Three days ago, I wrote on Facebook: “Folks, place your bets here: How long will Fauci remain in his position? Trump has quarreled with and ultimately ousted every ‘adult in the room’ in his administration. He also hates it when somebody else gets ‘his’ spotlight.” That was a reference to a Washington Post article, which reported on “cries of alarm on Twitter” when Dr. Fauci was absent from a Trump news conference:
“Where is Dr. Fauci?”
“What happened to Dr. Fauci?
“Dr. Fauci, paging Dr. Fauci. Where the heck is Dr. Fauci?????”
It’s not just that Fauci is hogging Trump’s spotlight. He’s also on a collision course with Trump, as has been every single other “adult in the room”. James Mattis? Gone. H.R. McMaster? Gone. Rex Tillerson? Gone. John Kelly? Gone. These were the people in the Trump administration who had built up a genuine base of their own and who were capable of and tried to look out for the interests of the US capitalist class, rather than just parroting the line of the senile and raging narcissist Donald Trump. And because they had their own base – either in the military or in the broader capitalist class or elsewhere, they were able to and in fact had to stand up to Trump.
Jeff Sessions, former attorney general, seems like an exception, but in fact it’s just the opposite. That bigoted xenophobe has his own popular base within the far right, as well as within the US senate, which is exactly why Trump had to wait so long to oust him.
This is why Trump has installed a group of nobody’s, many of whom are too young to have built up their own careers, meaning having built up their own independent network. (See this article on Trump, the State Department and the NSC: Slip sliding further towards one-man rule for a review of some of the new appointees.)
Now he’s stuck with Dr. Fauci, who’s served as the director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) ever since the days of Ronald Reagan. Up until now, he’s ignored Fauci because thinking about such minor details as pandemics is beyond Trump’s normal mental capacity. He shut down the federal program “Predict”, which was established to try to anticipate future pandemics and was proposing drastic budget cuts to the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes for Health. Had it not been for the Coronavirus crisis, Fauci’s NIAID, and possibly Fauci himself, would have been on the chopping block.
Now, it’s not only a personal matter of Fauci being in the spotlight; it’s also that Fauci’s entire career trajectory is starting to openly clash with that of Trump. Fauci must continue to advocate those measures which will tend to lessen spread of Covid-19. This runs directly counter to Trump’s trajectory. That trajectory consists of two things: First is the stock market and the immediate profits of capitalism. Second is his base and his approval ratings in general. He only responded to this pandemic as much as he has because he saw that it was going to destroy his presidency if he continued to do nothing.
But now, the cure is worse than the disease because of how the stock market has collapsed. Just yesterday (Monday, March 23) it was reported that Trump is starting to call for reopening the economy. There is even the start of calls from the more extreme wings of the capitalist strategists to open things up. On March 24, John Cochrane of the far right wing Hoover Institute and the even further right wing Cato Institute, wrote a column in the Wall St. Journal, in which he said, “A blanket lockdown can’t go on. Keeping every business closed and every worker at home until a vaccine is available won’t work…. The massive cost of a shutdown justifies costly measures to avoid it…. It is time to craft a much more detailed, thoughtful, and cost-efficient policy to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.” With emphasis on “cost effective” of course. In construction – which means in real estate speculation – “cost effective” means business as usual, with the possible exception of taking the individual worker’s temperature at the start of the work day and/or telling them to stay home if they feel sick. (This is purely a measure designed to shield the contractors legally and possibly financially, since there is a two to three week incubation period during which the infected person has no symptoms but is contagious.)
Science interview with Fauci
So, it seems inevitable that Trump will move towards reopening the economy. So far, Fauci has tried to balance between maintaining his own credibility and trying to work with Trump. His own career and reputation give him the basis for standing up for what he believes in. All of these dynamics were on display in an interview he gave to Science magazine on March 22. Here are a few excerpts:
Q: How are you managing to not get fired?
A: Well, that’s pretty interesting because to his [President Trump’s] credit, even though we disagree on some things, he listens. He goes his own way. He has his own style. But on substantive issues, he does listen to what I say.
Q: What about the travel restrictions? President Trump keeps saying that the travel ban for China, which began on 2 February, had a big impact…. It just doesn’t comport with facts.
A: I know, but what do you want me to do? I mean, seriously Jon, let’s get real, what do you want me to do?
Q: At Friday’s press conference, you put your hands over your face when President Trump referred to the “deep State Department”. It’s even become an internet meme. Have you been criticized for what you did?
A: No comment.
Fauci described how his fact-based (to a degree) science team operates with Trump: “We go in to see the president, we present [our consensus] to him and somebody writes a speech. Then he gets up and ad-libs on his speech. And then we’re up there to try and answer questions.”
This summarizes exactly the conflict the mainstream of the US capitalist class has had with Trump. Whether it be dealing with Russian intervention in US elections, or withdrawing US troops from Syria or US policy towards NATO – as far as Trump is concerned all that matters is his base of support and the stock market (which are often interlinked). And as with those two matters of importance, for Trump a long term perspective is maybe 24 hours. Forty-eight at most.
Like the other “adults in the room” who came before him, such as Kelly, McMaster and Mattis, Fauci thinks he can survive and “do some good” by minimizing the differences with Trump and even flattering him publicly, while at the same time pressing for what he believes is necessary, both behind closed doors and in public. Right now, Fauci’s popularity shields him from being bounced. But his popularity is due to his role in dealing with this intense crisis, and it is exactly the intensity of this crisis that magnifies the tensions between him and Trump and will accelerate the speed at which they will tend to develop. The developing tensions between Trump and Fauci exemplify the crisis of US capitalism – a crisis that threatens not only human society as a whole but live on the planet in general.
Workers, however, should have no illusions in Fauci. Basically, what he represents is the view of what is called “econ-modernism.” That is the view that capitalist society can make up for its rape of the planet by ever new and better technology. In this case, as oaklandsocialist has explained in our article on Coronavirus, capitalism and the forces of nature, the real basis of the crisis is how capitalism interacts with and violates the natural world. Fauci’s sole solution is development of a vaccine as well as other medical treatments. He also ignores the frequent link between infectious diseases and environmental factors that weaken the immune system. In this case, what he represents is what appears to be the more sane wing of the capitalist class vs. the senile and insane approach of the other wing and of Trump himself.