“It is clear that a significant number of world leaders have rigidly grandiose belief systems and leadership styles. Often, the authors who recount the ‘psychohistories’ of these leaders connect both the leaders’ ascent to power, and their ultimate (and seemingly inevitable) downfall, to their narcissistic grandiosity.”Narcissism and Leadership: A Review and Research Agenda, Seth A. Rosenthal, Harvard University
On September 29, 2021, talk show host Hugh Hewitt hosted Dr. Anthony Fauci and offered a series of logical reasons why the latter might choose to step down from his post as Chief Medical Advisor to the President, a position he has held successively through two administrations spanning both major U.S. political parties.
Regardless of one’s political beliefs, it is clear that Dr. Fauci has become a sort of lightning rod for criticism of the government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis. This is natural and would likely happen to anyone with his job. However, when the level of criticism reaches beyond a certain boiling point, a mission-driven executive would typically be asked to hand over the reins to someone new.
Yet Fauci, who famously said (November 28, 2021, on Face the Nation) “they’re really criticizing science because I represent science,” is refusing to step down from his post voluntarily.
Hewitt pressed him on this point, because the obstinacy has implications for public health.
Here are some highlights of that interview.
Hewitt: “I’ve lost confidence in the CDC, in the FDA, and I actually believe a lot of Americans, a significant part of America now, have lost confidence in you, Dr. Fauci. Is there a point where you will say, ‘I do more harm than good because people don’t listen to me anymore,” and step aside?
Fauci: “No. Absolutely, unequivocally, no.”
Hewitt tried to reason with Fauci, to make it impersonal instead of a giant wound on the doctor’s ego:
Hewitt: “It’s just a fact that Tony Fauci, not the guy I’m talking with but Tony Fauci the person in people’s minds, is now an impediment to public health, because people won’t listen to you. They actively reject what Tony Fauci says for reasons which are complicated, have to do with psychology, mass communication, social media. But can you accept that if that’s just a fact, you ought to respond to it and say, ‘Mr. President, I think my time is up as a successful and effective spokesperson?’”
Fauci: “You know, with all due respect to you, you who I do respect, you and your intellect, I just completely disagree with that premise, because there are an awful lot of people who do listen, who do the right thing from a public health standpoint, so because there are a lot of people who have ideas about conspiracies and and changing minds and flip-flopping, that’s not a reason to step down not at all.”
Hewitt pressed further, trying to explain to Dr. Fauci that public perception might not necessarily be fair, but has an impact on the very behavior that the doctor wants to encourage:
Hewitt: What i’m saying though is…if a new face for the program developed we would see an increase in vaccines and an increase in booster use, so if that data is presented to you that more people would get vaccinated if you left the scene, would you leave the scene?
Fauci: “Uh, Hugh, I think that is a completely false narrative that people are not getting vaccinated because of me. I am very sorry, I’ve told you, I’ve known you a long time and I respect you, but I totally reject that people are not getting vaccinated because of me.”
Hewitt tried yet again:
Hewitt: “There is a large segment of the american people that doesn’t trust you now… if you’re an obstacle to getting vaccination rates up should you step aside?
Fauci: “I am not an obstacle to getting vaccinations up, Hugh, that is a completely false narrative that i would have to absolutely reject.”
Hewitt asked if a poll would make any difference to Fauci’s reasoning:
Hewitt: “Are you persuadable on facts if people show you polling would that change your mind?”
Fauci: “Yeah, so people are saying, ‘I’m not getting vaccinated because Dr. Fauci is in the government,’ are you kidding me?”
Hewitt: “No actually I believe that’s the truth, doctor.”
Fauci: “I’m sorry, Hugh, that that is ridiculous.”
Hewitt spoke to Fauci’s denial:
Hewitt: “You’re not hearing me, doctor, you’re not hearing me. I’m saying people see you come on and they turn off the channel…whereas if a new face arrives, a new younger face that says, ‘Okay, new start, I’m never going to tell you that masks don’t need to be worn,’ …if a new person shows up I think we’re more effective.”
Fauci: “So you have [Dr.] Rachelle Walensky, a new young face saying exactly the same thing, you have [Dr.] Vivek Murthy, a new young face saying exactly the same thing, so even though they are new young faces and saying exactly the same thing I’m saying, people are not getting vaccinated because of me? Hugh, sorry, you go back and analyze that, that’s crazy.”
We have the ability to stop a train wreck while it is in progress, but only if we have the capacity to realize that disaster looms.
One key factor concerns stakeholders’ ability to step back and analyze the behavior of the leader dispassionately, without automatically accepting their perspective on things.
I am a sociologist, not a psychologist. However, having studied this informally some time ago, I continue to have an interest in the subject. Watching Dr. Fauci’s interview with Hewitt, the “red flags” were:
- Conflation of self with science
- Denial in the face of a potential fact
- Sharp, extreme statements (e.g., “that’s crazy”)
Right now, many Americans think that the government is literally out to kill them with vaccines. That is not true.
But the government is failing to acknowledge a more realistic version of events, and to manage it appropriately.
The reality is that Tony Fauci can’t accept any limits on his own power.
In “Beware The Narcissistic Leader,” Dr. Ted Bililies writes:
“Preoccupied with visions of unlimited success—and their own causal role in it—narcissistic leaders see themselves as unique and very special people. They are interpersonal alchemists who turn their own lead into gold, often appearing wounded and self-pitying if others don’t appreciate their obvious genius and generosity.”
Current events are not a test of the ability of “Dr. Fauci” or “Tony Fauci” to steer the Nation through a crisis.
However well-intentioned he may be, it is time for him to step down.
If he will not do it, President Biden should ask for his resignation.
By Dr. Dannielle (Dossy) Blumenthal. All opinions are the author’s own. Public domain.