Anthony Fauci: How The World Chooses Its Next Hero

Anthony Fauci is simultaneously the most celebrated and criticized next hero to rise, born from a raging health crisis and political maelstrom.

Anthony Fauci is simultaneously the most celebrated and criticized next hero to rise, born from a raging health crisis and political maelstrom

“The world needs Fauci. America needs Fauci.”

These were the words of Dr. Giuseppe Ippolito, scientific director of Rome’s Lazzaro Spallanzani hospital last April 15. Spallanzani hospital became the first European research center to isolate the genomic sequence of COVID-19, and has been on the front lines of Italy’s efforts to contain the spread of the virus. In a letter translated into English and sent to media outlets, Dr. Ippolito pointed also to Dr. Anthony Fauci’s Italian heritage, and shared The New Yorker’s glowing April 10 spotlight to make sure ‘Fauci’ becomes a household name.

Such a show of support from Italy is not incongruent with the praise public leaders might receive abroad, but miss out on at home. While Dr. Fauci does have a growing fan base and high approval ratings in the US, worldwide recognition of his expertise can further substantiate the weight of his role in the international research community. Dr. Ippolito’s generous praise of Dr. Fauci was an Italian response to the troubling retweeting of a wayward #FireFauci hashtag. Although US President Trump denied intentions to depose the celebrated director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Ippolito submitted his hospital’s bid to enthusiastically employ Fauci should he find himself without a job one day. Job security in the US is much less of a revered installation than that enjoyed in Italy, but we would hope that serving six US administrations and leading research and response to public health crises including HIV, SARS, Avian influenza, Swine flu, Zika, and Ebola might be enough to retain one’s place on a coronavirus task force.

Is caution heroic?

As Italy prepares to enter its 10th week of stay-at-home, critics from within and without clamor for an opening of the economy. Yet Lombardy, the productive powerhouse of the nation, remains the region most afflicted. As other European nations, who had been on later coronavirus timelines than Italy, have already set easing mechanisms in motion, Italy remains shuttered

Across the Atlantic, another national economic powerhouse fends off similar tremors of discontentment and disagreement. Governor Andrew Cuomo, the second name of NY-Italian heritage plastered across US headlines in recent weeks, has been speaking to NY’s head and heart with straight talk emboldened by empathy. 

“My mother is not expendable. Your mother is not expendable. We will not put a dollar figure on human life. We can have a public health strategy that is consistent with an economic one. No one should be talking about social darwinism for the sake of the stock market,” Cuomo tweeted, one week before his brother would contract the virus. Residents of other US states routinely listen in to Cuomo’s daily reports, now familiar with one of the earliest voices disabusing Americans of the notion that we might still be invincible, though the whole world fall. 

Partisanship, policy, and… science

So Cuomo and Fauci, Fauci and Cuomo. These two leaders have been grasping for the near-impossible: Can science move policy, and can policy communicate science? Moreover, can both institutions rise above petty partisanship? Throwing too much caution to the wind is a dangerous game when you can single-handedly become responsible for the throttling of a nation’s economy, or receive so many death threats that the Justice Department approves a personal security detail

On the other side of such aggression, cupcakes with your face. In almost comedic contrast to such antagonism, we have a burgeoning cottage industry of the new national icon — a collection of fan goods including luxury cashmere sweaters and bobbleheads, all with Fauci’s likeness.

While ‘Fauci Stud Muffins’ haven’t yet made their way to Italy, Dr. Ippolito’s pronouncement speaks volumes of the readiness of international support available for capable, and as yet under-appreciated world leaders. In 1988, former US President George H. W. Bush named Dr. Fauci as among his heroes. Bush went on, “You’ve probably never heard of him… He’s a very fine researcher, a top doctor at the National Institutes of Health, working hard, doing something about research on this disease of AIDS.”

Thirty-two years and a few pandemics later, we’ve heard of him, from the US to Italy and back again.

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