Dr. Anthony Fauci isn’t surprised President Trump contracted covid-19, but he is surprised by the death threats Fauci and his family have received since he was thrown into the spotlight as the nation’s leading infectious disease expert amidst the deadly covid-19 pandemic.
On Sunday, 60 Minutes aired an interview with Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and inarguably America’s most trusted distributor of covid-19 facts. The wide-ranging interview touched on everything from surging covid-19 infection rates worldwide and vaccination production to Trump’s contraction of the virus and his refusal to wear masks. Fauci told 60 Minutes that despite anti-science sentiment going mainstream, he’s not entirely convinced Trump is anti-science, especially due to his enthusiasm for the experimental drug cocktail he received at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Trump is simply wrapped up in appearances.
“I think that’s less an anti-science than it’s more a statement,” Fauci told CBS’s Dr. Jon LaPook. “You know, a statement of strength, like, we’re strong, we don’t need a mask, that kind of thing... You know, he sometimes equates wearing a mask with weakness.”
This is precisely why Fauci wasn’t all that surprised when Trump revealed to the nation in the early hours of October 2 that he, along with his wife First Lady Melania Trump, both contracted covid-19.
Dr. Jon LaPook: Were you surprised that President Trump got sick?
Dr. Anthony Fauci: Absolutely not. I was worried that he was going to get sick when I saw him in a completely precarious situation of crowded, no separation between people, and almost nobody wearing a mask. When I saw that on TV, I said, “Oh my goodness. Nothing good can come outta that, that’s gotta be a problem.” And then sure enough, it turned out to be a superspreader event.
But there were few opportunities for Fauci to make his concerns public: The White House has controlled when he can and cannot speak to the media. Fauci says he hasn’t been allowed on the “many, many shows” that have requested an interview.
However, even if he were allowed to be frank and transparent with the press, President Trump would likely dismiss Fauci’s deductions. Trump much prefers the cavalier wisdom of Scott Atlas, a neurologist who got Trump’s attention after making several appearances on Fox News. According to the Washington Post, White House’s Coronavirus Task Force has been ridden with discord since Atlas’s recruitment to the team:
Atlas shot down attempts to expand testing. He openly feuded with other doctors on the coronavirus task force and succeeded in largely sidelining them. He advanced fringe theories, such as that social distancing and mask-wearing were meaningless and would not have changed the course of the virus in several hard-hit areas. And he advocated allowing infections to spread naturally among most of the population while protecting the most vulnerable and those in nursing homes until the United States reaches herd immunity, which experts say would cause excess deaths, according to three current and former senior administration officials.
Atlas says everything Trump wants to hear, and the task force has reportedly devolved into constant discord because of it. This dysfunction was made even more evident during a call between Trump and his campaign staff on Monday. Trump reportedly went on a long rant about covid-19's impact on his re-election chances, insisting that he was in the clear because people are sick of covid-19 and Fauci, whom Trump called a “disaster.”
“They’re tired of it,” Trump said, according to reporters from the New York Times and CNN who were on the call. “People are tired of hearing Fauci and all these idiots... Fauci is a nice guy. He’s been here for 500 years.”
Trump also claimed that every time Fauci makes a television appearance it’s a “bomb,” but that it’ll be “a bigger bomb if you fire him.”
Trump’s dismissal toward Fauci inspires real harm on every day for Americans seeking the president’s guidance and Fauci himself: He receives so many death threats that he is now flanked by federal agents during his morning power walks.
“That’s sad,” Fauci said. “The very fact that a public health message to save lives triggers such venom and animosity to me that it results in real and credible threats to my life and my safety. But it bothers me less than the hassling of my wife and my children.”
Fauci told 60 Minutes he plans to vote in person on November 3. While he refuses to publicly endorse a presidential candidate, it’s hard to imagine he’ll be voting for the man who has helped put both his family and millions of others in such a precarious, life-or-death state of affairs.