The day after the Trump White House put out talking points aimed at discrediting the nation’s leading expert in infectious diseases, the president retweeted a former game show host:
Then we got this bit of juvenilia on Facebook from Dan Scavino, the White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications and Director of Social Media:
Sorry, Dr. Faucet! At least you know if I’m going to disagree with a colleague, such as yourself, it’s done publicly — and not cowardly, behind journalists with leaks. See you tomorrow!
No points for subtlety here. The Trumpian attack on expertise—and on Anthony Fauci—has gone en fuego.
In recent days, the 79-year-old scientist and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has found himself directly in the president’s crosshairs. During a Fox News interview Thursday with Sean Hannity, Trump said Fauci “is a nice man, but he’s made a lot of mistakes.” And when Greta Van Susteren asked him last week about Fauci’s assessment that the country was not in a good place, Trump said flatly: “I disagree with him.”
As Mona Charen writes in today’s Bulwark, Fauci never really had a chance in this White House:
Fauci was doomed from the start because he is serious, sober, dedicated, and independent, not a lackey for the Bad Orange Man. Above all, he was doomed because he tells the truth. And this administration is one continuing lie.
This, of course, ought to mark the end of the Faucian bargain. Back in April I wrote that “at this crucial moment, Anthony Fauci is still in the room. And we should be grateful for that.”
The deal was costly. Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley has called Trump “the most anti-science and anti-environment president we’ve ever had.” So to stay in the room, Fauci had to “put up with moronic crackpots like Peter Navarro, and has to stay quiet as the Trump Cult launches know-nothing attacks on science and against him personally.”
But for a while the bargain held and, on balance, his presence probably saved lives.
That’s over now. And Fauci has to make a choice. In fairness, it seems like he has already made one. He is, in fact, sounding alarms.
But he also has to realize that there is no longer a place for him in this administration. The danger is that he can still be used to provide cover for Trump’s recklessness, even as he is cast aside and defamed.
As Mona notes, the odds were always against him. Trump is not only personally ignorant, he is aggressively ignorant of the extent of his cluelessness. But the problem runs deeper, because Trump is a symptom of an ideological distrust of expertise and science that has deep roots on the right. Last year, before the pandemic, a Pew poll found deep partisan divides over trust in science.
More Democrats (43%) than Republicans (27%) have “a great deal” of confidence in scientists—a difference of 16 percentage points. The gap between the two parties on this issue (including independents who identify with each party, respectively) was 11 percentage points in 2016 and has remained at least that large since.
Not even a deadly pandemic has changed that dilemma. And Trump is stoking even deeper distrust as he makes the assault on medical expertise a centerpiece of his re-election campaign. The consequences are likely to be deadly and long lasting.
But the politics is problematic to say the least. It’s hard to see how Trump hopes to win back moderate suburban swing voters by going to war with Fauci, who continues to have much higher approval ratings than the president.
An even deeper problem: by attacking the credibility of the experts, Trump is making it harder for the public (or at least his followers) to know who to trust. At some point, he may need that credibility. Who will vouch for a vaccine? Who can reassure the markets?
Right now, Trump is burning it all down.