Originally published in the May 2021 issue of The Lamp.
On December 23, 2020, when others were preparing for a different nativity, the mayor of Washington, D.C., announced that the following day, the great man’s eightieth birthday, would be known in her city as “Dr. Anthony S. Fauci Day.” It was an odd way to pay tribute to someone who had done so much to ruin other people’s Christmases. A week earlier, Fauci had discouraged Americans from traveling to visit family, calling it “just one of the things you’re going to have to accept as we go through this unprecedented challenging time.” In medieval Europe, even lepers were allowed to enter cities to beg alms at Christmas.
Who was this man whose birthday outranked Christmas Eve in the nation’s capital? Officially, he is the director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, a post he has held for the last thirty-six years, during which time the N.I.A.I.D. has gone from the sixth-highest funded of the National Institutes of Health to the second. He is both a bureaucrat and a researcher, having rejected multiple offers to head the N.I.H. because the promotion would take him away from the lab bench. Sally Quinn, who has a nose for D.C. power if anyone does, met Fauci at a dinner party and he made such an impression that she decided to make him the hero of her next romance novel—“Dr. Michael Lanzer,” forbidden lover of the First Lady, whose “square jaw and high cheekbones” give him “almost oriental or Indian features which belied his coloring.”
Unofficially, Dr. Fauci has become the face of the liberal response to the coronavirus pandemic. Whatever charisma Sally Quinn sensed, the Resistance is feeling. There are Dr. Fauci bobbleheads, bumper stickers, and votive candles. Kim Kardashian invited him to address a private Zoom call of thirty-seven celebrity friends so they could ask him about quarantine measures (Mila Kunis wanted to know whether it was safe to eat takeout straight out of the container; Fauci said yes). When Saturday Night Live needed an actor to play Fauci in a sketch, they cast Brad Pitt, and when the sketch was over, Pitt removed his wig and said into the camera, “To the real Dr. Fauci, thank you for your calm and clarity in this unnerving time.”
The attraction for many is Fauci’s position as a man of science. When politicians grandstand, Fauci will stick to the facts. But it is something more than that. Other liberal heroes have come and gone in the last four years, most too quickly to be remembered. Who today could name the protagonists of the impeachment, the tubby colonel, the lady ambassador? Fauci is more beloved, because he fits the role the Democrats have been trying to cast since 2016. Like a good foil, he is his counterpart’s opposite in some ways and his twin in others. He is gentlemanly and restrained, but he also has the New York accent and no-nonsense manner, plus the evident happiness in front of a T.V. camera. He is—or at least his fans want desperately for him to be—the anti-Trump.