In a major crisis, a hero emerges, a figure who stands out and goes on to become the face, and perhaps even the symbol, of our struggle and survival through that crisis. Remember Rudy Giuliani’s role in 9/11? Not many people besides New Yorkers who lived through his administration as mayor recall how profoundly unpopular he was before 9/11. Yet the myth, partly created by him, is so powerful that it obscures that reality. As The Daily News reported in an article, “Before he was America’s Mayor, he was New York’s problem. On Sep. 10, 2001, Rudy Giuliani was mired in low approval ratings, a nasty media circus stemming from a very public extramarital affair, and strained relationships with the city’s black community.” But that pivotal moment, when the terrorists hit the Twin Towers, changed all that and made him a hero.That, more than anything, illustrates the transformative power of crises.
Yet despite the fact that Giuliani later went on to squander the reputation and respect that he had won by his stellar performance in bringing New Yorkers and America together to get us through the dark and frightening days in 2001, he is still remembered for those heroic efforts. The image of that moment in history has become so embedded in our collective consciousness, that even now, after he has become a laughingstock as Trump’s buffoon, he is still “America’s mayor” to many.
The coronavirus “hero” will be Anthony Fauci. Years down the road, history will record that Dr. Fauci became the symbol of rationalism, truth, integrity, and transparency—in short, of science—while Trump will be remembered for his emotionalism, ignorance and rejection of science, self-serving egotism and obfuscation.
Anyone who is following Trump’s daily press briefings has now become familiar with the image of Dr. Fauci standing next to Trump, as the tug-of-war between transparency and obfuscation plays out under the eyes of the public. Fauci, attempting to give us the latest figures and projected statistics and trajectories of the COVID-19 pandemic as it rampages across the planet. Fauci conveys medical and scientific facts such as we know them at that particular moment in this unfolding drama, and Trump blatantly contradicts those facts in favor of bromides, outright lies and fake science.
Yet Dr. Fauci finds himself in an extremely precarious position. Indeed, after a few incidents when Fauci bravely contradicted Trump’s lies in front of the press, Donald Trump banished Fauci to the background, literally and figuratively. On April 8, the matter came to a head when Trump blocked Fauci from answering a question related to the controversial use of anti-malarial drugs as a coronavirus therapy. “While Trump has been at odds with Fauci in the past, repeatedly clouding his administration’s public health messaging, the president has never shut down his top medical expert so abruptly and publicly before, intervening to keep him from answering,” we read.
What a fine example of science muzzled by ignorance! Think of Galileo and all those scientific pioneers like him who have been silenced by arrogant demagogues because the truth was not convenient to their ambitions, and you have the situation between Fauci and Trump. The supreme irony here is that despite the medical fields’ skepticism about the efficacy and possible negative side-effects of the chloroquine medications in question, Trump has been heeding the advice of Rudy Giuliani, who has been loudly endorsing their use– a man with no medical knowledge whatsoever!
But Fauci’s tenure as Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a position that he has held since 1984, may come to a screeching halt if Trump’s continued purges of the people whom he considers disloyal–simply because they disagree with him–continues. A president who wields his power in a completely irrational and arbitrary way, his vengeful rampages continue even during a national, indeed, a global, emergency. In fact, apparently in Trump’s twisted mind, now, when we’re all looking the other way, focusing on the management of the COVID-19 pandemic, is an even better opportunity to clear the decks of those who dare to bruise his ego by speaking truth to power.
Trump’s rage over the whistleblower incident that set the impeachment in motion is still very much alive. This was demonstrated a few days ago when he fired the Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson, the man who advanced the Ukraine whistleblower report. This egregious example of pique was committed by a president who should be focusing his entire attention and efforts on managing a pandemic, yet still uses the opportunity to settle personal scores. This incident, questioned by both Republicans and Democrats, could be the harbinger of Fauci’s dismissal if he continues to stand up for what he considers the right thing to do.
Who is this man? Anthony Fauci was born December 24, 1940, in Brooklyn, New York City. His parents, Stephen and Eugenia A. Fauci, owned a pharmacy and perhaps his later dedication to science and the medical field emerged from his earliest years. Three of Fauci’s grandparents were from Italy: Antonino Fauci and Calogera Guardino, from Sciacca, Sicily, and Raffaella Trematerra from Naples. His maternal grandfather though, Giovanni Abys, was born in Switzerland and was an artist. A product of Catholic education, Fauci attended Regis High School in Manhattan’s Upper East Side, where he captained the school’s basketball team and graduated in 1958. He later attended the College of the Holy Cross, graduating in 1962 with a Bachelor of Arts in classics. This was followed by Cornell University Medical College where he graduated first in his class with a Doctor of Medicine in 1966. After completing an internship and residency at the New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center, in 1968 Fauci joined the National Institutes of Health, where his career began its stellar trajectory.
Fauci has made important contributions to the study of the immunological system (Arthritis, Granulomatosis, AIDS, Ebola…). Suffice it to say that in 2003, the Institute for Scientific Information stated that from 1983 to 2002, “Fauci was the 13th most-cited scientist among the 2.5 to 3 million authors in all disciplines throughout the world who published articles in scientific journals.” An impressive record, by any standard, that justifies his appointment as leader in more than one epidemic, such as the 2014 Ebola Virus Crisis.
But what is most striking about Dr. Fauci is that he speaks with the dignity of the man who refuses to kowtow to the powerful when they are also ignorant. An article in The Atlantic compares him to General Mattis, who was the only member of Trump’s cabinet who refused to participate in the “public praise-fests” like the infamous one held on June 12, 2017, where every person sitting around the conference table abased him/herself and lavished praise on the Egotist-in-Chief after he had already praised himself. Mattis then, as Fauci does today, dared to contradict Trump in public.
And sadly, we all know how that ended: with Mattis’ forced resignation. Let’s hope that Trump agrees with The Atlantic’s conclusion that, “Very plainly, Trump needs Fauci more than Fauci needs Trump” and that this will be enough to keep Fauci in his position. Yet it would not surprise me if going forward Trump were to replace him, as he has done so many times before, with a bootlicking “yes” man. In a crisis like the one we are facing, the country needs more men like Fauci who have both knowledge and common sense; whose integrity is without question and who have the courage to say “no”. Given Trump’s propensity for appointing inexperienced or even incompetent, family members to important positions, (i.e. his son-in-law Jared Kushner to multiple such positions) who knows how disastrous that might be?