By Lance Chilton, M.D.
When was America Great, Anyway? No, that first letter is not upside down, but maybe the MAGA phenomenon is upside down. After all, was America great during the slave-holding era? Was it great when pushing Native Americans off their land?
There have been examples of incipient greatness in this country–I’d point to two from the last century that rise above the rest: The Marshall Plan, under a Democratic president, Harry S. Truman, rescued and rebuilt a shattered Europe after World War II. And the President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) provided care and medications to rescue millions of Africans from certain death due to HIV-AIDS, and was begun at the behest of a Republican president, George W. Bush, with advice from the head of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci.
When Dr. Fauci was a new, young, recent hire at the National Institutes of Health, there was no treatment for HIV-AIDS, and young people, mostly men, were dying of infections that overwhelmed their depleted immune systems. Antiviral treatments developed under Dr. Fauci’s direction were quickly rolled out to save many lives in this and other rich countries. Meanwhile, the HIV epidemic hit poor countries, especially in Africa, which could not afford the treatments. Fauci, Bush, and PEPFAR stepped up, and an estimated 25,000,000 African lives have been saved so far.
Fast forward some 20 years, and Dr. Fauci has just retired, after 37 relatively non-controversial and 3 tumultuous years as the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He served in that capacity under seven presidents, Republicans and Democrats, from Reagan through Biden. It was Fauci who became the voice for the evolving science of COVID under our most recent two presidents. Some of that time meant his enduring such inanities as number 45 advocating injecting bleach or taking ivermectin to avoid COVID disease.
What is perhaps unsurprising in this hyper-polarized world is that Fauci has been vilified by one of the sides – the wrong or “far-right” side. One deluded young man, armed with all-too-available heavy weapons, even headed out from the opposite coast to assassinate the NIAID chief. A young woman demonstrated in front of his building with a sign showing his head in a noose, according to a January 2021 Washington Post article. Another, on the air, compared him with Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, the “angel of death.”
It’s hard to imagine why Making America Great Again makes some folks want to drag Dr. Fauci into their mud pit. But that they’ve done, with the eager encouragement of Fox News. Sure, there have been some changes in advice coming from NIAID during the course of the pandemic, due to changing and improving scientific evaluations. And Dr. Fauci was there through all of it, presiding over the remarkably rapid development of vaccines that outperform bleach and ivermectin and everything else.
According to the Post: [Some] people believe that Fauci killed millions of people for the good of his stock portfolio because it’s implied by TV pundits, Internet trolls and even elected leaders. Fauci is unnerved by ‘the almost incomprehensible culture of lies’ that has spread among the populace, infected the government, manifested as threats against him and his family.
It’s tempting to compare Dr. Anthony Fauci to other heroes of medicine–maybe Dr. Jonas Salk–or to other American heroes–perhaps Martin Luther King, Jr. You may wish to decide for yourself after viewing the PBS program “Dr. Tony Fauci” in their American Masters series. Or read or listen to two interviews of Dr. Fauci by the New England Journal of Medicine. They’re at: https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp2300937 and https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp2300938?query=TOC.