“The daily death toll [from Covid-19] will reach about 3,000 [nearly double the official White House prediction] on June 1, according to an internal [CDC] document obtained by The New York Times…” read a report from that newspaper. The key word here is “internal”. Why has the CDC not released it to the general public? The answer explains a lot about how Trump manipulates all those around him, including established scientists.
Consider Dr. Deborah Birx, the official White House coronavirus task force response coordinator. When she was asked about Trump’s now famous advice to drink Lysol and/or brighten up one’s insides with UV light, she first justified that particular piece of idiocy by saying that he was just “processing” the ideas, more or less thinking out loud. Any normal adult wouldn’t have to process those ideas, but Birx was covering up for her boss. Then, on a Fox “News” interview, she went further, joining in Trump’s attacks on the press: “I think the media is very slicey and dicey about how they put sentences together in order to create headlines,” she said. “And I think the responsibility that the press has is to really ensure that the headlines reflect the science and data that is in their piece itself,” she continued, as if the press “reflects science” less than does Trump. In so commenting, she made a somewhat more subtle addition to Trump’s attacks on the “fake news” media. “The president has always put health and safety first,” she added. This comment is downright untrue and she knows it perfectly well.
Anthony Fauci is better known and established than is Birx, has a longer career track and, therefore is not simply an open Trump apologist. But he too will have to decide between his present reputation and his continued presence on Team Trump. He will not be able to keep getting away with acts like the following: On April 12, in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, Fauci said that “lives could have been saved” had Trump acted sooner. More recently, in an interview with National Geographic, he flat-out contradicted Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo regarding the origins of SARS-CoV2, the virus that causes Covid-19. They had claimed that they have evidence that prove it comes from a Chinese lab. Fauci flat out contradicted this claim.
With his deep reputation and long career, Fauci is not so easily manipulated. But it can happen. When Trump prohibited him from testifying before Congress, he meekly accepted. (His appearance on Chris Cuomo’s news show on May 6 was pretty clearly only with the permission of Trump and Cuomo made clear that there had been an agreement not to ask him about that refusal to testify. In fact, Cuomo explicitly said, “I’m not going to ask you” about it.) What happened after Fauci had said that “lives could have been saved” set the stage: Although he put it in a somewhat circumspect way, there was an immediate reaction, with Trump retweeting calls to “fire Fauci”. The very next day, Fauci was falling all over himself to backtrack, saying he’d used a “poor choice of words” and that “hypotheticals” can get you in trouble.
Stuart Rothenberg, contributor to such papers as the Wall St. Journal, the Washington Post and the NY Times, tweeted: “How does Fauci feel now? Manipulated? Used?” Responding tweets added such comments as “He and Birx have gone over to the dark side. Too busy kissing Trump’s ass,” and “If he doesn’t, he should [feel manipulated]. He’s destroyed an illustrious career.”
Fauci’s National Geographic interview shows that that is not entirely so. In that interview, he also implicitly criticized Trump’s lack of getting testing going and also differed on reopening the economy at this time. It will be interesting to see Trump’s reaction to that interview, but in any case, Trump will not allow Fauci to play that balancing act forever. (This article is written the day after the National Geographic interview, so we haven’t seen Trump’s reaction yet.)
A column in the Washington Post explained the dilemma as they (the scientists) see it: “The overriding reason for career public servants like Birx and Fauci to remain on the job is to influence the work from the inside. Staying on the coronavirus task force allows them to hang onto some measure of authority over how the crisis is managed behind closed doors.” The writer, a former career bureaucrat for multiple administrations, continues: “Continuing to serve also enables experts to communicate accurate information directly to the public.”
The above comments of Birx and Fauci show that that is not true. Nor can it legitimately be claimed that they can “influence” Trump’s policies over the medium term, never mind over the long haul. (We know how successful other “adults in the room” like John Kelly and H.R. McMaster were at influencing Trump to be a better manager of the interests of US capitalism!) For anybody who has any doubt, look at Trump’s push now to support the dangerous, anti-science bigots and thugs – some of whom are outright fascists (a strong word but justified in this case) – who are protesting the various state shutdowns. There couldn’t be a more dangerous stance that Trump could possibly take, and he is proving once again that he is not guided by science in any way, shape or form.
Similarity with the union leadership
Although there are some major differences, Fauci, Birx and others are headed down the path blazed by the union leadership. For fifty years now, they have been collaborating with big business in the vain hope that they can placate and influence the policies of the “business leaders”.
A prime example is the 2011 speech that Bob King, then president of the United Auto Workers union, gave to the Detroit Area Chamber of Commerce. In it, he swore up and down that the union and its members see the employers as partners, that they recognize that the companies’ success is their success, and he appealed to the companies: “The 21st century UAW seeks and expects a partnership with employers based on mutual respect, trust and common goals.” (See full speech here.) King is no exception. Take David Rolf, a prominent leader of the SEIU. “We always want to offer an olive branch and a high road approach to employers of conscience,” he said in explaining why a $15/hour minimum wage ordinance he’d authored excluded employers covered by a union contract. Or the Northern California Carpenters Regional Council, which has on their web site “We believe that a construction project is only effective when employers and contractors are truly partners.” Or the UFCW, whose Local 8 once gave its annual union person of the year award to Bob Piccinini, chairman and majority stock holder of Save Mart stores(!).
“Slaves to the financiers”
The underlying reason for this capitulation can be seen in a comment made by Andreas Cluver, then
head of the Alameda County Building and Construction Trades Council: “Yes, we are slaves to the financiers,” he said. He meant the house slaves, not the rebellious field slaves. In other words, we accept our role as wage slaves and the best we can do is to placate the employers and hope for the best.
Fauci and Birx also accommodate
As scientists, not union leaders, Fauci, Birx and others are in a position that is somewhat different but also similar to these union leaders. Their careers are built on their reputations as scientists, not on political policies. They therefore can rest more on facts rather than “opinions”. But even there, they have to accommodate the dictates of the capitalist class. And those dictates are ultimately disastrous because all these scientists can do is try to mitigate the worst health effects of capitalism. All they can do is try to lessen the results, not deal with the causes.
The Covid-19 pandemic is no fluke. It is but one of a whole host of new zoonotic (other animal species to human) diseases. As a UN report documents, these zoonotic diseases compose 75% of all new diseases. There are two main reasons for this dangerous development: Factory farming and wild habitat destruction. A quick google search finds not one instance of Fauci ever mentioning either of these in connection with new infectious diseases. The career of evolutionary biologist Rob Wallace explains why. He writes in the introduction to his important book Big Farms Make Big Flu, “While I once had a promising career as an evolutionary biologist studying influenza, consulting for the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, I now find myself ostracized, indeed on the precipice of earning the moniker of an enemy of the state…. The blacklisting stems from the decisions I have made about the nature of science.” Wallace explains further: “Big Food has entered a strategic alliance with influenza…. Agribusiness backed by state power (at) home and abroad, is now working as much with influenza as against it.”
Over and over, Wallace explains how these two developments have opened the door to these new diseases. (His book is partially reviewed along with the book of another equally important scientist, Theo Colborn, here.)
Losses outweigh gains
Fauci, Birx and similar scientists on one side, and the union leadership on the other might argue that the benefits outweigh the losses in making these compromises.
Andreas Cluver (of the building trades council) and similar union leaders claim that accommodation to capitalism is the best we can do, given the circumstances. That is debatable, but what is not debatable is whether their policies are working. By every measure they are a disastrous failure. Workers standard of living is not increasing, and unions are an ever shrinking sector of the work force. More fundamentally, the union leadership’s 50-year campaign to suppress class consciousness has left the US working class more divided and in some ways more confused than at least the pre-Civil Rights era if not before. It is exactly this campaign, for example, that has left the door open to millions of workers, including union workers, supporting Trump.
It is similar with these scientists. But Trump’s turn towards the anti-science bigots and the “back-to-work now at all cost” movement proves that the short term gains are outweighed by the losses. Further, he will use their positive comments in his campaign for reelection. If successful, this will further endanger the human species and Planet Earth in general.
Covid-19 is just a warning of what is to come. Take the Nipah virus, for example. It caused outbreaks in Australia and Asia killing “only” a few hundred, but the World Health Organization estimates that its mortality rate was up to 75%. The reason it didn’t kill very many was that it is not easily transmitted from one human to another. But if we continue down the path of habitat destruction and factory farming, it’s only a matter of time before a virus either mutates or a new one emerges that is as easily transmitted as SARS-CoV2 (the virus that causes Covid 19) and as deadly as Nipah. Scientists like Fauci and Birx are trading full disclosure of this immense danger in favor of their careers.