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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Birtherism: Trump’s Original Sin And The Media’s Latest One

Republished with permission from Media Matters

Next time you watch the news, do me a favor. Take a look at the reporters’ arms. Do they seem tired to you? Overworked? They have to be a little sore at least. Such is the vigor with which the media have been patting themselves on the back lately.

After a full year of the Trump steamroller — in which a honey-baked ham with authoritarian inclinations has managed to blow past any serious questioning of his policies or candidacy — the media apparently feel that they’re now doing their jobs.

You could see it a few weeks back in the breathless praise for MSNBC’s Chris Matthews when he interrogated Trump on abortion; or in the hype around the New York Times interview that nailed down Trump’s Strangelovian approach to nuclear weapons; or even in Trump’s recent pivot toward a more “presidential” tone. Among reporters and critics that I know, there’s a growing sentiment that Trump is changing his ways because they, the press, are taking him seriously now. They’re handling Trump not based on the job he has (obnoxious reality star) but on the job he wants (president or, perhaps, generalissimo).

Call me crazy, but I’m not totally buying this notion. I think it’s a crock. The media haven’t “done their job” with regard to Trump, and the reason why is very simple: The press have largely ignored the issue that made him a political phenomenon in the first place.

The media have overlooked Trump’s birtherism.

I’m a Catholic. I’ve seen enough baptismal water spilled to fill William Taft’s bathtub ten times over. But it doesn’t take a Catholic like me to understand the original sin of the Trump candidacy. His first act on the political stage was to declare himself the head of the birther movement. For Trump, the year 2011 began with the BIG NEWS that he had rejected Lindsay Lohan for Celebrity Apprentice, but by April, his one-man show to paint Barack Obama as a secret Kenyan had become the talk of the country. Five years later, Trump is nearing the Republican nomination for president.

In many ways, birtherism is the thing that launched Trump’s campaign. But as he nears the big prize in Cleveland, Trump has refused disavow his conspiracy theory. In July, when Anderson Cooper pressed Trumpon whether President Obama was, in fact, born in the United States, Trump’s response was, “I really don’t know.”

I’m taxing my mind to find a historical comparison here, to put this in context. I suppose Trump’s birtherism is the intellectual equivalent of the flat-earth theory; both are fully contradicted by the evidence. But then again, there is a difference between the two, and the difference is this: If a presidential candidate insisted that theUSS Theodore Roosevelt would fall off the edge of the map after sailing past Catalina, Wolf Blitzer would probably ask him about it.

It’s been nine months since Cooper pressed Trump on the issue of whether he thinks the president is an American — almost enough time, as Trump might put it, to carry a baby to term in Kenya and secretly transport him to Hawaii — and still, no one has gotten an answer. In fact, most have stopped asking. It’s now known among reporters that Obama’s birthplace is a strictly verboten topic for Trump. If you bring up the subject, as Chris Matthews did in December, Trump looks at you with a glare I assume he otherwise reserves for undocumented immigrants and say, “I don’t talk about that anymore.”

Since July, there have been 12 debates, six televised forums, and enough cable interviews to combust a DVR, but the only “birther” issue extensively covered in the press has involved whether Sen. Ted Cruz was born in Calgary Flames territory. Most reporters don’t seem to want to piss off the The Donald and risk losing their access.

Look, I understand that there’s plenty of craziness to investigate in our politics. Cruz believes that global warming is a hoax. Ben Carson claimed that the Biblical Joseph built the Great Pyramid of Khufu. Heck, once upon a time, George W. Bush famously thought the jury was out on evolution.

But Trump’s birtherism is far, far more important — for two reasons:

First, in my experience, when a politician says he doesn’t talk about an issue, that’s precisely the issue you should ask him about.

Second, there’s another difference between being birther and flat-earther. It’s possible to believe the Earth is flat and not be a bigot, but it’s impossible to be a birther and not be one.

It’s no surprise Trump’s campaign has been a parade of racism after his foray into birtherism — a border wall, a ban on Muslim immigration, and the failure to denounce the Ku Klux Klan. Unlike Bush’s creationism and Carson’s historical idiocy, Trump’s birtherism can’t be written off as a minor policy quirk. It’s less of a bug than a feature. Trump, by his own admission, sees the controversy over Obama’s birthplace as foundational to his brand and instructive to how he approaches politics. When ABC asked him about his aggressive birtherism in 2013, he said, “I don’t think I went overboard. Actually, I think it made me very popular… I do think I know what I’m doing.”

I think it made me very popular… I do think I know what I’m doing.

With birtherism, Trump discovered a sad truth about modern American media: Bigotry gets you attention. And long as you bring viewers, readers, and clicks, the fourth estate will let you get away with that bigotry.

* * *

Long before Donald Trump, there was another demagogue, Huey Long, who made a run for the White House. Long was fictionalized and immortalized as the character Willie Stark in Robert Penn Warren’s novel, All The King’s Men, in which Warren wrote, “Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption.”

So, too, was Trump’s political career.

The press should get their hands off their backs and ask him about it.

Photo: CNN.

Kennedy A Conservative? Only If We’re Feeling Charitable

Kennedy CGM

One of the things Pope Francis teaches us is that we should share, and that those of us who have more should be willing to give to those who are less fortunate. Those of us who are Democrats follow proudly in the footsteps of real champions of this idea — individuals who have fought for progress, economic justice, and equity. People we can be proud to call Democrats: FDR, JFK, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama.

By contrast, our Republican friends have pathetically little in their past to honor. That’s why you cannot listen to a Republican speech without every other word being “Reagan.” They simply don’t have anyone else, except Lincoln, of course, but he would not recognize this Republican Party as his own. So they have to find someone new to talk about — after all, they cannot talk about Sarah Palin. And in their quest to find a new hero, they have decided to claim John F. Kennedy as their own. They have determined, apparently, that underneath it all he was really a conservative Republican.

I know your first inclination is to think, “How can they say this?” But I think we Democrats should take our cue from Pope Francis, and be charitable. As the holidays approach, we should actually feel sorry for the sparsity of gifts they have under their holiday tree and share.

Oh, and to the question of whether John F. Kennedy was really a conservative? Perhaps we should ask Kennedy himself, because he actually had something to say about that:

If by a “Liberal” they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people—their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights and their civil liberties—someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a “Liberal,” then I’m proud to say “I’m a Liberal.”

If you are still wondering, ask yourself if this sounds more like Bill Clinton or Sarah Palin.

So, my dear friends in the GOP, I’m in a giving mood. And in the spirit of Pope Francis, we will let you use Kennedy for the holidays — and then we’re gonna take him back.

Why We Need Democrats

March on Washington

I became a Democrat because the defining issue of my formative years was race. In fact, it was almost the exclusive issue. It is hard to believe now, but when there was even a possibility that an African-American might turn up, back then the first reaction of the administrators was to close the swimming pool. It might sound surreal, but that actually happened when I was an undergrad.  My understanding was that black people were getting a bad deal, and it gave my already existing interest in politics a sharp point on which to focus.  My views and my party affiliation have remained the same ever since.

You can look back 50 years and mark all the progress you want, but the real question is not why I became a Democrat, but why I stayed one — and why we need the Democratic Party.

The ongoing challenge — as Stan and I talked about in It’s the Middle Class, Stupid! — is to have sensible policies, not just to increase African-American earning power, but household wealth as well. The minimum wage in real dollars was actually higher when Dr. King spoke 50 years ago than it is today.

At this time, when we’re looking back and marking so much progress, we would also be wise to remember that there is still much to be done.  We are living in a time when we are called to fight for pretty fundamental changes in the way our country and economy work. We need to create good jobs, improve education, and grow opportunity for the middle class, working people, and the poor. No, we are not finished yet. Not even close.

Photo: Rowland Scherman for USIA, via Wikimedia Commons

The Republican Problem: ‘It’s The Quality Of The Inmates’

When I hear people talking about the troubled state of today’s Republican Party, it calls to mind something Lester Maddox said one time back when he was governor of Georgia.  He said the problem with Georgia prisons was “the quality of the inmates.” The problem with the Republican Party is the quality of the people who vote in their primaries and caucuses. Everybody says they need a better candidate, or they need a better message but — in my opinion — the Republicans have an inmate problem.

Slightly more sympathetic, my colleague Stan compares the Republicans to an “endangered species.” But we agree that the strange political obsessions of the Republican base — from denying global warming to defending assault weapons — continue to doom any moderate politicians within their party.  How should Democrats seize the political opportunity created by Republican extremism?

The Ass-Whuppin’ Cometh

It’s Election Day…the latest and last pre-election Democracy Corps poll shows President Obama up by four points nationally…so Stan and I are feeling pretty good about today’s results. There’s nothing in other national polls or state polls to contradict our assessment about this election – and if anything, the president gained momentum in the final day or so.

Instead of learning from experience, the Republicans continue their war on science and facts. Now they’re furious that anyone would dare use polling data to predict an election outcome that isn’t going their way, and taking it out on Nate Silver, the polling blogger at the New York Times.

If a play were opening tonight, I think the title should be “The Ass-Whuppin’ Cometh.”

The Strange, Strange Planet Of The Republicans

One of the things that drives me crazy about politics is this idea that both parties are equally extreme. In reality, one side’s facts are facts, and the other side’s “facts” are wild theories that any reasonable person would find very, very weird.

Now The Republicans Declare War On Pollsters

Republicans love phony wars: the “war on Christmas,” the “war on factcheckers,” and now they’ve started the “war on pollsters.” I always wonder, why do they persist with this nonsense? Maybe to distract voters from the real wars that they start once they get into office.