On March 16, 2020, following a long weekend of negotiations and deals about the coronavirus, Donald Trump, Deborah Birx, and Anthony Fauci spoke at a White House press conference for the first time about nationwide lockdowns.
They handed out a sheet of paper – it mostly consisted of conventional health advice – that said in tiny print: “bars, restaurants, food courts, gyms, and other indoor and outdoor venues where groups of people congregate should be closed.”
Shut it all down. Everything. Everyone. As if the whole economy were a nightclub closing early.
This amounted to a full repudiation of not only the Constitution but also freedom itself. At the very least, it was a fundamental attack on the First Amendment guarantees of the freedom of religion because it attacked the rights of Christians, Jews, Muslims, and everyone.
All evidence suggests that Trump did not know that the tiny text was in there.
The reading of the text was left to the question and answer session.
Even when it was read by Fauci from the podium, Trump seemed distracted by something else, almost as if he did not hear or did not want to hear it. Later he bragged that the whole thing was his doing, but looking back at the history of that day, it is not so clear.
Let’s take this apart frame by frame to understand what happened in these 70 seconds as part of the Q&A session. A reporter starts by asking whether the federal government is telling people to “avoid restaurants and bars” or if the government is saying that “bars and restaurants should shut down over the next 15 days.”
Both Fauci and Birx knew for sure that the guidelines were calling for them to shut down.
After a long and tedious press conference about not much, following a very precise question, Trump turns to Fauci to have him answer. This might be because he wasn’t listening carefully and did not know how to respond. Fauci then motions to Birx, who rises to the podium. Fauci probably believed that she would be the one to do the dirty work of announcing the lockdowns. Fauci is clearly egging her on: now is your time.
Birx begins her answer with a strategic deflection, speaking tendentiously about how long the virus lives on surfaces. It was nothing but smokescreen, and there is every reason to believe that she knew it. She pointedly was not answering the question. She chickened out at the last moment.
A possibly frustrated Fauci interrupts here with a hand signal from the side. Birx immediately realizes what he was going to do: he was going to read the order that Trump did not know was there. So she decides to pass the buck. She gets giddy and silly with excitement, adrenaline flowing. She starts stumbling around with her words, and says in a faux-girlish way that she will let Fauci speak because he is her mentor.
This was her way of saying that she would gladly pass this hot potato onto him.
She likely knew that this was the great moment they had all been waiting for. She was mad with excitement. Oddly, Trump was smiling too but possibly because of her antics, not because of what was about to happen.