Jonathan Chait addresses Trump’s explanation that he deliberately “downplayed” the virus because he wanted to “forestall panic”:
Trump in general is extremely bad at gauging risk. He gins up panic at threats that are minor or nonexistent, while ignoring or denying altogether threats that are extremely serious. One reason is that he, like most political conservatives, filters news through an ideological bubble that eschews science and empiricism, so that Obama’s stimulus is going to generate hyperinflation but climate change is a hoax. Another reason is that Trump is personally myopic and corrupt to a degree that he is unable to follow even his own long-term political advantage, which is why he focused on preventing a stock market drop, and instead allowed an economic collapse. Additionally, he is completely reactive to whatever is on television, leaving him unable to plan for long-term threats.
Trump’s supporters, in turn, have so deeply internalized this model of presidential functioning that, when confronted with evidence that Joe Biden was warning last October that the government was unprepared for a pandemic, actor and right-wing activist James Woods suggested Biden must have been tipped off to the coming pandemic in advance:
Planning to avert future catastrophes through long-sighted management? What is this witchcraft?
Yes, in theory, every potential threat presents the risk of either overreaction or underreaction. But the context here is month after month of disastrous underreaction. Trump’s claim to have prevented overreaction is like the visual joke created by the morbidly obese guy wearing an “I BEAT ANOREXIA” T-shirt. Except he is saying it with a straight face!