President Donald Trump watches as Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of...

President Donald Trump watches as Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks about the coronavirus in April. Credit: AP/Alex Brandon

 With many effective strategies available for protecting Americans from the coronavirus, President Donald Trump is employing one guaranteed to make things worse: Attacking the scientist whose knowledge and advice are trusted most by Americans.

Trump and White House officials are attempting to discredit Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s foremost infectious disease expert who, not coincidentally, has been speaking out more forcefully about America’s surging COVID-19 cases. Fauci is right to be concerned, Trump is wrong to denigrate him. But should Trump succeed in muzzling or sidelining Fauci, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo should be ready to hire the Brooklyn native in a New York minute.

The attacks on Fauci are not surprising. Trump’s administration routinely discredits and ignores science on environmental and climate change issues. This week it ordered hospitals to send COVID-19 patient data directly to the Department of Health and Human Services, bypassing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and increasing the chances the data will be politicized by the White House.

The disinformation campaign against Fauci is meant to undermine his credibility, his strongest asset in this war. One White House aide posted a cartoon mocking Fauci on social media. Trump ludicrously retweeted a baseless claim by TV game show host Chuck Woolery that “everyone” is lying about the coronavirus, naming the CDC and doctors. That appears to include Fauci, who long ago was banned from televised coronavirus task force briefings, his fact-based accounts at odds with Trump’s fantasies. Last weekend, White House officials, without attaching their names, released a list of bullet points — like opposition research done on a political foe — showing when Fauci’s guidance shifted over time.

But the list did not include the many times, even now, when Trump and other officials have uttered outright falsehoods about the coronavirus and the administration’s failure to control it. And, advice is bound to change when experts confront a new disease about which nothing is known and with which no one has experience. Fauci at least had the wisdom to change his guidance as new evidence emerged. 

The same is true of the World Health Organization, which Trump wants to exit, partly because he says it was soft on China in the early days of the crisis. But so was Trump, who praised China’s hard work and transparency in battling COVID-19, and he downplayed the severity of the virus long after the WHO declared it a global emergency.

The WHO has problems. Created by its member nations, it is too beholden to them, has been slow-footed at times, and lacks funding. But its struggles are a reason to strengthen it, not abandon it. The WHO has done excellent work like eradicating smallpox and nearly eradicating polio. If the coronavirus has taught us anything, it’s that we’re all in this together and must cooperate — like on a vaccine — to defeat it.

Trump should heed that lesson. Sensible steps derived from science by experts steeped in knowledge have a better chance of delivering us from the virus than fact-challenged tweets and proclamations.

— The editorial board

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