Before 10:21 p.m. Sunday evening, Americans of all political persuasions agreed — or, at least, did not seriously dispute — that the Kansas City Chiefs football team is located in Missouri. But then President Trump tweeted his congratulations to the team for having “represented the Great State of Kansas.”
Trump deleted and corrected his tweet. That, however, did not deter his most loyal sycophants from defending the president’s original, erroneous missive. “Kansas City is in Kansas and it is also in Missouri. … [It’s like when] people call them the New York Giants, but they’re in New Jersey,” explained Fox News host Steve Doocy. Matt Schlapp, chair of the American Conservative Union, used the occasion to lecture the liberal East Coast media for its bias:
Obviously, there is also a city in Kansas called Kansas City. But the Kansas City Chiefs are not located there. They are located in nearby Kansas City, Missouri. Just go to the stadium, or visit its internet home page. There’s really no factual dispute here.
The substantive importance of the initial Trump error is extremely minor. It’s the sort of gaffe that, had a Democratic president committed it, would have supplied hundreds of hours of mocking Fox News programming about out-of-touch coastal elites. (George W. Bush’s reelection campaign was premised largely on John Kerry having mispronounced the name of Green Bay’s football stadium and ordering the wrong kind of cheese on his Philly cheesesteak sandwich.) But since Democrats have an overabundance of serious Trump vulnerabilities to exploit, nobody is going to spend much time on his confusion between the two different Kansas Cities.
The importance, rather, lies in the willingness of his supporters to defend Trump regardless. Trump has taken the long, deep tradition of anti-intellectualism running through the American right and elevated it to almost cultlike status. Trump has created a hierarchy in which loyalty is determined by willingness to defend even his most absurd lies. The dynamic has been on display throughout the Senate trial, where Republicans have vied for his favor by openly declaring their lack of interest in weighing factual evidence. The Trumpiest Republicans are those who will repeat even his most fantastical claims — that Trump never even asked Ukraine to investigate the Bidens, that Representative Adam Schiff “falsified” a transcript of Trump’s phone call when he paraphrased it, and so on.
For many of Trump’s policy actions, the cruelty is the point. But for some of his more trivial episodes, the stupidity is the point. The gleeful rejection of objective truth, throwing oneself fully into Trumpism, is a marker of tribal loyalty.
Trump obviously has no reason to credit Kansas rather than Missouri with hosting the Super Bowl champions. The point of defending it is to demonstrate that the Trump cult can create its own reality and needn’t make any concession to external truth.