Hot tempers at last week's House hearing on the battle against COVID-19 highlighted again the hatred that America's hard right continues to harbor for Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. It's both ironic and fitting that America's preeminent warrior against infectious diseases is despised by those infected by America's second-most dangerous disease: the anti-fact, anti-science, pro-conspiracy extremism that grips a slice of this country.
Testifying before a House committee last year, Fauci had the temerity to reiterate a warning with which every public health expert in the country agrees: We should "avoid crowds of any type no matter where you are because that leads to the acquisition and transmission. ... When you're in a crowd, particularly if you're not wearing a mask, that induces the spread. ... You should stay away from crowds, no matter where the crowds are."
You might suppose that with almost 32 million Americans infected and nearly 570,000 dead, even Trump loyalists who embraced the old con man's assurance that COVID-19 was a media "hoax" would make it a point to sound sober. And you might suppose that would apply to Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who, as one of the Master of Mar-a-Lago's most stalwart acolytes, was reliably wrong about COVID-19 right from the start. At a March 2020 hearing of the House oversight committee, after Fauci warned bluntly that COVID-19 was going to get worse, Jordan insisted that "the risk to Americans remain low."
Jordan proved to be a chump, and Fauci proved to be prescient. But Washington is a town short on memory and even shorter on sheepishness; and Jordan, always sneering and rarely correct, could not contain his fury at Fauci, whose sin, in the eyes of the looneys who loathe him, was that he was right about the disease when they were wrong. In July, a snarling Jordan demanded to know whether Fauci believed two individuals in some New Jersey town should have been arrested for opening up their gym in violation of state law. "You think that's okay?" Jordan yelled, rambling about how neither church-goers nor hairstylists were attacking police or committing arson.
"Where does it get to?" Jordan thundered at Fauci last week. "When it comes down, what number do we get our liberties back? Tell me the number!" After his time for questioning witnesses had expired and the committee chair had recognized another member, Jordan kept going. "The American people want Dr. Fauci to answer the question!" he snapped. This prompted Rep. Maxine Waters to exclaim what many watching were silently thinking. "You need to respect the Chair and shut your mouth!" she told Jordan.
Jordan was not well-briefed on Americans' view of Fauci. A Morning Consult/Politico poll in February found that 60% of voters rate Fauci's handling of COVID-19 as "excellent" or "good," and only 17% said it was "poor."
But what a 17%!
The nutcases in our midst maintain that Fauci was behind the COVID-19 outbreak, likely in order to profit from vaccine sales. Fox personality Tucker Carlson saw fit last week to suggest that, like the virus itself, the vaccine is a hoax. "So maybe it doesn't work," Carlson told his audience, "and they're simply not telling you that." After Fauci cautioned that children should continue to wear masks when playing with children from multiple households, one Boston-area columnist who had supported Donald Trump's fraudulent pronouncements one after the other made it clear that no public health expert was going to tell him anything about public health. "Go away, you nuisance," he tweeted.
The virus-deniers and the anti-vaccination crowd have made the national effort to stop the suffering and rebuild the country more difficult than it already is. The Fauci-hatred that is the staple of domestic extremism is not merely irrational. It is yet another cross that America can ill afford to bear.
Jeff Robbins, a former assistant United States attorney and United States delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, was chief counsel for the minority of the United States Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. An attorney specializing in the First Amendment, he is a longtime columnist for the Boston Herald, writing on politics, national security, human rights and the Mideast. To find out more about Jeff Robbins and read his past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
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