The World Health Organization has declared the Ebola crisis in Congo a "public health emergency of international concern." More than 1,700 deaths have been reported since last year, likely an underestimate. For its potential medical consequences, the epidemic is a major worry across the globe, including for the United States. But in the age of Donald Trump, the political consequences could be the more alarming menace.
Ebola is a highly virulent virus transmitted by the exchange of bodily fluids, primarily through direct contact with blood of an infected individual, although recovered patients can still transmit the virus. Symptoms typically express themselves between two and 21 days after infection. They begin with a fever, sore throat, muscle pain and headaches, followed by vomiting, diarrhea, decreased liver and kidney function and massive bleeding. Mortality rates are approximately 50%. There are no specific treatments, although a fast-tracked experimental vaccine appears effective in preventing spread of the virus.
Trump's heartless 2014 Ebola tweets
We have been here before. In 2014, a major outbreak of the disease occurred in the West African nation of Guinea and rapidly spread to Liberia and Sierra Leone. The Obama administration sent at least 3,000 U.S. troops to assist in containing the outbreak. In October of that year, a Liberian native who had flown to Texas died from the disease while two hospital workers who cared for him tested positive. Though both recovered, the episode sparked fear across the country.
Although not much noticed at the time, and largely forgotten today, Trump, already contemplating his presidential run, posted dozens of tweets in response to the outbreak. A small sampling must stand in the for the whole.
Many of Trump’s tweets advocated shutting down entry into the United States: "A single Ebola carrier infects 2 others at a minimum. STOP THE FLIGHTS! NO VISAS FROM EBOLA STRICKEN COUNTRIES!"
Some sought to undercut President Barack Obama’s decision to send U.S. forces to West Africa: "Can you believe that the U.S. will be sending 3,000 troops to Africa to help with Ebola. They will come home infected? We have enough problems."
Some were directed at the American medical personnel who volunteered to travel to Africa to help contain the outbreak: "The U.S. cannot allow EBOLA infected people back. People that go to far away places to help out are great — but must suffer the consequences!"
'NO SHAKING HANDS!'
Some tried to undermine the credibility of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Ebola is much easier to transmit than the CDC and government representatives are admitting. Spreading all over Africa — and fast."
John and Vanessa Kerry: America must recognize and fight the real emergency of Ebola before it's too late
Most aimed to denigrate Obama:
►"President Obama strongly considering a plan to bring non-U.S. citizens with Ebola to the United States for treatment. Now I know he's nuts!"
►"President Obama — close down the flights from Ebola infected areas right now, before it is too late! What the hell is wrong with you?"
►"How dumb is our president to send thousands of poorly trained and ill-equipped soldiers over to West Africa to fight Ebola."
►"Tremendous pressure on President Obama to institute a travel ban on Ebola stricken West Africa. At some point this stubborn dope will fold!"
The heartless panic-monger who launched this fusillade of tweets was a private citizen. Today, he is the president of the United States with responsibility for managing a public health crisis that could arrive on our shores. Unsurprisingly, evidence of competence at this task is not easy to find.
Trump can't handle an Ebola crisis
The Trump administration signaled its lack of interest in the issue in May 2018, when it disbanded the global health unit of the National Security Council. The action was taken, ironically, the very same day the WHO first announced the latest Ebola outbreak in Congo.
Given the very poor security situation in Congo — the outbreak is in a war zone — there is justification for not sending U.S. personnel into the region. But there is no justification for the administration to contribute a mere $31 million to combat the disease this year, according to the journal Nature, at a moment when far greater resources are required for an effective response.
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Most modern presidents have confronted a genuine national security crisis in their first terms, most famously the Cuban missile crisis under John F. Kennedy, the Beirut barracks bombing under Ronald Reagan and the 9/11 attacks under George W. Bush. Trump has been fortunate to have thus far avoided such a test, as has America. But crises are now looming, not just with Iran but also in the heart of Africa. And we are being led by a president who is singularly ill-equipped to deal with the spread of Ebola in a rational way.
A single case of the disease in the United States might be sufficient for Trump to declare an unjustified national emergency, exploiting the crisis for his own political ends. With issues touching on race, immigration and germs, the outbreak of Ebola in Congo could play seamlessly into his repertoire of xenophobic demagoguery. The only silver lining, if that is what it is, is that Donald Trump’s nutter tweets from the 2014 outbreak leave us amply forewarned about how our commander in chief is likely to behave.
Gabriel Schoenfeld, an adviser to Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign, is a senior fellow at the Niskanen Center and a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors. Follow him on Twitter. @GabeSchoenfeld
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump tweets show heartless germaphobe ill-equipped to lead on Ebola