Anthony Fauci’s rolling audition for Dancing With the Stars continues. Fauci this week appeared in yet another interview on CBS, where he was asked about the possible impact of the coronavirus on the holiday season. He replied that it was ‘too soon to tell’ whether Americans would even be able to gather safely for Christmas.
Which got me wondering: how far are these seasonal COVID restrictions supposed to go? I have no problem, for example, socially distancing by a factor of 10 from anyone who orders a pumpkin spice latte. But double-masking the Indians in a Thanksgiving play could prove more than a little historically insensitive. Is Fauci serious? Think of the demographics most likely to flout COVID restrictions: Texans, barflies, Democratic governors. Does he really think they’re about to start listening now? After a year and a half of being asked to flatten a curve that looks like a Six Flags roller-coaster?
Fauci was clear about one thing: we need to keep wearing masks. Indoors. Even if we’re vaccinated. Until time shall be no more. And it’s here that we approach one of the great paradoxes of modern American life. On one hand, this is the most defiant country in the first world. We don’t like to mask up, get vaccinated, heed even our democratically elevated authorities. Last year, when COVID-spooked Los Angeles banned Fourth of July celebrations, Angelenos sent up so many fireworks they caused an air quality hazard. No nation knows quite how to humiliate its aspiring little tyrants like we do.
And yet nowhere on earth do elites so cling to the delusion of their own godlike control. It isn’t just Fauci attempting to exercise a veto over Christmas dinner. Think of all the swagger about how COVID is an opportunity to rebuild the economy from the ground up. Or of the Green New Deal, which assumes that engineers can sprout environmentally friendly buildings out of the ground like they’re playing SimCity. Or of the bores on Twitter who imagine the country can be flipped to socialism or Zoroastrian integralism or whatever the flavor of the millisecond happens to be.
To which we should respond: this country? This free people? Good luck with that, boys. Enjoy the Roman candles in the streets at four in the morning.
In fairness to Fauci, he’s less an idealistic authoritarian than he is a doctor trying to battle a pandemic. Yet the way he presents himself, and the way others contextualize him, serve to further this myth of the omnipotent elite. For much of left-wing America, Fauci isn’t just a trustworthy voice; he’s a shaman casting magical powder onto our national campfire. His visage gazes off of merchandise, votive candles, beer cans. The mantle of vicarious paladin that once fell upon Robert Mueller has now passed to him.
Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising in an America where scientism is slowly congealing into civic religion. Perhaps it isn’t even all that harmful. Edmund Burke wrote that in any prudential endeavor, ‘I shall always advise to call in the aid of the farmer and the physician rather than the professor of metaphysics.’ For us, that translates to: better we listen to Fauci during a pandemic than, say, an Alex Jones producer who has just noticed that a nurse who took his temperature with one of those forehead thermometers accidentally beamed the latest New World Order superweapon blueprints into his brain.
There’s no question that Fauci is brilliant and an adept communicator. And in a celebrity culture such as ours, surely there’s room for a celebrity plague doctor to guide us through catastrophe. The problem is that Fauci has been exalted well beyond that, beyond even a scintilla of accountability. Consider, for example, a pair of recent documentaries about him, one from PBS, the other from NatGeo. Both are pathetically fawning. The PBS one in particular plays like the kind of short banjo-twanging movie about Abraham Lincoln that you might watch on a wall screen at a history museum.
Neither flick seriously wrangles with Fauci’s ‘evolving’ counsel on masks. Or his insistence, contra the peer-reviewed science, that booster shots are needed. Or his, shall we say, tenuous assertion that America never funded gain-of-function research in Wuhan. That last omission is especially glaring. As scientist after scientist acknowledges that COVID-19 could have been created by man, the lab-leak theory, and Fauci’s role in denying it, merit a movie all their own. Instead we get Anthony Fauci: an American Girl Story. The only airtime PBS gives to a Fauci critic is a brief clip of Senator Rand Paul, whose questioning is summarily insinuated to be an election-year stunt.
It’s this hero-worshipping past the graveyard that explains the growing anger with Fauci. Americans might listen to celebrities, they might respect geniuses, but they don’t want them placed beyond reproach. It’s not about denying science, though that admittedly has become a problem. It’s about resisting groupthink that in some cases has devastated businesses, livelihoods, bottom lines, all while hundreds of thousands of Americans have died from COVID all the same. It’s a crisis of trust, and if the press wants to help ameliorate it, they could start by covering Fauci as the public servant he is, rather than Photoshopping a stovepipe hat onto his head.
In the meantime, I’ll be stockpiling brandy and planning my Christmas party. If Fauci has a free moment in between his upcoming Cheddar and Animal Planet interviews, he’s more than welcome to pop over.