The Atlantic

How a Pandemic Might Play Out Under Trump

It’s not clear that the next administration is ready to deal with an outbreak of Ebola, pandemic flu, or other emerging diseases.
Source: Andrew Kelly / Reuters

In April 2009, just three months after Barack Obama’s inauguration, a new strain of H1N1 swine flu was detected in the United States. It eventually reached pandemic status, spreading to the vast majority of countries and killing more than 18,000 people. In September 2012, in the dusk of Obama’s first term, a new flu-like disease called Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) was described in Saudi Arabia; America saw two cases. In December 2013, a year into Obama’s second term, the biggest Ebola outbreak in history began in Guinea before spreading to 10 countries and killing 11,000 people; four cases reached the U.S. And by the time the epidemic officially ended in early 2016, the Zika virus has already started sweeping the Americas.

Infectious diseases are emerging faster than ever before. By encroaching into the territories of wild animals, we provide the sparks for new epidemics. By living in increasingly crowded urban areas, we provide the tinder. And by criss-crossing the skies in countless planes, we transform small fires into global conflagrations.

Obama had a good track record of responding to these threats, and channeling funds into fighting outbreaks around the world—as did his predecessor George W. Bush. As Donald Trump prepares to become America’s 45th President in January 2017, the question isn’t whether he’ll face a deadly outbreak during his presidency, but when? And more importantly, how will he cope?

Outbreaks of disease are among the ultimate tests for any leader who wants to play on the global stage. They demand diplomacy, decisiveness, leadership, humility, and expertise—and they quickly unearth any lack of the same. “As far as I can tell, Trump has zero experience on this,” says Jack Chow from Carnegie Mellon University, who

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