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Dr. Anthony Fauci’s Hearing Gave Us Politics at its Most Paranoid

Clarence Page, Tribune Content Agency on

As American politics have become more polarized in the era of former President Donald Trump’s MAGA movement, we also hear it sound more paranoid.

The dueling scandals of Trump’s hush-money trial in New York, where he was found guilty on all 34 felony counts, and the beginning of Hunter Biden’s trial on three felony gun charges in Delaware provide ample material for fear and anger, rational or otherwise, on both political sides.

But hardly anyone’s life and reputation have been buffeted by conspiracy theories more than 83-year-old Dr. Anthony Fauci, former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who later joined the White House Coronavirus Task Force in January 2020 before stepping down in 2022.

Appearing voluntarily at a House subcommittee on the very serious topic of the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Fauci knew he would be fielding every controversial question that rose up during and after that fraught period. After all, the pandemic was a plague that affected all Americans in one way or another — and everyone seemed to have a pet theory about where it came from, what to do about it and, quite often, whom to blame for it.

For example, whenever rules for mask mandates and social distancing were changed, which seemed too often in my humble view, our patience was tested as we tried to keep up — or persuade people who don’t like to be told what to do. All of that doubt and frustration fell on whoever had the highest profile, which often was Fauci, a familiar face for many of us ever since he rose to prominence during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. Depending on how much patience we had left, we reasonably wondered whether anybody in charge knew what they were doing.

But how ready was he, one wonders, for interrogation by the Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, an attention-loving Georgia Republican who, once news cameras are turned on, seems to pursue drama more than facts?

During Greene’s turn to question him, she refused to call Fauci “doctor” and instead insisted on referring to him as “Mr. Fauci” as she pressed him on requiring children to wear masks in schools during the pandemic and also on the 6-foot social distancing guidelines put in place in many public spaces to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Democrats objected to Greene’s discourtesy. She was reprimanded by the Republican committee chairman and instructed to recognize Fauci as a doctor.

Later, as Fauci responded to the claim by Republicans that the 6-foot social distancing rule closing many businesses and schools in the first years of the pandemic was not based on science, he cited his own closed-door testimony before the panel in January, when he said the standard “just appeared” from a number of sources.

Greene and some other Republicans interpreted that to mean he just “made it up.” No, he said, he was referring to the lack of a clinical trial demonstrating its validity.

 

But things became poignantly serious when Fauci was asked about death threats he and his family received from crackpots who blame him for the pandemic. After Fauci choked up while describing the threats, Greene piped up again, saying she thought he belonged in prison.

When Democratic Rep. Debbie Dingell of Michigan asked if he was still receiving threats, he replied: “Yes, I do every time someone gets up and says I’m responsible for the death of people throughout the world, the threats go up.”

Fauci said there have been “credible death threats,” leading to the arrests of two individuals, “and it’s required my having protective services essentially all the time.”

As Fauci testified, it turned out, a convicted Jan. 6 rioter identified as Brandon Fellows, 30, was sitting directly behind him, making what appeared to be sarcastic faces visible on TV over Fauci’s left shoulder.

That’s how paranoid politics work. As the old saying goes, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean somebody’s not out to get you.

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(E-mail Clarence Page at cpage@chicagotribune.com.)

©2024 Clarence Page. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


(c) 2024 CLARENCE PAGE DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.


 

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