Dr. Fauci is pushed into the background as Trump barrels forward with 'reopening'

Dr. Fauci is pushed into the background as Trump barrels forward with 'reopening'
Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony S. Fauci attends a coronavirus update briefing Tuesday, April 7, 2020, in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour)

You may have noticed, of late, a distinct change in the Trump White House pandemic strategy. Out are the pandemic briefings because somebody finally convinced Trump they were making him look bad; in are Trump economic advisers making implausible claims on the Sunday shows. Out are the government medical experts, the ones who kept making news by not entirely agreeing with Trump's every bizarre new medical invention. (Take malaria medication! Drink bleach!) In is the newest White House press secretary putting on surly Fox & Friends-styled briefings declaring President Awesomedude to have done 12 brilliant things while nobody was looking, all wedged invisibly between the day's angry tweets.

This leads to the inevitable question: Are the government's pandemic experts even doing anything at this point, or has Trump's government simply bailed outright on the premise that they will be doing even a single damn thing to get the pandemic under control?

The last substantive public appearance from top government infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci (that is, one in which he was allowed to speak) appears to have been on May 4, over two weeks ago—an absence interrupted this week only by a video appearance with actress Julia Roberts.

That doesn't mean Fauci hasn't been at the White House or appeared as prop behind Trump. But when it comes to public briefings on the most urgent news of the day, such as the government's recent promising vaccine results or the overall direction of the pandemic as states "reopen"—perhaps, say, weighing in on Alabama now beginning to see the same hospital room scarcity that quickly escalated to crisis levels in New York City, early in the pandemic—neither Fauci or any other government medical experts have been made available to weigh in.

There are at least two factors at work here. By far the lesser one, because everything is insane now, is that the entire White House task force is either self-isolating or should be after Vice President Mike Pence’s aide, Katie Miller, who frequented the media gatherings, tested positive for the virus and set off a minor White House tizzy.

Why is this probably the lesser reason? Well, look at them. Pence has been traveling the country, licking walls or whatever it is Trump's vice president has officially been tasked with doing these days; you're not seeing the team's various economic-minded hangers-on making themselves scarce during this same period, nor do any of them need to given now-ample resources for conducting remote interviews and testimony.

Which brings us to the other factor: Trump doesn't want to hear from the medical team, and so none of the rest of us are going to hear from them either if he and towel boy Pence have any say in it. One of the core reasons for Pence's elevation to top pandemic manager was to curb public appearances by the medical experts to begin with. Pence already threatened to retaliate against a news network by ending all Fauci interviews once; preventing government officials from publicly speaking about things that upset Trump has become one of the White House's most all-consuming tasks.

Indeed, the day after Fauci's last significant White House appearance, the Trump White House prohibited, outright, Health and Human Services head Alex Azar, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid head Seema Verma, and Dr. Fauci from testifying to the House about the pandemic—at all. The reason? Trump believes the House is made up of "Trump haters." (Fauci was, however, allowed to testify to the friendlier, Republican-controlled Senate last week, where the "Trump hating" could presumably be kept to a minimum.)

The extent to which government medical experts have fallen out of favor with Trump and Trump's team of, well, idiots, has been obvious since the beginning of the month, and is in line with Trump's apparent mental inability to process any information he did not himself invent. Trump and his team had even suggested that the medical-expert-including pandemic task force would be ceasing operations completely in favor of a new task force stuffed to the brim with only economic-minded "reopening"-pushers. Trump relented, apparently, upon learning that the original task force was still popular—but you probably couldn't tell that from the team's sudden bout of invisibility.

The main problem, of course, is that Donald Trump has decided that he wants the pandemic to be over for electoral reasons, and so the White House is now single-minded in their pursuit of that fiction regardless of each day's new death tallies. Those in government who know better will be hidden as best the White House is able, so that the White House can better claim nobody knew this was coming as deaths mount despite entire buildings full of people warning that it was.

Azar and others who have proven themselves more astute at dodging follow-up questions on whether or not Americans should drink bleach or indulge in whatever other fantasy President Biff Ideasguy pipes up with in an effort to fill camera time are still being let out of their cages from time to time. But it appears the White House tolerance for actual pandemic expertise has now been exhausted.

Trump is bored now. He wants to reopen, he doesn't particularly care what the consequences are—as with his constant pushing of malaria medication, his "ideas" consist primarily of all-or-nothing Hail Mary shots to end the crisis by magic, in the hopes that just one of them will stick—and he does not need America hearing from anyone who might confuse the public as to whether or not that's a good idea.

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