, former Chief of Staff John Kelly, and others. In all cases, Trump’s goal appears to be to avoid liability and explain failure.
The campaign against Fauci follows the Sessions model. As you may recall, Sessions tried to deal with the investigation of Russia’s attack on the 2016 election, which benefited Trump, in a direct way, by recusing himself from the investigation. This caused the president to criticize him openly and repeatedly, until he finally fired him.
Like Sessions, Fauci has tried to do his job as a scientist, elevating his discipline above his own interest. The problem here is that when science has contradicted the president, Fauci has kept faith in science. Whether it’s testing, exaggerated treatment, or the country’s response to the pandemic to date, he hasn’t been afraid to tell the truth to power.
Having chosen a life-saving mission over the president’s happy conversation, Fauci has found himself sidelined. It is no longer a regular presence when the administration reports to the press and said it has not informed the president in two months. Last Friday, Trump appeared to signal a campaign to discredit Fauci when he told Fox News anchor Sean Hannity: “Dr. Fauci is a good man but he has made many mistakes.”
After Trump’s statement, his aides went to the media with a list of statements that the head of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases had made and then reviewed. For example, in March, when the United States had registered few cases, Fauci said that the virus “was not a major threat” and that “people should not walk in masks.” The catalog of “sins” circulating among journalists was offered anonymously, and resembled the type of opposition investigation used to frame political attacks (the White House insisted Monday that it was not trying to discredit Fauci, while Trump declared that the two had a good relationship).
But it failed to mention in this whisper campaign the fact that Fauci’s remarks were made long before much was known about the virus. It would soon change its stance, warning that the coronavirus was a major public health threat and urging Americans to adopt a number of practices, such as wearing masks and social isolation, to slow the spread of the virus. Meanwhile, the president, who had refused to be seen wearing a mask until recently, spoke of the magically disappearing virus and called for unproven treatments and rallied thousands of people in a campaign in defiance of public health councils.
Notice the difference between Fauci and Trump: One man, a dedicated public servant, offered his best analysis, and when new data emerged, he undoubtedly corrected himself to save lives. The other sought a carefree stance and refused to budge as the months that passed led the United States to become the world’s leading access point.
Just as the pandemic has revealed Trump’s tragic limitations, his abuse of Fauci confirms the president’s deep character flaws. Fauci’s lifelong devotion to science has been guided by a commitment to the facts and a focus on helping others. Trump’s lifelong devotion, on the other hand, has been for himself. This has led him to consistently deny facts that conflict with his ends, while seeking credit for all that is good and blaming others for all that goes wrong. Along the way, he maintains a mental score sheet, noting who places Trump above everything else and who could value more, for example, human life.
The day Trump spoke to Fox News host Sean Hannity about Fauci’s “mistakes,” the president used his constitutional power to commute his friend Roger Stone’s prison sentence. Convicted of serious crimes committed to protect Trump, Stone’s crimes included obstruction of justice, witness tampering, and lies to protect his friend. That Stone was protected by the president while Fauci is weakened says everything he needs to know about Trump’s priorities, values, and character.