Primadonald has finally capitulated, giving up on his five-year long pattern of denials, obfuscation and evasions, and admitted that Barack Obama is eligible to serve as the president of the United States. Before that turn of events brings to a close, this ugly stain on our body politic, it is useful to recount how this all got started, how it unfolded over the ensuing eight years, and consider where that leaves us now.
Contrary to Primadonald’s claim and even reports by some media outlets, the birther movement had its first full-blown origin in a 2008 law suit filed by a man named Phillip Berg, a Democrat. He went to court seeking a ruling that Obama was not a natural born US citizen and therefore, ineligible to serve as president. Berg’s pleading was summarily dismissed; he appealed with the same result.
In spite of Berg’s failure, numerous other plaintiffs followed him into court, all with the same outcome. Indeed, as of today’s date, there have been well over 200 such cases (1) You would think that in light such epic and repeated failures, the birthers would have simply given up and cut their losses. That was not to be.
The allegation of forgery
In 2009, in an effort to put an end to the birther movement, the then-President made public what had all the appearances of being a legitimate short-form of his birth certificate. At the bottom of that document, there is this: “This document serves as a prima facie evidence of the fact of birth in any court proceeding”. Unwilling to let that write finito to their cause, the birthers claimed that the certificate was a forgery and presented what they asserted was incontrovertible forensic evidence to that effect. That analysis was challenged by experts and that matter went unresolved. The news media kept this conflicting state of affairs in the public eye with references to it from time to time. As the issue dragged on, the birthers insisted that they would settle for nothing less than the official long form of the birth certificate.That brings us forward to a period that extended from 2010 into 2011.
If the birthers needed a notable public figure to continue to press their case, that person showed up in the form of Donald J. Trump. He began what amounted to a steady campaign to force Obama to produce the aforementioned long form. In so doing, Primadonald found himself, perhaps by design, in high favor, not just with the birthers, but with a much larger group; i.e. conservative Obama-haters. It is arguable perhaps, but there is a widely held view that by embracing birtherism, the real estate tycoon was effectively launching his bid for the presidency. That he had already acquired a good deal of grass roots support is undeniable. In any case, the man who is now the GOP’s presidential candidate announced that he was sending an “investigative team” to Hawaii to determine if Obama really was born there. He followed lter by saying “You can’t believe what they are finding.”
The long-form appears
In a second attempt to put an end to birtherism, in 2011, the president made special arrangements to have the long-form of his birth certificate available. This was what birthers supposedly wanted, wasn’t it? Well, yes, but they didn’t stop them from reneging on that. Instead, the cries of “forgery” were heard again, to be refuted by means of another forensic analysis.
Birtherism’s five years on life support
Once the president’s long form became public, the news media began a five-year quest to see if the now-leader of the birther movement, Primadonald, would acknowledge what was now obvious to thinking, unbiased observers. Time and again, Trump refused to “fold his hand”, at one point saying that “some people” view the document as a “forgery” (see above). The media’s questioning of the man along these lines reached a point when, during the GOP primaries, Primadonald repeatedly told one reporter after another “I don’t want to talk about it” or words to that same effect. Was this “dodge” designed to keep the faith with the Obama-haters who by this time, were clearly on his side?
On September 17, 2016, Primadonald came forth at a carefully orchestrated news conference to make the briefest of statements, acknowledging that the president was indeed eligible to serve. Of course, quite predictably, he then proceeded to outright lie about the origin of the birther movement and to give himself a self-aggrandizing pat on the back for bringing this matter to a close. As he claimed, “I finished it. I finished it”.
Where are we now?
At this juncture, a poignant question would be “Has Primadonald’s pronouncement caused a change of mind among the birthers vis a vis their view of Obama?” Such a query comes at a time when in excess of 40% of self-identified Republicans have told pollsters they believe the president to be a “Muslim” and intent on imposing “Sharia law” on our country. The view held here is that at this juncture, anyone who continues to cling to birtherism is doing so driven by their racism. Indeed, it is entirely possible that from the get-go, the movement was prompted by bigotry and racial animus.
There are two groups that bear the responsibility for this matter having a shelf-life of eight years: The news media and leaders in the Republican party. The media consistently failed to ask Primadonald pressing questions like “Who makes up your ‘investigative team’ and what have they found?” and, once the long-form document was available, “Why isn’t that satisfactory?” Simply put, there was a decided lack of dogged pursuit by the news media.
Between 2008 and 2011, one might generously give Republicans a pass for not repudiating the birther movement. However, once the long-form became available, they should have risen en masse” and said “That’s the end of it”. But that would have run the risk of alienating the birthers and Obama-haters among their base. So in what was surely a partisan political calculation, they either remained silent of dodged the matter (2).
The bet here is that historians will look at the birther movement as one of the most divisive, racially-driven parts of the Obama presidency. That Republicans stood by and allowed it to come to pass should be a stain on their party that the passage of time will not remove.
- Anyone interested in reviewing the numerous birther cases can Google “Birther scorecard”.
- Aside from Primadonald, the most notable “dodger” was then House Speaker John Boehner. When he was asked whether the long form put the matter to rest, he demurred saying he was not in the business of telling people what to think.