Drs. Fauci and Birx: Trump’s coronavirus response worse than we think
Dr. Deborah Birx and Dr. Anthony Fauci at a Trump coronavirus task force meeting. Fauci's pained expression is obvious as he listens to Trump falsehoods. | AP

The top two scientists upon whom Americans depended for a year for guidance on the coronavirus pandemic are now confirming the fears of many. They are telling the nation that Trump’s response to the crisis was far worse than has generally been believed.

Within days after Trump finally helicoptered away from the White House, Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx, both scientific experts on Trump’s coronavirus task force, told the press that the culture in the White House was a decidedly anti-science one that valued falsehoods and propaganda over truth.

What’s worse, the Trump administration was fully aware of the danger when it took actions it knew would kill people. The large Trump rallies where unmasked crowds were squeezed into venues were held with the full knowledge that they would be super spreader events with deadly consequences.

“We would say things like: ‘This is an outbreak. Infectious diseases run their own course unless one does something to intervene’,” Fauci told the New York Times, “And then he (Trump) would get up and start talking about, ‘It’s going to go away, it’s magical, it’s going to disappear.’”

Birx echoed Fauci on Face the Nation when she said, “There were people (in the White House) who definitely believed that this was a hoax,” and added that Trump had a “penchant for listening to people who told him what he wanted to hear, even if that information had no scientific basis.”

“I saw the president presenting graphs that I never made,” she said. “So I know that someone — someone out there, or someone inside — was creating a parallel set of data and graphics that were shown to the president. I don’t know to this day who, but I know what I sent up, and I know what was in his hands was different than that.”

For a variety of reasons, Fauci has gotten wider trust among the American public than Birx so it is significant that he is backing Birx regarding her claims on this point.

Fauci told the New York Times that “in the early days of the pandemic, I was really concerned to observe that Trump was getting input from people who were calling him up, I don’t know who, people he knew from business, saying, ‘Hey, I heard about this drug, isn’t it great?’ or, ‘Boy, this convalescent plasma is really phenomenal.’”

“He would take just as seriously their opinion — based on no data, just anecdote — that something might really be important,” Fauci said. “It wasn’t just hydroxychloroquine, it was a variety of alternative-medicine-type approaches. It was always, ‘A guy called me up, a friend of mine from blah, blah, blah.’ That’s when my anxiety started to escalate.”

Back to the credibility issues regarding Birx: Birx, unlike Fauci, came out of the Trump administration with a bad reputation and low trust level among the public.

Like Fauci she tried not to contradict Trump in public but, unlike Fauci, she went out of her to heap praise on Trump even as he made ridiculous claims about the use of bleach and unproven drugs. Worse yet, she held back on admitting the possibility that the pandemic could kill the hundreds of thousands we now see it has killed. She is seen as having covered up Trump’s aversion to science and truth.

An outrageous tweet

At one point she outrageously tweeted that “Trump is so attentive to the scientific literature & the details & the data. I think his ability to analyze & integrate data that comes out of his long history in business has really been a real benefit.”

Fauci, on the other hand, frequently publicly disagreed with Trump.

Fauci is now chief medical adviser to President Biden and is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Biden has pointedly not asked Birx to join the administration.

Since she is on the outs in the national leadership on pandemic response many think her sudden challenges this week to Trump’s handling of the crisis are an attempt to save her own reputation ahead of her pending retirement from government.

Back to the revelations about the disaster that was Trump’s handling of the crisis: Trump frequently, in the early period of the pandemic, said it would, “like a miracle,” go away on its own. He frequently, along with his supporters in government and Fox News, called it a “hoax” conjured up by the Democrats to make his administration look bad.

Fauci’s interview with the Times gives details about a president who was both unwilling and incapable of mounting a meaningful response to the pandemic and whose statements and actions reflected seriously flawed fantastical thinking.

While Birx spent time last week trying to save her reputation, Fauci described for the press some pretty horrifying facts about Trump’s handling of the crisis. Among those was Trump’s barely veiled attempts to get Fauci to lie to the public.

“I would try to express the gravity of the situation,” Fauci said, “ and the response of the president was always leaning toward, ‘Well, it’s not that bad, right?’ And I would say, ‘Yes, it is that bad. It was almost a reflex response, trying to coax you to minimize it. Not saying, ‘I want you to minimize it,’ but, ‘Oh, really, was it that bad?’”

One could see the sense of relief that Trump is gone on Fauci’s face this week in the interviews he has given on national television.

“One of the new things in this administration is if you don’t know the answer, don’t guess. Just say you don’t know the answer,” Fauci said during a press conference, adding that Trump’s pushing of absurd “miracle cures” for the coronavirus was particularly “uncomfortable” for him, “Because they were not based in scientific fact.”

Contradicting Trump came at a high price for Fauci. He reiterated that he received death threats and said that in one case opened a letter to him that contained powder.

“One day I got a letter in the mail, I opened it up and a puff of powder came all over my face and my chest,” he said.

“Disturbing to me and my wife”

“That was very, very disturbing to me and my wife because it was in my office,” he continued, adding that, thankfully, the substance turned out to be “a benign nothing.”

Fauci also reminded everyone this week about how Trump brought onto the coronavirus task force Scott Atlas,  a neuroradiologist with no infectious disease experience.

Atlas pushed the administration’s shocking intention to encourage the infection of as many people as possible. The idea was that even if it took millions to die the goal of “herd immunity” would be achieved.

“I tried to approach (Atlas) and say, ‘Let’s sit down and talk because we obviously have some differences,’” Fauci said. “His attitude was that he intensively reviews the literature, we may have differences, but he thinks he’s correct. I thought, ‘OK, fine, I’m not going to invest a lot of time trying to convert this person,’ and I just went my own way.”

Fauci said Trump’s own bout with the coronavirus and his subsequent hospitalization did nothing to open the president’s mind about science.

Fauci: “When Trump was in Walter Reed hospital and he was getting monoclonal antibodies, he said, “Tony, this really just made a big difference. I feel much, much better. This is really good stuff.” I didn’t want to burst his bubble, but I said, “Well, no, this is an N equals 1. You may have been starting to feel better anyway.”

A so-called science experiment with just one subject is written as “n=1.”

Trump rejected a scientific assessment of his situation, saying, according to Fauci, “Oh, no, no no, absolutely not. This stuff is really good. It just completely turned me around.”

“So I figured,” Fauci said, “the better part of valor would be not to argue with him.”

The interviews with Fauci, of course, are far from the only indicators of the disastrous handling by Trump of the coronavirus crisis. Vietnam and China are among the many countries that have done far better than the U.S. in lowering infection rates and deaths. The difference is that science, not Donald Trump, guides policy in those other countries.

The people of the U.S. and the Biden-Harris administration now face the task of mounting the recovery from the disaster wrought by the Trump administration

Passage into law of the administration’s $1.9 trillion rescue package would be a good start.

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CONTRIBUTOR

John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward, as a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee, and as an activist in the union's campaign to win public support for Wal-Mart workers. In the 1970s and '80s he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.

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