The president-elect is hardly immune. Before, during, and since the election, Trump has had a strained relationship with facts, having repeatedly and reflexively lied about matters both large and small. He has reportedly failed to seek advice from the State Department before calling foreign leaders. He is avoiding most of his daily intelligence briefings, despite his lack of prior military or political experience—“I’m, like, a smart person," he recently said. Meanwhile, Lieutenant General Mike Flynn, who will be Trump's chief counsel on national security, has shown a willingness to believe and push conspiracy theories.
These actions portray an incoming administration with a casual disregard for evidence, an unwillingness to tap into the expertise around them, and a reckless self-confidence. They suggest that, in an outbreak, Trump is more likely to heed his own counsel than that of the Centers of Disease Control (CDC) and other relevant experts. And he is likely to project that counsel to over 17 million followers.
Consider what happened during the Ebola outbreak, well before Trump announced his candidacy. On Twitter, he rejected evidence that Ebola is less contagious than is commonly perceived, since it can only be transmitted through bodily fluids. “He is very adept at using social media to rally supporters, but has also been inconsistent at sticking to message,” says Radin. “And ad-libbing, rambling, or flying off the handle can be very dangerous in an epidemic.”
Trump’s Ebola tweets also revealed how he might deal with an outbreak as President. He repeatedly called for the U.S. to stop all flights from Ebola-infected countries, even though no such direct flights existed, and even though flight bans don’t work. Several countries enacted such bans during the SARS epidemic of 2003 and the swine flu pandemic of 2009, but to no avail. It’s impossible to fully seal a country; when air travel is blocked, people will move by land, sea, and alternative routes that are even harder to track. And back in the source nation, fearful patients go underground, making it even harder to stop the outbreak and paradoxically increasing the odds that it will spread.
And yet, Trump’s predilection for clamping down and closing borders extended even to his fellow citizens: He said that American health workers who became infected should be stopped from re-entering the country. “KEEP THEM OUT OF HERE!” he asserted. “People that go to far away places to help out are great-but must suffer the consequences!” As global-health researcher Jeremy Youde wrote, “This framework sees infected persons as an enemy to be contained and avoided rather than as people who need treatment.”
Given that mindset, it seems likely that Trump would be reluctant to send American aid to help with outbreaks in other nations. Indeed, during the Ebola crisis, when Obama sent the military to the affected countries to help with relief work, Trump called him “dumb.”