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Trump's flunkies are trying to scapegoat Anthony Fauci — but we all know who's really to blame

Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony S. Fauci addresses his remarks and urges citizens to continue to follow the President’s coronavirus guidelines during a coronavirus (COVID-19) briefing Wednesday, April 22, 2020, in the James S. Brady White House Press Briefing Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

Just a month ago, I predicted that Donald Trump and his lickspittles in Congress and right-wing media were setting up Dr. Anthony Fauci as their scapegoat for Trump's massive failures. (That admittedly wasn't difficult, since the far right has been attacking Fauci all along.) Now here we are, with the death toll from the novel coronavirus soaring past 83,000 and the unemployment rate at 15% (and likely closer to 20%) and, sure enough, some of the worst Trump flunkies are looking to blame the sober-minded infectious disease expert who's been working tirelessly on the coronavirus problem, despite having the worst possible boss imaginable.


Some on the right, in their ludicrous efforts to depict Trump as blameless (and almost hapless), are painting Fauci as an all-powerful mastermind who is somehow controlling the government against the president's will — and even suggesting he's faking the scientific understanding of how contagious the coronavirus is.

On Tuesday, Fauci testified before a Republican-controlled Senate committee — after Trump blocked him from appearing before a committee in the Democratic-majority House — and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky did his best to paint the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases as some kind of ur-authority who has trumped the will of elected officials.

"I think we ought to have a little bit of humility in our belief that we know what's best for the economy, and as much as I respect you, Dr. Fauci, I don't think you're the end-all," Paul told Dr. Fauci. "I don't think you're the one person that gets to make the decision."

The problem, of course, is that no one has actually said that Dr. Fauci is the person who makes the decisions. Except, that is, for right-wing conspiracy theorists who are trying to claim that the president of the United States isn't responsible for any of this. Fauci himself pointed this out.

"I have never made myself out to be the 'end-all,'" he calmly replied, noting that he's "a scientist, a physician and a public health official" whose job is to give advice about those matters, but never to "give advice about economic things."

This is the paradox of Trumpian authoritarianism. On one hand, Trump ran on the promise that "I alone can fix it", but from the second he set foot in the Oval Office, he and his supporters have depicted him as a helpless child being controlled by a nefarious "deep state" that is working against him. Now the narrative forming against Fauci holds that he somehow manipulated Trump or controlled his decisions on handling the coronavirus.

None of that is true, of course. Fauci didn't tell Trump to ignore months of warning that the coronavirus was coming. Fauci didn't force Trump to blow off ramping up the U.S. capacity to deal with the virus, and he certainly didn't force Trump to interfere with efforts to institute widespread testing. Fauci did indeed recommend the lockdowns, as did public health experts in nearly every country in the world — but only as a way to buy the U.S. time to institute better mitigation strategies. It wasn't Fauci's fault that Trump proceeded to waste the next six weeks tweeting and ranting at reporters during press conferences. Fauci certainly played no role in the Republican decision to reject and stonewall the kind of economic policies required to counteract the impact of the virus, further aggravating the already terrible economic impact of this pandemic.

All Fauci did was look at the evidence, and tell Trump how many people would get sick and die without implementing social distancing efforts. Trump and other political leaders always had it in their power to say, screw it, let them die. (Though there's no reason to think that heartless strategy would have saved the economy.) Trump was too much of a coward to embrace some Malthusian "herd immunity" approach from the beginning, and too lazy and stupid to take the measures that were necessary to make the lockdowns work the way they were supposed to.

Trump's cowardice is hardly unique, however. None of the right-wing advocates of the "do nothing" strategy are willing to confront how deadly it will be to ignore the science completely and "reopen" the country as if there was no deadly virus to contend with. (Which is already starting to spike upward in areas outside major cities.)

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