Dr. Anthony Fauci

The president has tried to throw Dr. Anthony Fauci under the bus more than once.

I get mildly annoyed when I hear Colorado politicians — yes, I mean you, John Hickenlooper — say that if we could only bring Colorado to Washington that everything would be better. There would be mountains, I guess, which would be nice. But politics in state houses, with some notable exceptions, are routinely an improvement on the disaster that is congressional politics. What I mean is, it’s not just Colorado.

That said, if you’ve watched Jared Polis’ regular updates on the coronavirus, you are probably impressed by the seriousness with which he takes COVID-19 and the lack of fireworks, to put it mildly, in his presentations. What in the wide, wide world of sports would Steve Bannon make of Polis?

I have an idea. Let’s compare and contrast, as my grandson’s teacher might say in her Zoom classroom. (And note to Jeffrey Toobin: the 5-year-olds in that kindergarten Zoom class apparently manage to keep their pants on throughout.)

Polis often surrounds himself with socially distanced experts, all masked, as Polis himself is masked until he begins speaking. He doesn’t insult anyone, although occasionally he mournfully points to the president’s failure to institute a coherent national response, but when he tells us that Colorado could soon reach a critical stage if we fail to limit crowds, if we don’t socially distance, if we don’t wear masks, if yada, yada, yada, most of us believe him.

And yet, as cases rise dramatically around the country and medical science warns of a third wave, which, as we enter fall and head toward winter, could be even worse than the first, Trump says we’re tired of hearing about COVID, COVID, COVID and that we’ve rounded a corner. No mention, though, of the possibility of an oncoming bus. Or that basically half the states are seeing a significant rise in cases and hospitalizations, and a few of them with record numbers of cases. Or that Trump has been predicting the virus would someday miraculously disappear since the very beginning and he hasn’t quit since.

Colorado has been either lucky or good or both, but we have, to date, done better than most states in the country, most nearby states and the country as a whole. And despite the keep-everything-open-including-our-mouths-and-noses crowd, who are generally met with ridicule as flat-earthers and worse, you can see how they have helped Coloradans make their choices and have helped make Polis, according to the polls, the most popular Colorado politician. A good rule of thumb, by the way, is to place yourself 180 degrees away from Patrick Neville or Ken Buck as often as possible.  

Whereas Trump has called Dr. Tony Fauci an “idiot” who has been around for 500 years and always gets things wrong. Trump says that if he’d listened to Fauci’s advice, there would be 500,000 more American deaths from COVID-19, a number he later amended to somewhere between 700,000 to 800,000 deaths. This is what the kids call (or used to call, I’m not sure) cray-cray. In the political world, we call it desperation. Fauci is far and away the most trusted person in America on the science of the virus and Trump is, uh, the least trusted. And those numbers are directly in line with much of what Trump says about the virus — completely and entirely unfounded.

As William Haseltine, an expert on infectious diseases and former professor at Harvard Medical School, put it on CNN: “What Donald Trump is doing is attacking the fire department when the house is burning down. This is a very serious time.”

I’m not praising Polis here because I’m a huge fan of Jared Polis’ politics — he and I have disagreed on the many areas in which he has been neither bold nor progressive, including some involving COVID-19 — but because he contrasts so thoroughly with Trump.

I don’t know if you watch Trump’s rallies anymore, or if you ever did, but, for mental health reasons, I have reduced my intake to the next-day tweets and clips, just as I do with not-as-funny-as-it-should-be Saturday Night Live. But the failure to make the phony-baloney Hunter Biden story into one that interests anyone outside the Trump base has Trump moving on — this time, to directly taking on Fauci and other experts, while holding largely-mask-free, entirely-social-distancing-free rallies that are potential super-spreaders. Fauci, when not appearing on 60 Minutes to rebuke Trump for using his words out of context in a campaign ad, must scream into his pillow. Even Deborah Birx, once Trump’s favorite expert, has all but dropped out of sight.

Luckily there has been some polling on Trump’s barnstorming tour, with its packed rallies. According to an Axios-Ipsos poll, three out of four of those polled say attending Trump rallies is risky. And here’s the kicker: That includes 54 percent of Republicans. And in a trick that only Trump could pull off, a plurality of those polled trust him less on COVID-19 than they did before he contracted the virus.

As Trump’s political ally Chris Christie, who also got the virus, said after he was released from the hospital, “I was wrong. I was wrong not to wear a mask at the Amy Coney Barrett announcement and I was wrong not to wear a mask at my multiple debate prep sessions with the president and the rest of the team.”

Imagine if Trump had said as much. OK, I won’t tax your imagination. Trump is right about one thing: We are tired, and we all want to get back to normal. But you don’t hear Trump talk about a vaccine before Election Day anymore, which is great, because if a vaccine becomes available after the election, only days away now, many more people will trust its usefulness.

Instead you hear Trump echo his latest favorite medical adviser — Dr. Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist whom predictably Trump found on Fox News. And so we hear about less testing and herd immunity and that wearing a mask or social distancing is meaningless. And in Atlas, Trump finds a doctor who will say that the pandemic will soon be over. The doctors I’ve found, who are actual experts in infectious disease, say herd immunity could kill many hundreds of thousands more people.

And the CDC, apparently trying to get out from under Trump’s thumb, just released numbers saying that in the year of the pandemic, we’ve seen about 285,000 more Americans die than in a typical year. Not only has the virus hit Blacks and Latinos the hardest, the CDC found the excess death rate for those 25 to 44 is up 26.5 percent from recent years.

Meanwhile, in a March appearance on CNN — hat tip to The Boston Globe — Dr. Fauci predicted, “Looking at what we’re seeing now, I would say between [100,000] and 200,000 [deaths].” We now have more than 220,000. And Fauci also said on that day that the United States would contract “millions of cases,” shocking many people at the time.

Yes, that’s the very same Dr. Fauci who is supposedly wrong about everything, as noted by a certain president who is so very wrong about so very much.  

Mike Littwin’s column was produced for The Colorado Sun, a reader-supported news organization committed to covering the people, places and policies of Colorado. Learn more at coloradosun.com.