Commentary: Donald Trump adds to 'birthers' madness

The Miami HeraldApril 1, 2011 

PITTS LEONARD 1

Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr.

CHUCK KENNEDY — KRT

Donald Trump doesn’t like “birthers.” He calls the word “unfair’’ to people who don’t believe President Obama was born in the USA.

Very well, then. If not birthers, how about if we call them “morons?’’ How about ‘‘jackasses,” “imbeciles,” “idiots’’ or “doofuses?” How about “pinheads’’— or would that require a royalty to Bill O’Reilly?

I’m sorry, dear reader. Forgive me. Generally speaking, I am not much for name calling.

It lowers the level of discourse, it forestalls thoughtful response and it does not suggest an excess of class. Where the birthers are concerned, however, the level of discourse is already lower than Neptune’s basement, a thoughtful response is about as likely as Miami snow on the Fourth of July, and I will just have to chance the loss of class.

As mama used to say, enough is enough and too much stinks.

A 2010 CBS News/New York Times poll found that 20 percent of all Americans and 30 percent of tea partiers believe the president was not born here. In recent days, Trump, the reality-show impresario and human punch line who’s been threatening to run for president, has added himself to their number. For that, he drew a sharp rebuke from Whoopi Goldberg on The View. When, she demanded, has any white president ever been asked to show his birth certificate?

Let the church say amen. So it is time to call this birther nonsense what it is — not just claptrap, but profoundly racist claptrap.

And, with apologies to the late James Brown, please, please, please, anyone who is so inclined: Spare me the e-mails where you soliloquize like Hamlet, the back of your hand pressed to your forehead, eyes turned heavenward, as you moan how it is impossible to criticize this president without being accused of racism.

Criticize him to your heart’s content. Give him hell over Libya. Blast him about Guantánamo. Knock him silly on health care reform. He is the president; taking abuse is part of his job description.

But this ongoing birther garbage, like the ongoing controversy about his supposed secret Muslim identity — is not about criticism. It is not about what he has done but, rather, what he is.

Like “state’s rights,” these controversies are a code, a dog whistle for those with ears to hear. They provide euphemistic cover for those who want to express alarm over the raw newness of him, the sweeping demographic changes he represents (‘‘He’s black! Oh, my God, they’ve got the presidency now!’’) without appearing uncouth enough to do so.

Memo to the morons: It doesn’t work, folks. Nobody is fooled. You are about as subtle as Lady Gaga.

It is telling that the white candidate who was, in fact, not born in the USA (Sen. John McCain was born in the Panama Canal Zone, if anyone is interested) did not face these questions, while the black one who was born in Hawaii has been unable to escape them.

This, even though Obama provided his birth certificate and its authenticity has repeatedly been vouched for by Hawaiian officials.

This, even though, if there were the slightest chance he was ineligible for the presidency, opposition researchers working for his opponents would have shredded him like an old bank statement.

This, even though his Aug. 4, 1961 birth was noted by contemporaneous (memo to the morons: that means it happened at the time) birth announcements in not one, but two Hawaii newspapers. What’d he do? Jump in a time machine, zip back to the ’60s and plant the notices?

Sorry. There I go getting snappish again. But it gets tiresome, you know?

Frankly, I wish Trump and his fellow birthers would just go ahead and call Obama an N-word. Yes, it would be reprehensible and offensive.

But it would be a damn sight more honest, too.

ABOUT THE WRITER

Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla. 33132. Readers may write to him via e-mail at lpitts@miamiherald.com. He chats with readers every Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. EDT at Ask Leonard.

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