Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Patting Down our Black President

Insert a photo of an elementary school playground here.

What a sad news day for the United States. Wednesday, April 27: the day we neutralized whatever pride some of us felt when a man with dark skin and an African name was elected President of these United States.

Today I feel as if I have watched the first African-American President get patted down on national television and it turns my stomach.

Never before has a President of the United States been asked -- by fringe activists at first, later by celebrities and journalists -- to show proof that he was born in the United States. There was never any legitimate question about it. When the Obama campaign issued the certificate of live birth, and the state of Hawaii confirmed its authenticity, all the way back in 2008, it was not enough for the conspiracy theorists. They began demanding the long-form certificate, which the state of Hawaii does not generally issue without a Freedom of Information Act request. The Obama campaign rightfully felt this was not necessary. The matter had been definitely settled.

One would have expected, knowing that this nation is still riven with racial disharmony, there to be fallout for the first black man to be elected President. One would expect the inevitable political attacks to exploit these tensions, just as they have been exploited in previous political campaigns. Negative politics, the politics of smear and character assassination, goes back to our colonial days. Partisans have stopped at little to undermine public trust and confidence in their rivals.

Today, Donald Trump professed himself "proud" that, by lending his celebrity status to the birther fantasy, he felt he had forced the President to present the long-form birth certificate. He is right: because of his celebrity status and the curiosity of his fake candidacy, legitimate news organizations felt compelled to report his allegations, ask him about it in interviews, and give him a platform to air conspiracy theories already long debunked. It is as if a prestigious science journal were compelled to give a monthly column to a flat earther, for the sake of "journalistic balance."

Presenting the longer birth certificate changed nothing, of course. What did anybody expect? Trump immediately moved on to questioning Obama's academic record, his fitness to attend Harvard, and demanding the release of college transcripts. Orly Taitz, the eccentric woman who has filed serial lawsuits alleging the President is not a citizen and therefore cannot be President, went on MSNBC tonight and would not comment on the birth certificate that had been presented. She has now moved on to introducing questions about his Selective Service registration.

All Presidents get to be targets of smears. The smears are designed uniquely for them. Kennedy had to make an unusual speech assuring the country that he would not be taking directives from the Pope. Generally, however, Presidents can maintain a dignified distance from the specious allegations. Bush did not have to answer to tabloid rustlings that he was complicit in the 9/11 attacks, that he had relapsed into alcohol abuse, or that he ducked out of his military service. Indeed, the latter story was Dan Rather's waterloo, when he ran an expose based on documents that turned out to be forged. Rather was fired, and polls showed sympathy shifting to the President.

As ugly as American politics are, there is something uniquely ugly in the tone of the attacks on Barack Obama. How could a guy like that be elected President? How could a guy like that be a real Christian? How could a guy like that get into Harvard? Is a guy like that a "real American?" Ask for the birth certificate. Ask for the college transcripts. Interrogate his teachers and advisers, ask for proof that Obama deserved his good grades, to be an honors student at Harvard Law, to be elected President of the Harvard Review. Ask for the Selective Service registration. It never ends. Eventually, the hope is that something incriminating can be found; and even if nothing is, the constant pat-downs of the first black President may create the sense, among passive and inattentive news watchers, that there must be something fishy with this President.

The courts have stopped giving audience to lawsuits based on this stuff. If only legitimate news organizations would follow suit.

And stop giving air time to Donald Trump, who just today alleged that Barack Obama is not taking care of the nation's business because he spends too much time on his basketball court. All that's missing is a reference to fried chicken and watermelon, Donald. Keep it classy.

And one last suggestion: every time someone goes on air to scream that the country needs to be taken back, ask them: "From whom?"

What a sad, embarrassing day.


quid said...

I so agree.

I would guess that he expected some prejudice when he took office.

I don't think he expected to be told, "Hands in the air; spread 'em!"

Trump is pond scum. One woman's opinion.

Embarrassed and saddened by this,


Kelly said...

Y'all might not agree with me, but I think this has a lot more to do with his middle name (and that Muslim notion) than the color of his skin. I hope it can (finally) be put to rest now!!

I'm not a fan of Trump, either. He's a joke.

raven said...

Following this from Europe,
I agree with you completely!

Lance said...

What's TRULY sad is that it's not over. As was seen on Lawrence O'Donnell's show on MSNBC, Orly Taitz, the conspiracy theorist who started the birther movement, does not accept the document and has actually EXPANDED the "conspiracy" to include false social security documents. Honestly, I feel like its about to get worse.

Cassie said...

The whole thing was a non-event for me. Mr.Trump was probably just trying for more publicity for his tv show, not being a racist. At least it's put to rest now. Your trump card joke was funny.