For five years, Donald Trump, more than anyone else, popularized the slander that President Barack Obama was born in Kenya–and was therefore not an American citizen.
In April, 2011, Obama released the long-form version of his Hawaiian birth certificate. Still, Trump questioned its–and Obama’s–legitimacy.
For more than a year during his 2016 Presidential campaign, Trump continued doing so.
Meanwhile, Trump’s popularity steadily fell among blacks. In June, 2016, a Quinnipiac poll revealed that Trump had 1% of support from black voters–while 91% of black voters backed Hillary Clinton.
Even the managers of Trump’s campaign urged him to put the “birther” issue behind him.
And so, on September 16, 2016–10 days before his scheduled first debate with Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton–Trump made his version of a reversal.
Donald Trump: “President Barack Obama was born in the United States.”
He did so in about seven seconds and 40 words–after spending a half hour paying tribute to the military and promoting his new upscale hotel in Washington, D.C.:
“Now, not to mention her in the same breath, but Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy.
“I finished it. I finished it. You know what I mean.
“President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period. Now we all want to get back to making America strong and great again.”
His tone made it clear that he felt uneasy making that statement–and wanted to get it over with as fast as possible.
He refused to take questions from reporters covering the event. Nor did he apologize for his five-year campaign of slander.
On the evening of September 16, Hillary Clinton strongly responded to Trump’s comments:
“For five years, he has led the birther movement to delegitimize our first black president. His campaign was founded on this outrageous lie. There is no erasing it in history.”
And First Lady Michelle Obama slammed Trump for his “birther” claims:
“Then, of course, there were those who questioned, and who continue to question for the past eight years, and up to this very day, whether my husband was even born in this country.
“Well, during his time in office, I think Barack has answered those questions with the examples he set, by going high when they go low. And he’s answered these questions with the progress we’ve achieved together.”
But perhaps the best perspective on this event was provided by syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks. Each Friday they appear on the PBS Newshour to review the week’s major political events.
David Brooks and Mark Shields
On September 16, Shields (a liberal) and Brooks (a conservative) addressed Trump’s about-face on birtherism.
MARK SHIELDS: “I think it’s important to establish right at the outset that [Trump] wasn’t only the loudest and the highest-profile and the most persistent and the most well-publicized birther, he, Donald Trump. He lied. He lied consistently and persistently.
“And, today, without explanation or excuse, he just changed his position and tried to absolutely falsely shift the blame onto Hillary Clinton.
“And this was an appeal to–he debased democracy. He debased the national debate. He appealed to that which is most ignoble or least noble in all of us.”
DAVID BROOKS: “Usually, there’s some tangential relationship to the truth, but a corroding relationship to the truth, frankly, as politics has gone on over the years.
“But now we’re in a reverse, Orwellian inversion of the truth with this. And so we have a team of staffers and then the candidate himself who have taken the normal spin and smashed all the rules.
“And so we are really in Orwell land. We are in 1984. And it’s interesting that an authoritarian personality type comes in at the same time with a complete disrespect for even tangential relationship to the truth that words are unmoored.
“And so I do think this statement sort of shocked me with the purification of a lot of terrible trends that have been happening. And so what’s white is black, and what is up is down, what is down is up. And that really is something new in politics.
“And the fact that there is no penalty for it, apparently–he’s doing fantastic in the last two weeks in the polls–is just somehow where we have gotten.”
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Americans were slow to recognize the dangers of their government’s committing armed forces to South Vietnam. But when the record of government lies reached critical mass, Americans demanded an end to the war.
Similarly, Americans were reluctant to brand Richard Nixon, their newly-re-elected President, a criminal worthy of impeachment. But when the evidence of his criminality steadily mounted, they demanded his ouster.
Today, Americans are flooded with overwhelming evidence of Donald Trump’s unfitness to become President. His narcissism, vindictiveness, ignorance and hair-trigger temper have been on public display for more than a year.
Yet millions of ignorant, hate-filled, Right-wing Americans plan to catapult this man–who “debased democracy, debased the national debate, appealed to that which is most ignoble or least noble in all of us”–to the Presidency.
If that happens, future historians–if there are any–may similarly condemn those Americans who stood by like “good Germans” and allowed their country to fall into the hands of a ruthless tyrant.