In this sound-bite world, one develops the skill of delivering messages in the shortest and pithiest of forms. Having only seconds to speak to Donald Trump at an event in New York’s Central Park earlier this month, I said it all in three words: “Birthers are racists.”
Trump did not reveal any reaction, knowing engaging me would lead to the kind of conversation he clearly didn’t want to have.
It is a sad state of affairs, indeed, that the President of the United States felt compelled yesterday to provide yet further proof that he is, in fact, legitimately the president. The whole “birther” controversy is a radical attack on his very legitimacy not only as president, but as a U.S. citizen, as someone who “belongs” to the American family.
The issue is, in reality, as offensive as the “Macaca” comment by Virginia Republican U.S. Senate candidate George Allen in 2006 that destroyed what had been to that point a virtually guaranteed victory. It has been forgotten that had Allen won that election, he would have gone to the head of the pack of GOP contenders for the 2008 presidential election.
But instead Allen was disgraced, notwithstanding that he may still try for a comeback next year. What made Allen’s comment so bad was that he assumed by the outward appearance of a person in the audience who was videotaping a speech in rural Virginia that the person was not a legitimate U.S. citizen.
He looked “foreign,” and Allen sought to pander to the lowest prejudices of his all-white audience with his flippant remark. He failed to calculate that the video of him making that comment would find its way to more diverse constituencies in more populous parts of the state, including in Fairfax County where the target of Allen’s indiscretion grew up as a U.S. citizen and went to school.
So, “birther” and “macaca” are both code words for racism, for pandering to the basest prejudices of potential voters when coming right out to advocate lynching or other obscenities is considered out of bounds.
But without apology (including from Trump yesterday) the “birthers” have come about as close to such boundaries as allowable, trusting civility on the other side to sidestep the racist implications. That’s understandable for politicians, but not the media, whose respect for the “birther” claims have been unconscionable.
Lost in the heated rhetoric on the issue was the fact that President Obama did indeed present his birth certificate much earlier, the “short” version that is considered legal and valid by the state of Hawaii.
Thus, the drumbeat, that the swinish Trump has done so much to amplify, of the “birthers” had no basis in fact to begin with, and Trump made a further fool of himself by insisting that his personal “investigators” in Hawaii had come up with some “very damaging information.”
Don’t expect Trump to be held to account for such claims by the major U.S. media. To the extent anyone tries, he will interrupt and interrupt and get angry and aggressive like a cornered blowfish. Who wants to bear the brunt of that?
No, Trump’s egomania is only superseded now by his crass pandering to racism. The “birther” issue has been compounded by long-standing partisan opposition, to begin with, and adversity to Obama’s “odd-sounding” name that creates a susceptibility for too many Americans to think he’s a Muslim. (The worst part about that, actually, is that anybody would think there is anything wrong with being a Muslim.)
But all these matters, designed to exploit prejudices and fears, have at their core a cynical attempt to incite doubt and anger over the very legitimacy of Obama’s presidency, and shame on the entire Republican Party leadership for allowing no less than what grew to 45 percent of their professed supporters to question Obama’s citizenship.
All the Republican leadership is to blame for everything from open, loud questioning, as in the case of Trump, to evasive responses, leaving the door open just enough so as to not piss off their radical fringe.
They know they’ve done this, and if they had a shard of integrity, they would apologize.