In a remarkably candid interview with The Atlantic published on Wednesday, the infectious disease expert called on his experiences working with a president who eagerly promoted the consumption of hydroxychloroquine as a means of treating COVID-19 a “surrealistic experience.”
“With every other president, whether they were conservative, moderate, or liberal, the guidepost for everything was a deep respect for science,” Fauci told The Atlantic’s Peter Nicholas. “That was always the case. When I got involved with Trump, it went into a different world, the likes of which I had not experienced.”
Fauci said that Trump was a man who “actually thought that his instinct ... was as good as anything I’d put in front of him,” and often put “anecdote on the same level as scientific data,” trusting the words of often-questionable personal contacts over those of scientists.
“It’s really tough to get into his head, but I think what was going on with him is he was not interested in the outbreak,” Fauci said, describing Trump as a “pretty macho guy” who considered the pandemic an “inconvenient truth that he didn’t accept as a truth” and thought wearing face masks was a sign of weakness — a belief that many Americans unfortunately took on as well.
The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who is now serving as chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, added that despite the president’s difficult proclivities, he didn’t necessarily dislike the man.
“ ... There was something about our commonality of being New Yorkers that we developed this strange relationship, where we really liked each other,” Fauci said of Trump, who often alternated between calling Fauci “a wonderful guy” in public and scolding him for being realistic about COVID-19. “If I say that I liked him, my wife would have a heart attack. But there was something about him that was charismatic and likable on a personal basis — not on a policy basis.”
Fauci pointed out that he had a rougher time dealing with the individuals in Trump’s inner circle, who were often furious that he was publicly contradicting attempts to downplay the coronavirus and even went so far as to twist Fauci’s words into a political ad for Trump’s reelection without his consent.
“I didn’t tell them to back off,” Fauci said. “That wasn’t my style. My style was to say — to get a little Brooklyn-ite — ‘What is this bullshit that you people are doing?’ I just made it very clear that I didn’t like it.”
Nevertheless, Fauci stressed that he refused to let himself get distracted by the rhetoric of Trump’s yes-men.
“I don’t take any great pleasure in contradicting the president of the United States,” Fauci said. “I have a great deal of respect for the office. But I had to do it as a symbol to the rest of the world that science is not going to flinch in the face of somebody who’s spouting nonsense.”
Read the full interview here.