I want to pick a small fight with this otherwise fine, collectively embarrassed reflection, penned by Slate’s John Dickerson, on how Donald Trump and his avowed ‘birtherism’ fit into modern political discourse in the U.S.:
Part of Trump’s appeal is that he is a giant middle finger to the political system—the politicians, the press, all of us. This is all very postmodern, of course. Trump is not a champion of those who have lost faith in the system. He’s a champion of himself. His views are not well-known. But he is a place for the faithless to park their feelings.
Neither Trump nor ‘birtherism’ are champions of the downtrodden, sure — but they’re not “a place for the faithless to park their feelings” either. ‘Birtherism’ has nothing to do with “the system;” it’s a reaction to the
scary, Manchurian, black guy who happens to be helming the system at this moment.
“The system” now isn’t much more oppressive, or significantly different, than it was three years ago under our most-recently-former president. “The system” (and the unemployment rate, and the federal budget deficit, and the housing market, and income tax rates) won’t be instantaneously rebooted and transformed upon Mitt Romney’s inauguration. Yet I bet you many dollars that the ‘birthers’ will resume their normal sleep cycles the moment that one no longer occupies the Oval Office, just as they slept soundly prior to his inauguration.
This is all to say: Jamelle Bouie is correct.
A few commentators have suggested that we’re living in the age of conspiracies, and while that might be true, I’m not sure that it explains the extent to which birtherism has found a prominent place within the Republican Party. Here’s my guess: birtherism is prominent because the president is black. To a depressingly large number of Americans, “blackness” runs counter to this country’s identity, and an African American president is, by definition, illegitimate. Short of resigning the presidency, there’s really nothing Obama can do to change that.