It is a time of airless boredom and mooted catastrophe. A time of robot graduations and Zoom funerals. Statesmen fall ill; serviceable lungs are envied; a sense of being in the wrong place at the wrong time has been globalized.

Striding gallantly into the breach, fresh from the hygienic world of Science and Facts, is Dr Anthony Fauci. Lean and owlish, sage and institutionalized, Fauci does not stand to offer a desperate nation much it doesn’t already know — wash your hands everyone. Rather, as the subject of intensifying ribaldry, Dr Fauci may join heroes of a simpler time: Elba, Beckham, Hemsworth, The Rock.

Dr Fauci (born 1940) is the subject of a petition to be crowned sexiest man alive for People magazine’s 2020 issue. ‘His comforting and intelligent demeanor has helped lesson our national anxiety,’ reads the petition. ‘He speaks truth to power, a strength few have at this time. His kind face and manner of speaking bring calm during the storm.’

Reading this surrounded by my guns and expensive tins of world-class Portuguese sardines, I was, not for the first time recently, and surely not for the last time in months to come, tempted to say, ‘What fresh hell is this?’

And then, with epic fortitude, I Googled ‘Fauci sexy’ — 588,000 results zapped onto my screen. Shaken, I put the same search into Twitter. God, forgive them:

Dr Fauci? Sexy? If we must have a septuagenarian dubiously crowned as the sexiest bearer of one y chromosome and one x chromosome, could we not go for Tom Jones? Richard Gere? Bill Nighy? ‘It’s really kind of crazy,’ Dr Fauci told CBS the other day, when asked about the petition.

Without wishing to contradict an expert, I would have to disagree with the good doctor. That he’s been promoted to sex symbol status is normal for two reasons.

During this presidency there has been an obsessive yearning to find a white knight antonym to Trump’s apparent villainy. Various candidates have auditioned, consciously and unconsciously, to play Luke Skywalker to Trump’s Vader. Robert de Niro had a few cracks at the role, though he’s been about as convincing as the de-aging CGI work in The Irishman. Then there was Michael Avenatti — now a convicted felon — whoops!

The candidate must be the opposite of the satanic status Trump has in the imaginative economy of New York Times subscribers. So where Trump is brutish, the candidate is gentle. Where Trump is idiotic, they are informed. Where Trump is careless, they are meticulous. (That being said, I’m certain if we put a lame donkey — hell, even a dead donkey — next to the president during tonight’s press conference it would be subject to a megaton load of thirst tweets).

Anyway, until the advent of the sensuous Dr Fauci, the strongest candidate by far was poor Bob Mueller III. As Bob spent month after month in pursuit of little more than the inside of a ping pong ball, bored sections of the press and public began to fetishize him as the Anti-Trump. The tastemakers at Vogue declared Bob III ‘America’s New Crush’. Tweets that are eerily reminiscent of those directed at Fauci, declared that Mueller’s intelligence was sexy, his jaw was lantern-shaped, and so on, and on. And on.

For our second reason, let’s indulge in some back of the napkin sociology. Why do these odd little horn cults continue to flare up on the political left? Well, ever since 1980, there has been a growing gender divide in American politics. Reagan won that election, but he lost women by eight points.

When we entered the Obama era in 2008, 70 percent of unmarried women and 74 percent of single mothers were giving the Democrats their votes. By 2014 there were 56.8 million unmarried women in the United States. These Single Ladies are behind the parties lurch to the Left as much as any other factor. As the influential feminist writer Rebecca Traister put it in 2016: ‘The practicalities of female life independent of marriage give rise to demands for pay equity, paid family leave, a higher minimum wage, universal pre-K, lowered college costs, more affordable health care, and broadly accessible reproductive rights.’

All well and good. But what Traister missed, and not wanting to go full Electra Complex here, was the politico-cultural radioactivity so many independent, single women would generate. The ‘crush on Obama’ song. ‘Hot’ young Biden. JFK’s ‘sizzling hot’ grandson. Then Mueller, and now Dr Fauci. Quite how this energy can be channeled in November, given Biden’s crumbling health, is anybody’s guess.