I will come clean and confess I’m not a football fan. My sport is athletics, specifically distance and middle distance running, which has the advantage that my wife is in danger of becoming a sports widow only once every couple of years during the World Athletics Championships and the Olympic Games. Anyway, I didn’t even know until Monday morning that the Kansas City Chiefs were in the Super Bowl. But I had heard of the Chiefs, and I had a pretty good idea that the Kansas City that the Chiefs were from was the one in Missouri and not the one in Kansas. Clearly the president of the United States did not.
As many of you know by now, this is what Trump tweeted Sunday night. Then he deleted it. “Congratulations to the Kansas City Chiefs on a great game, and a fantastic comeback, under immense pressure,” Trump wrote in the since-deleted tweet. “You represented the Great State of Kansas and, in fact, the entire USA, so very well. Our Country is PROUD OF YOU!
I’ve never been to Kansas City, neither the one in Missouri nor the smaller one in Kansas. I suspect Trump has, at least the one in Missouri. But for him to reach the advanced age of 73 and not know there are two of them, and that the one in Missouri is larger than the one in Kansas next door to it and is therefore the likeliest candidate to be home to the Chiefs is shocking ignorance, especially for the Commander-in-Chief, the alleged “stable genius” with the supposed “perfect memory.”
It occurs to me now that when Mike Pompeo screamed at NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly and demanded that she find Ukraine on an unlabeled world map he was really, in a Freudian sort of way, expressing angst about the general lack of geographical knowledge around him. He probably knows as well as anyone just how dim-witted his master is when it comes to geography — and just about everything else. People who worry about systemic pathologies in their environment often nervously make reference to them. It’s a kind of Freudian nervous tic, like Bill Cosby referring to slipping a woman Spanish fly. There’s something odd about how bad people work out what’s privately wrong with them and their surroundings, often in a public way.
Trump’s ignorance of geography isn’t the worst of it, though. If it were then it would not be held against him except by the most petty partisan. Abraham Lincoln, for example, naively thought that it was the job of the Secretary of the Treasury to personally sign every banknote printed by the United States mint. But Lincoln was a genius with vast qualities of wit and insight, so we can forgive him for such foibles, and even find them charming.
But Donald Trump is an idiot. He’s even a subpar mediocrity when it comes to his chosen field, real estate, high finance and economics. Most authentic experts just give up on Trump. After careful, lucid explanations to him they see he simply hasn’t the capacity to grasp anything that is remotely complicated.
It is still common among pundits to proclaim Donald Trump, if not a genius, then a master power broker. He has, they maintain, single-handedly cowed the majority in the United States Senate into rubber-stamping his every whim. This is a mistake, I think, and speaks less to Donald Trump’s Machiavellian potency and more to the spineless mollusks in Republican politics today. Like minions in the thrall of a bully they all become emboldened at a safe distance, either in retirement or encroaching death. Yet the fact remains true in national politics as surely as it’s true on the playgrounds of grade schools across America, most bullies are stupid cowards, and Donald Trump is no different.