When the history of the pandemic is written, Dr. Anthony Fauci will undoubtedly be recognized as a hero in the story — the nation’s top infectious disease expert who fought to get America to understand the coronavirus threat and respond to it based on the science, while gingerly handling a president who often seemed determined to make it all worse. But the political right today has settled on Fauci as a villain. Republicans have concocted a new spate of false allegations aimed in part at political fundraising.
Conservatives of conscience should recognize this campaign as the dangerous, anti-science screed that it is and reject it.
Fauci, the longtime director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, became a lightning rod for the right early in the pandemic for his diligently scientific approach to the crisis — an approach that infuriated then-President Donald Trump. Trump was intent on downplaying the threat as much as possible so it wouldn’t affect his reelection chances. As Trump denigrated the need for testing, encouraged his followers to ignore safety protocols and promoted wacky treatments, Fauci calmly presented the best information available. He continues to pay a price for defending science over political fantasy.
The Washington Post and Buzzfeed recently released thousands of Fauci’s official emails from early in the pandemic, obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests. The trove illuminates just how mysterious the new virus was to Fauci and other scientists. The conversations show these experts diligently debating the available evidence about the pandemic’s origins and the best responses to recommend.
But right-wing provocateurs in Congress and conservative media are now trying to suggest the emails implicate Fauci in a vast cover-up of the yet-unproven theory that the virus was engineered in a Chinese lab and then escaped. That theory remains unlikely, though the Biden administration and others are now probing the possibility in light of new information. Still, as multiple fact-checkers have concluded, Fauci’s emails do nothing but confirm his responsible, fact-based approach to the unfolding crisis based on data available at the time.
Yet some of the usual demagogues (including, predictably, Missouri’s Republican junior senator, Josh Hawley) are calling for Fauci’s ouster based on their misrepresentation of a few lines within the thousands of pages of correspondence. Most egregiously, they claim Fauci buried early evidence of the laboratory theory. The emails show nothing of the kind. The entire allegation is based on the fact that Fauci and another scientist discussed that theory but didn’t publicly endorse it — not exactly a smoking gun.
From the beginning, conservative misinformation about the coronavirus has inarguably cost American lives. Their follow-up attempt to crucify the scientist who was actually working to save lives should confirm once again that this crowd of anti-science extremists is willing to put self-serving politics ahead of the public good.