Ever since the Republican Party devolved into a wholly owned subsidiary of former President Donald Trump, it is increasingly preoccupied with conspiracy theories and smear campaigns. For Trump himself, as well as such Trump operatives as Roger Stone, smears and conspiracies define their politics, rather than policy or principle. Over the past few years, unfortunately, we have become accustomed to their grimy style.
The latest target of their fantasies and defamations is Dr. Anthony Fauci, now among the most familiar faces in America as the principal presidential adviser on the coronavirus. Fauci has become someone about whom right-wing noisemakers feel free to fabricate vicious lies. They slander him incessantly because — in the course of performing his duty to the nation — he displeased their master.
You see, the renowned epidemiologist didn't think Trump was making America great when the former president suggested that we inject bleach into ourselves, or buy up hydroxychloroquine or shun masking. Fauci even dared to note that the Trump administration's horrendous mismanagement of the pandemic had led to many thousands of unnecessary deaths. Because it did.
Now these same extremists — some of whom, such as television personality Tucker Carlson, masquerade as journalists — have insinuated that Fauci is actually responsible for the virus escaping from a laboratory in Wuhan, China, where it was supposedly "engineered." This grotesque falsehood briefly gained traction when a series of Fauci's emails were disclosed by BuzzFeed — and were promptly distorted and falsified to defame him. As The Washington Post's Philip Bump demonstrated in an article dismantling Carlson's charges, the Fox fabricator didn't even try to check whether there was any factual basis for his argument.
As Bump showed, there is no evidence that Fauci misled Congress about the origins of COVID-19. Nor is there a shred of proof that he tried to suppress research into the possibility that the virus somehow escaped from the Wuhan lab — a theory that most virologists still reject, although it bears further scrutiny. Demands for transparency from the Chinese government are valid; demands to "fire Fauci" are ridiculous.
The unsubtle goal of Trump's minions is to wipe away the blood of dead Americans that is now all over him and deflect the blame elsewhere. Republicans are now echoing a true meme about their fallen idol — "Trump Lied. People Died." — and trying to stick it on Fauci. But their noise cannot exonerate Trump. History will record him as a failed president who oversaw the worst American medical catastrophe in a century.
How will history regard Anthony Fauci? Unlike Trump, born to wealth and privilege, Fauci was a Brooklyn kid who grew up in an apartment over his father's pharmacy. He earned his way through merit, whether as the diminutive captain of his college basketball team or as the eventual winner of nearly every prize and award that matters in his chosen field. Having joined the National Institutes of Health as a clinical associate as soon as he completed his medical residency, he has served this country for more than 50 years.
Fauci is a professional, not a politician. He was appointed to his current position as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases during the Reagan administration and has served both Republican and Democratic presidents ever since. In that position, where he has earned the world's trust, Fauci has led the nation's defense against a series of medical challenges, including the AIDS pandemic, the Ebola threat and a series of potential pandemics including the earlier SARS, the Middle East variant, and swine flu. To the extent that we have escaped the worst consequences of living on a planet where disease spreads like wildfire, he deserves much of the credit. He is one of the scientists most often cited in medical journals.
In 2008, then-President George W. Bush — another Republican whom the right once decreed as God's anointed leader — awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Fauci. That honor was based on Fauci's direction of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, which was among the most successful government efforts in U.S. history and probably saved at least 18 million lives. Back in those days, the nation's conservative evangelicals helped persuade Bush to fund PEPFAR as a work of faith. Now, worshipping the golden calf, they disparage the man who made that program work.
Tony Fauci is a great American of no party or ideology. He would be the last to say that he has never made an error, because scientists make mistakes and learn from them. But if his dishonest critics live a thousand years, all of them together will never achieve a tiny fraction of the good he has done.
We don't need to hear any more from them.
To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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