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OPINION

The perfect storm: Fauci’s truth vs. Trump’s lies

Dr. Anthony Fauci is being punished by the White House and its schlock troops for the greatest sin in Trump’s world — telling the truth.

President Trump watches as Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks about the coronavirus, in an April press briefing at the White House.
President Trump watches as Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks about the coronavirus, in an April press briefing at the White House.Alex Brandon/Associated Press

If President Trump fought the coronavirus with the same energy his administration is expending to trash Dr. Anthony Fauci, 136,000 Americans probably wouldn’t be dead.

As scientists, including Fauci — a member of the White House coronavirus task force — look for a COVID-19 vaccine, Trump continues looking for excuses. Since March, he’s blamed the pandemic on the World Health Organization; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; former president Obama; governors; and, in grotesquely racist terms, China. It is, of course, Trump’s own anemic and confusing response that has spurred an American public health catastrophe that shows no signs of abating.

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With coronavirus cases surging, and state and city officials backtracking on reopening plans, Trump needs a bigger goat to scape. And that’s Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Fauci is being punished by the White House and its schlock troops for the greatest sin in Trump’s world: telling the truth.

While states shatter single-day records for new cases and deaths, Trump is ever more intent on concealing the numbers behind Fauci’s warnings. Effective Wednesday, his administration has ordered hospitals to send all coronavirus patient information to a central database in Washington instead of the CDC. With such vital information in these devious hands, it’s inevitable that the statistics will be manipulated to benefit Trump.

That’s also the point of the anti-Fauci campaign.

When Fauci recently warned of rising COVID-19 cases in Texas, Dan Patrick, the state’s lieutenant governor, declared that the famed infectious diseases expert has “been wrong every time on every issue.” This is the same Trump sycophant who claimed in March that dead senior citizens wouldn’t be too high a price to pay to get the economy restarted.

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Claiming that Fauci “doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” Patrick cited comments the scientist made in January and February. While he did say then that “the American people should not be worried or frightened by [the coronavirus],” Fauci added “but it’s something we, as public health officials, need to take very seriously.”

With Trump in charge, we know how well that worked out.

Patrick’s dig was an early salvo. A recently released White House memo echoes the same rote accusations against Fauci. This is another variation on a favored Trump tactic: not taking responsibility when things go horribly wrong.

When even Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s former acting chief of staff, calls the woeful current state of coronavirus testing “simply inexcusable,” you can believe that Trump is scrambling for cover. (In February, Mulvaney chided the media for exaggerating the virus just to hurt Trump. Now that his family has had problems getting tested, he’s suddenly seen the light.)

The more the COVID-19 dead pile up, the harder it is for Trump to see a clear path to reelection. His response, then, is to ignore the virus and make Fauci’s reputation another casualty. Derisively known in the White House as “Dr. Gloom and Doom,” Fauci hasn’t met with Trump in weeks, and his public appearances have been limited.

For months, it’s been complicated between the president and Fauci. When Fauci mentions the administration’s missteps, he gets death threats. While Trump keeps talking only about the economy, Fauci talks about “the perfect storm” driving the current surge in cases.

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It reminds me of the film “The Perfect Storm,” especially the scene when George Clooney, playing the captain of a doomed commercial fishing boat, steers toward a wall of water curling like a fist. As darkness envelops the battered vessel, he whispers, “She’s not gonna let us out.”

In our lives, that demon “she” isn’t the coronavirus. It’s Trump. And he’s lambasting one of the few people Americans overwhelmingly trust to tell them the truth about the coronavirus.

At least, as the apocryphal tale goes, Nero only fiddled while Rome burned. Trump is adding fuel to an all-consuming fire — and that may soon include schoolchildren, faculty, and staff, if he and Betsy DeVos, the worst education secretary in American history, get their twisted way.

The problem is that Fauci is unwilling to tell the president what he wants to hear. Trump may want to badger Fauci into quitting, but it’s unlikely Fauci will shirk his duties to this nation during a pandemic. He’ll do his job, and Trump will continue to make that job impossible.

What Trump thinks is the clamor of shoppers, foodies, and moviegoers returning to resuscitate the economy on which he has staked his presidency and reelection is actually the commotion of emergency rooms again overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients. A White House trying to discredit Fauci won’t change the fact that we are where we are because of a president whose incompetence and cruelty continues to be as dangerous as the virus itself.

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