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Trump, grand wizard of Birtherism

The Republican presidential nominee in the US is not only bending the truth, he is breaking the notion that truth should matter in the first place

Gulf News

So, last Friday, the Grand Wizard of Birtherism against United States President Barack Obama admitted that birtherism was bunk, not by apologising for his prominent role in the racist campaign — no, that would have been too right — but by suggesting that he deserved credit for dousing the flames he’d fanned.

This man is so low he’s subterranean.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said on Friday: “Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy.” That was a lie. There is no evidence Hillary and her campaign either started or took part in the efforts to question the location of Obama’s birth.

He continued: “I finished it.”

That was also a lie. Well after it had been established that Obama was born in the United States, Trump continued to traffic in speculation to the contrary, all the way up to and including this year.

Then Trump said, without elaboration or allowing questions: “President Barack Obama was born in the United States. Period.” Trump has a long history of elevating the idiocy of conspiracy theories and normalising the nonsensical.

Trump has claimed that Bill Ayers wrote the president’s acclaimed, best-selling memoir because surely this black man couldn’t have the talent to write the book. As Trump put it: “I think somebody else had a lot to do with that book. I think he wrote the second book, which was certainly not a masterpiece. I’m very good at books, and it certainly wasn’t a masterpiece.”

It should be noted that Trump’s own best-seller, The Art of the Deal, was ghostwritten by Tony Schwartz, who told the New Yorker in July: “I seriously doubt that Trump has ever read a book straight through in his adult life.”

Trump claimed in a 2011 interview with Sean Hannity that Obama was “born Barry Soetoro, somewhere along the line, he changed his name”. Soetoro is the surname of Obama’s mother’s second husband, whom she married when Obama was a young boy. But Trump didn’t stop there. He strung together more conspiracy theories, including coming back to his obvious envy of the success and quality of Obama’s first book: “I heard he had terrible marks and he ends up in Harvard. He wrote a book that was better than Ernest Hemingway, but his second book was written by an average person. He shouldn’t have written the second book.”

Speaking of college, Trump has insinuated that Obama never attended Columbia University. In 2011, Trump told the Conservative Political Action Conference that “our current president came out of nowhere” and “In fact, I’ll go a step further: The people that went to school with him, they never saw him, they don’t know who he is. It’s crazy”.

Laughably unworkable

The fact-checking site PolitiFact rated this lie “Pants on Fire”.

He once suggested to Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly that maybe Obama hadn’t produced a birth certificate because it could reveal that he’s a secret Muslim. He said: “People have birth certificates. He doesn’t have a birth certificate. He may have one but there’s something on that, maybe religion, maybe it says he is a Muslim. I don’t know. Maybe he doesn’t want that.”

Indeed, the list of conspiracy theories Trump has floated about Obama is long, but Obama has not been the only target. Trump has also entertained the suspicion that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was murdered, just as he suggests Vince Foster was. He has also intimated that Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the assassination of US president John F. Kennedy.

This is what Trump does: He exalts gossip and innuendo, which has the direct and opposite effect of degrading truth and honesty. He finds a lie in which the depraved have faith and he lifts it up as if it’s a secret that their opponents fear. This is an enormous distraction, because it means that time and attention that could be put into exposing that Trump’s policies are either paper thin or laughably unworkable and are instead diverted to disproving lies that usher forth from his mouth like water from a hose at full throttle.

And even when confronted with proof that his conspiracies are baseless, he often doesn’t back down, or if he does, he does so without apology.

He is not only bending the truth, he is breaking the notion that truth should matter in the first place.

This is what is so baffling about the people supporting him: They know he’s lying, but they so want to believe the lies that they have pushed themselves into a universe of irrationality that is devoid of logic.

So, his admission last Friday was too little, too late; too contrived, too strategic and too lacking in context. In fact, Trump has peddled so many lies about the president that this clearly election-driven, down-to-the-wire political ploy rang hollow and felt like as much of an insult as the original claim.

No one who so proudly wears the mark of dishonesty and defamation possesses the power to grant the stamps of legitimacy and absolution.

— New York Times News Service

Charles M. Blow is the author of Fire Shut Up in My Bones.

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