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The U.S. government is now providing a security detail for infectious diseases expert Dr. Anthony Fauci because as his stature has grown as one of the pillars of the American response to the pandemic, so have the rumblings of the far-right, conspiracy-theory wing of President Donald Trump’s support. The 79-year-old has been the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for more than 35 years, working with numerous administrations on infectious disease preparedness and response, ranging from HIV/AIDS to SARS and H1N1. To most Americans, that is a comforting sign of the experience and expertise that you would look for and appreciate in, say, the doctor who was treating your family. To conspiracy-minded Trump supporters, those decades of experience and public service are an indicator of something sinister: the anti-Trump deep state.
As a result, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar has grown increasingly concerned about Fauci’s safety, and the Justice Department on Tuesday signed off on an HHS request for a security detail for the doctor. “Yesterday, upon the recommendation of the U.S. Marshals Service, the department approved the special deputization request from H.H.S. for nine H.H.S.-O.I.G. [Office of the Inspector General] special agents to provide protective services for Dr. Fauci,” the Justice Department said in a statement.
The right wing has struggled to come to grips with the scale and potential impact of the coronavirus pandemic. A mixture of disbelief of anything beyond its immediate orbit, a profound unwillingness to take any coordinated personal action beyond consumption, and an implicit reliance on divine intervention have turned a distressingly large portion of the American political spectrum toward scapegoats rather than solutions. For the most virulent part of the Trump supporter base, Fauci is one of those scapegoats. “Outlets such as the Gateway Pundit and American Thinker seized on a 2013 email—released by WikiLeaks as part of a cache of communications hacked by Russian operatives—in which Fauci praised Hillary Clinton’s ‘stamina and capability’ during her testimony as secretary of state before the congressional committee investigating the attacks in Benghazi, Libya,” the Washington Post reports.
Trump supporters didn’t arrive at Fauci as a scapegoat on their own, of course—they have fed off the president’s initial denial of the problem, attributing it to a media conspiracy and a political hit job in an election year. This form of denialism was mainstream enough that it was trumpeted on Fox News, providing the feedback loop a conspiracy-minded Trump supporter needed before going to bed each night. Once this was no longer a plausible fiction to live within, the denialism metastasized and then morphed into a new false dichotomy over “opening up the economy.” This new line of magical thinking blossomed into full-fledged conspiracy that somehow tanking the economy was the left’s true aim and trying to save hundreds of thousands of American lives was part of an anti-Trump agenda. Now, this same group of inexpert internet opinionators (and Fox News prime-time hosts) seems totally convinced that unproven (potentially effective) drug combinations casually dangled before the American people each evening by the president are going to bail us out of this. Fauci isn’t so sure. This latest divide on miracle cures is a stand-in for a president, a current government, and an entire right wing that have no plan or organizing principle on how to come up with and implement effective policies to solve a complex problem, in part because all three are now so accustomed to waiting for and pushing miracles as cures.
When Fauci carefully disagrees with Trump on a national stage and artfully tries to bring the president of the United States back into the fold of reasoned decision-making, Trumpistas see Fauci as a deep state plant. Trump wants a vaccine, a drug of any sort, a miracle cure that will take the place of the difficult decisions he was elected to make. Along with Trump-whispering, Fauci has spoken hard truths in a plain way that is unique to doctors whose job is to balance optimism with delivering difficult, often painful news to patients and their families. Somehow that truth—the truth—has been rendered conspiracy for not comporting with whatever sentence Trump has happened to concoct that day. “The president was right, and frankly Fauci was wrong,” Fox News host Lou Dobbs said last week on his show, regarding Trump’s exuberance and Fauci’s temperance on the use of experimental medicine. Perhaps America should start sending its sick to Lou Dobbs.
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