Saturday, April 23, 2011

President Obama will never be American enough for Trump and the Birthers


Andrew Sullivan wrote recently about a new CBS/NYT poll which found that 47% of Republicans think Obama wasn't born in the U.S and that another 22% aren't sure. He cited Steve Kornacki, who said that this "doesn't mean they've thought things through and believe an elaborate plot has been carried out, and it doesn't mean that being told actual facts about Obama's birth will sway them."

[Donald] Trump's message may be resonating with so many Republican voters simply because it represents the most blunt and unrelenting attack on Obama's "American-ness" that they have heard from a major Republican. In other words, it may not be the specifics of Obama's birth certificate and hospital records that excite them, it's the idea that someone so prominent is willing to stand up and take so much heat for saying, essentially, "Barack Obama is not one of us."

As a non-white president with ties to places like Kenya and Indonesia, he represents, for many, the fact that the American Century is over -- finally and completely. Because even if these people believe in their heart of hearts that they are not racist, or sexist, or homophobic, or xenophobic, they have decided that a country that embraced these sentiments was at the top of its game in parts of the 20th Century and that this is the country they want back -- a country where a non-white person with a non-traditional life story could not be president, a country in which only those who can "prove" they are "like us" are allowed to be hold the highest office in the land.

When reporters hold up copies of Obama's birth certificate only to be met by non-specific counterarguments from Trump and other Birthers, it is clear that the interlocutors are arguing past each other. Needless to say, when you are having an argument with someone, it's always useful to make sure you are actually in the same discussion.

The good news is that the bigots amongst us know they cannot directly argue their case and so they need devices like the birth certificate issue to give them credibility. The bad news is that when people won't say what they mean it confuses things significantly.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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