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OPINION

Trump and Fauci: It’s complicated

In this pandemic, the doctor is trying to protect the nation and appease a volatile president.

Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks along with President Trump and members of the Coronavirus Task Force during a news briefing Monday.
Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks along with President Trump and members of the Coronavirus Task Force during a news briefing Monday.Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post

Dr. Anthony Fauci has an impossible task — saving lives from COVID-19 and saving America from President Trump’s lies.

Whether he can also save his job on the president’s Coronavirus Task Force is another matter entirely.

White House officials deny that Trump will soon sideline Fauci and, as anyone who has observed this calamitous administration knows, that means absolutely nothing.

At the very least, this much is known: The president is tired of Fauci messing up his revisionist lies with hard facts. Trump is falsely recasting himself as a pandemic prophet who knew long before any expert the horrors that COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, would inflict.

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Much to Trump’s chagrin, Fauci keeps illuminating the real history. If “you started mitigation earlier, you could have saved lives,” he said Sunday on CNN. “Obviously, no one is going to deny that.”

Trump’s right-wing attack squirrels aren’t only denying that. They also want Fauci kicked to the curb for stating it. And, regardless of White House spin, so does Trump, who Sunday subtweeted an anti-Fauci screed that ended with “Time to #FireFauci.”

On Tuesday, Senator Ed Markey announced that he will introduce legislation to restrict Trump’s ability to remove Fauci for any reason other than “on the basis of malfeasance by, neglect of office by, or incapacity of the director." In a statement, the Massachusetts legislator said, “We cannot allow Donald Trump to silence Dr. Fauci or any other government scientists.”

From former FBI director James Comey to the recent removal of several inspectors general, Trump dumps anyone perceived to be a threat or branded as disloyal. Usually, this means they are doing their job instead of concocting ways to make Trump look good.

Fauci presents an even more difficult challenge to the president. He is trusted. He is respected. With 36 years as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, his expertise is unassailable. He has far better approval ratings.

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On the same weekend that The New York Times detailed how weeks of Trump’s dithering and denials wasted crucial time when an early, robust federal response would have saved lives, The New Yorker published a glowing profile of Fauci, anointing him as “America’s doctor.”

No wonder Fauci is now a right-wing target, so much so that he’s receiving death threats.

“He’s emasculated the economy,” said Representative Andy Biggs about Fauci during a recent appearance on a conservative talk show. “It’s time for Dr. Fauci to move along.”

Of course, what Biggs, a Republican from Arizona, means is that Fauci is emasculating Trump. As the right has built Trump up as a mix of John Wayne, modern-day messiah, and Captain America, they can’t have him shown up by some short, straight-talking science geek more concerned with managing an unparalleled health crisis than massaging the president’s self-image.

Even though Fauci tried Monday to tone down his comments about Trump’s stalled coronavirus response, the president will probably continue to grow more sour and erratic at his daily rallies, which aren’t even pretending to be briefings.

In the face of a pandemic claiming thousands of lives every day, Trump is sticking with his “say anything” style of governance. He claims coronavirus tests are readily available. (They aren’t). He’s promoting coronavirus treatments. (They’re unproven, even dangerous.) Now, he says he alone “calls the shots” and has “total” authority to decide when states can reopen. (He most certainly does not.)

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Fortunately, several governors are ignoring this latest empty presidential flex, remembering what Fauci warned last month: “You’ve got to understand that you don’t make the timeline; the virus makes the timeline.”

Fauci is one of the precious few reasons to believe we might make it through this still-evolving tragedy. We are better informed by his steady, reassuring presence. He can’t become another casualty of Trump’s warped priorities and ego.

If we are to remain safe and sane through this catastrophe — and already that isn’t even a remote possibility for millions in this country — Fauci must continue to be part of that effort. While Fauci told C-SPAN that he did not believe Trump would remove him from the Coronavirus Task Force, he added that he’s “serving at [the president’s] pleasure.”

Fauci will do what he can to appease the president, so long as it doesn’t further endanger the nation’s health. In his celebrated career, Fauci has battled such formidable foes as AIDS and Ebola. Now, this country’s foremost authority on virulent threats is summoning all of his expertise to protect us not only from the coronavirus but also from the virulence of Trump.

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Renée Graham can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.