Commentary: Trump's hair, birthers and other conspiracy theories

Donald Trump addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington.
Donald Trump addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington. AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Let's pretend you slipped into a coma 10 years ago. You woke up this morning, and the big story was that the president of the United States proved he really is American, in response to attacks from the current voice of the conservative movement, Donald Trump.

You'd opt to go back under, right?

It pains me to say this, but when it comes to politics, a large part of our country has run off the rails and through the ditch and into the deepest woods, where a GPS won't work, and apparently neither does a moral compass.

Barack Obama went through a presidential campaign in which every other candidate and every major news organization scoured his background. He released the birth certificate given to any citizen born in Hawaii. But that wasn't enough for the birthers, who seem to believe that Obama was born in Kenya and is the benefit of a 50-year conspiracy designed to place him in the White House.

That's the kind of crazy that makes crazy back away and say, "Whoa, stay away from those people."

This would be fine if it were a small crowd. You could invite them to a party and serve some cookies and lock the door behind you when you left.

But in a CNN poll last summer, 27 percent of the people who responded said Obama was "definitely" or "probably" not born in this country. And Trump has flogged the issue all the way into the top tier of Republican presidential candidates. A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll this month showed him tied for second among GOP primary voters, and first among tea party supporters.

Franklin Graham even threw in with Trump on the birth-certificate thing, fulfilling his duty to provide the world with at least two preposterous opinions a year.

So Obama got a waiver from the state of Hawaii to release the nonpublic version of his birth certificate. He gave a short speech about the issue Wednesday morning, with one of those "Are you kidding me?" looks on his face the whole time. And so you'd think it's over.

But it's not. Because this is not about Obama's birth certificate and never was.

It's about a notion far too many have come to believe: that government is an evil thing, separate from the lives of ordinary Americans and not to be trusted.

We're now having a debate about the size of government - how much debt we can take on, how many programs we can do without. But underneath that is a roar that the way we practice government is illegitimate - that rules trample freedom, and taxes are theft, and a president who disagrees can't be a real American.

(A Winthrop University poll showed that 78 percent of South Carolina Republicans, along with GOP-leaning independents, believe Obama is a socialist.)

This used to be the sort of thing you'd hear at a commune. But now nearly all of it is coming from the right. Ronald Reagan said at his first inaugural: "In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem." And for 30 years a gathering crowd has twisted that idea into a belief that the government is something other than we the people, even though we the people fill the jobs and elect those who represent us.

Like most craziness, it comes from fear. Maybe it's fear of a black leader. Maybe it's one of the fears we all have these days - there aren't enough jobs, the house is underwater, there's no money to retire.

I'm an optimist. I believe the economy will get better, because it usually does. I believe most of the craziness will fade, because it usually has. Most of us have common sense. We just misplace it sometimes.

Having said all that, if we're doing background checks, swab Trump's DNA. That hair - it can't be human.