Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and adviser to the president, has faced possibly his biggest challenge over the past year as he has had to work with President Trump to fight the deadly coronavirus pandemic.
He has had to deal with covid-deniers, becoming enemy number one of Trump supporters, death threats and working with an unpredictable president who has himself spread dangerous misinformation about covid treatments.
In a recent candid interview with the New York Times, Dr. Fauci explained what it was like working with the former president.
Asked when he felt things first started going wrong between himself and Donald Trump, Dr. Fauci said it coincided with the huge surge of coronavirus cases in New York:
“I would try to express the gravity of the situation, and the response of the president was always leaning toward, ‘Well, it’s not that bad, right?’ And I would say, ‘Yes, it is that bad.’ It was almost a reflex response, trying to coax you to minimize it.”
Before the coronavirus pandemic, Trump had barely interacted with Dr. Fauci. That all changed once the pandemic began taking its toll on the US and he was very much needed in his advisory role.
It quickly concerned him that Trump was taking advice from his business friends who have no understanding of the science.
“He would take just as seriously their opinion — based on no data, just anecdote — that something might really be important. It wasn’t just hydroxychloroquine, it was a variety of alternative-medicine-type approaches. It was always, ‘A guy called me up, a friend of mine from blah, blah, blah.’ That’s when my anxiety started to escalate.”
When Trump infamously took to the podium to answer questions and began suggesting ‘treatments’ that were scientifically inaccurate and downright dangerous, Dr. Fauci felt it was his duty to refute what the president had said:
“It isn’t like I took any pleasure in contradicting the president of the United States. I have a great deal of respect for the office. But I made a decision that I just had to. Otherwise I would be compromising my own integrity, and be giving a false message to the world.”
According to Dr. Fauci, that got him in trouble with Trump’s inner circle and resulted in an editorial article in USA Today and the White House press office itself claiming Fauci was wrong when he was not.
While Trump never shouted at Dr. Fauci, he made it clear that he wanted him to paint things in a more positive way even if in reality, they were bleak.
“The president would call me up and say, ‘Hey, why aren’t you more positive? You’ve got to take a positive attitude. Why are you so negativistic? Be more positive.’”
Dr. Fauci and his family were harassed and received death threats directly to their phones and homes, while Fauci himself received an envelope which covered him in a powder substance when he opened it.
Alongside the terrifying threats, Dr. Fauci said, “there was chatter on the internet, people talking to each other, threatening, saying, ‘Hey, we got to get rid of this guy. What are we going to do about him? He’s hurting the president’s chances.’ You know, that kind of right-wing craziness.”
When it came to medical advice, Dr. Fauci claims Trump never got confrontational with him refuting what he said, but that he would simply ignore him and move on to something else.
Even when Trump himself went into hospital, Dr. Fauci tried explaining that the treatment that made him feel better wasn’t necessarily proven to work because it was essentially an experiment done on one person - also known as, n = 1.
“[Trump] said, ‘Oh, no, no no, absolutely not. This stuff is really good. It just completely turned me around.’ So I figured the better part of valor would be not to argue with him.”
Dr. Fauci said that he didn’t invest a lot of time in trying to change Trump’s mind because “his attitude was that he intensively reviews the literature, we may have differences, but he thinks he’s correct.”
Even when he joked about firing him, Dr. Fauci put it down to “Donald Trump being Donald Trump”, but despite all the grief, he never thought about quitting:
“I felt it was important. I think in the big picture, I felt it would be better for the country and better for the cause for me to stay, as opposed to walk away.”