Anthony Fauci, the United States’ top infectious disease specialist, likes to focus on science — but his honest takes on America’s failures to get a grip on COVID-19 have brought him into ever greater conflict with President Donald Trump. As director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the physician-scientist has led the country’s response to every epidemic since the 1980s, earning particular acclaim for his research on HIV treatments. These days, his public profile is bigger than ever, thanks to his straight-talking approach on the coronavirus that has won him legions of fans, who buy T-shirts and bobbleheads in his likeness.Early on in the pandemic, the 79-year-old learned the delicate art of pushing back against the bluster of his boss without publicly contradicting him — on topics ranging from vaccine development timelines to Trump’s puzzling faith in an unproven malaria drug to fight the virus. There are increasing signs, however, that the diplomacy is starting to fray.Fauci says he has not met the president since June 2, and he has not attended any recent televised briefings of the White House coronavirus task force that made him a household name. The reason?His dire warnings on the dangers of reopening states too fast don’t seem to sit well with the commander-in-chief, who has placed his re-election hopes on declaring victory over the virus and jumpstarting the economy. The US, which is by far the worst-hit country in the world with more than 137,000 deaths, has since mid-June been experiencing a dramatic fresh surge, with the locus of the epidemic shifting to California, Texas, Arizona and Florida.“As a country, when you compare us to other countries, I don’t think you can say we’re doing great,” Fauci told the political news site FiveThirtyEight last week, days after warning the US could start seeing 100,000 new cases a day if it didn’t correct its course.Asked about the impact of the politicization of face masks, he replied: “I think you’d have to make the assumption that if there wasn’t such divisiveness, that we would have a more coordinated approach.”US health officials adopted a pro-mask policy in the spring after new data shifted the balance of evidence in favor of their use.Trump however has continued to equivocate on the issue, and has at various times sought to portray face coverings as an affront to freedom and a conspiracy to stoke fear.