Is Donald Trump a “Birther”?


Donald Trump has been making a very publicly visible appeal to President Obama to settle the matter once and for all and make his birth certificate public. Does this make Trump a “birther”?

First, keep in mind that the term “birther” has been used by the media to stigmatize a portion of the American electorate as right-wing kooks. Some media outlets seem to have calculated that by calling these American citizens by this epithet it will eventually embarrass and silence them, or at least contain their influence.

This appears to be a clear effort to defend the President. But defend him from what? Apparently, the President’s stubborn refusal to publish his birth certificate is viewed even by his defenders as a posture that is worthy of media defense. But why?

And what exactly is a birther? You’re definitely supposed to be a birther if you actually believe that Obama was not born in the United States. There are people in this country who believe this. So they have the clearest claim to the epithet. And maybe some of these “true believers” wear the epithet with pride.

Are you a birther if you are genuinely concerned about the possibility that Obama was not born in this country, and would simply like for him to step up and prove that he was? I wouldn’t say so. And this seems to be Donald Trump’s attitude. Trump, as far as I can tell, is not a birther. He has said that he hopes Obama was born in this country. Would a real birther hope for this?

With Trump’s recent appeal to Obama to take the very simple step of proving his citizenship, I’ve thought about the issue a bit more than in the past. It now seems to me that Obama has repudiated an opportunity to demonstrate good will toward all Americans, including those who would like to have clarity about this matter. What possible harm can there be in accommodating a reasonable request for such information? What past American President would refuse to make his birth certificate public if there was such a broad interest in seeing his American citizenship demonstrated?

Many who are not generally considered birthers have enjoined Obama to produce his certificate. In response, challengers often say, “Do you believe that Obama was not born in the United States?” And if the answer is, “No,” then challengers think it’s stupid to ask the President for his birth certificate. But it isn’t stupid. If there is enough concern among the American people to see this demonstrated, then that should be reason enough for the President to accommodate them.

That’s my view, then. Without believing that Obama was born outside the United States, I do believe he very simply ought to make his birth certificate public. I believe this because his refusal to do so has revealed a stubbornness that is unbecoming of the leader of our nation. There’s some reason why he does not wish to give satisfaction to those who have called for it. Those reasons create suspicion and escalate discord about the matter. Why not “bring the country together” on such a small point?

Trump alleges that Obama has spent quite a bit of money to ensure that his birth certificate does not come to light. If that’s true, I’d like to know why. Does it lead me to believe that Obama was not born in the U.S.? No.

Others have said that media outlets are so thorough in their scrutiny of a presidential candidate that if Obama was not born in the United States, then this would have been exposed during Obama’s candidacy. But doesn’t this argument cut the other way just as well? Doesn’t it stand to reason that if Obama was born in the United States—given the huge controversy concerning the President’s citizenship—compelling evidence that he was born in the U.S. would have come to light via media scrutiny? The evidence, apparently, hasn’t been conclusive either way.

The issue hasn’t subsided and there’s reason to think it will haunt the President in the future. It’s looking now like Obama will be confronted with this issue again as he campaigns for a second term. Will the pressure be great enough this time round for him to capitulate and make his birth certificate public? Who can say? If the President was not born in the U.S., then, by Article 2 of the U.S. Constitution, Obama is not the legitimate President of the United States. That would provide motive for refusing to go public. But if that’s true, how long can the truth be suppressed? I imagine that sooner or later, even if Obama is elected for a second term, actual dissembling about his citizenship would come to light eventually. And that would not be good for Obama.

Here’s something to consider. There’s a good chance that the history books will note the issue and document Obama’s determination not to publicize his birth certificate. Readers will not have the benefit of observing his charisma and judge his likeability. If the President isn’t eventually forthcoming, perhaps a majority of Americans a couple generations from now will be birthers. That would not be good for Obama, either. What President would wish to go down in history as very possibly the only “American President” who was never really a legitimate President? The only way for Obama to ensure that that never happens is for him to produce his birth certificate.

Notes:

  • FactCheck.com concluded that an alleged digital copy of the certificate, released by the Obama 2008 Campaign, is of an authentic certificate for Obama from Hawaii. The story features a foto with the caption “The Obama birth certificate, held by FactCheck writer Joe Miller.”
  • Snopes.com also has written in defense of this perspective.
  • See Wikipedia articles on conspiracy theories about the Obama birth certificate and about Article 2 of the U.S. Constitution.
  • Donald Trump appears to be testing the water for a run at the presidency in 2012. Could this be why he has re-introduced the topic of Obama’s birth certificate into the national discussion?
  • Chester Arthur, 21st President of the U.S., has gone down in history with doubts about his citizenship still lingering. Vice President Arthur succeeded President James Garfield after Garfield died of gunshot wounds caused by an assassin.

Related Post:

TR on Reading Fiction for Personal Improvement


Book Cover.TR's Letters to His SonsThe American President that most fascinates and inspires me is Theodore Roosevelt. I’ve read several biographies, the best of which is by Texas A & M historian H. W. Brands. I also enjoy collections of TR’s essays and letters.

In a letter to his son Kermit, written from the White House February 3, 1906, the President reveals something of the way he viewed fiction:

Dear Kermit:

I agree pretty well with your views of David Copperfield. Dora was very cunning and attractive, but I am not sure that the husband would retain enough respect for her to make life quite what it ought to be with her. This is a harsh criticism and I have known plenty of women of the Dora type whom I have felt were a good deal better than the men they married, and I have seen them sometimes make very happy homes. I also feel as you do that if a man had to struggle on and make his way it would be a great deal better to have someone like Sophie. Do you recollect the dinner at which David Copperfield and Traddles were, where they are described as seated at the dinner, one “in the glare of the red velvet lady’ and the other “gloom of Hamlet’s aunt”? I am so glad you like Thackeray. “Pendennis” and “The Newcomes” and “Vanity Fair” I can read over and over again.

If TR felt he could read such titles by Thackery over and over again, it is because he did. Thackery is mentioned in many of his letters. Here the father takes pleasure in a shared enthusiasm with his son. And why is he so pleased with the boy’s reading predilections? Apparently because of the power fiction has to form character, to provoke thought about values and truth, and to encourage wise decisions in life.

Evidence for this dominates the quotation. Notice that TR is, in effect, counseling his son about choices in marriage. He is very subtle in this.

It’s pleasing to see that this accomplished public figure had such a relationship with his children that he would write about such things in his letters from the White House.

From the quoted portion of Roosevelt’s letter to Kermit, there is much of positive value to glean:

  • He takes time for his children in the midst of major official responsibilities.
  • He writes in a slow, reflective pace.
  • He guides by example.
  • He engages his son in discussion of ideas and values on the basis of a shared interest.
  • He shows genuine enthusiasm for great literature outside his range of responsibilities.
  • He exemplifies a manner of reading fiction that is directed by the desire to grow in wisdom.
  • He advises the young without preaching at them in any condescending fashion.
  • He regards his son as a peer in the realm of ideas.
  • He looks for points of contact between the fictional characters he meets with in reading and living individuals he knows personally.

It’s enough to make you want to go back and read David Copperfield, and check out the works he cites by William Thackeray.

William Makepeace Thackery, Painted by Sir John Gilbert

William Makepeace Thackery, Painted by Sir John Gilbert

Works mentioned in this post:

Kindle users should know that there is a Kindle collection of over 100 of Thackery’s publications (including the three mentioned in this post) that you can get with a single purchase (cost: $4.79 at the time of this post). Click here. I like the Kindle!

Book Cover.TR's Letters to His Sons.2The quotation is from page 80 in The Letters and Lessons of Theodore Roosevelt for His Sons, edited and compiled by Doug Phillips.

Presidential Leadership


So today is Presidents’ Day. We can’t all be in Washington, DC to visit the National Archives, the National Portrait Gallery, or the National Museum of American History. But there are interesting and edifying (or not) ways to memorialize the date and celebrate our presidential heritage. Some of these you can spread out over the week, others over a year—until the next Presidents’ Day.

  1. Visit the C-Span site for the Historians Presidential Leadership Survey for pages and pages of interesting facts and rankings. See also The American Presidency Project.
  2. Visit a presidential museum. We have two in southern California, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace.
  3. us-constitutionReview U. S. Constitution guidelines for the presidency. Amazon has a nice paperback edition here.
  4. Have some fun. See if you can arrange pictures of the presidents in the chronological order of their administrations, at MIStupid.com. Do a word search puzzle or a jigsaw puzzle of the American presidents. There’s even a People’s Choice Presidential Card Game.
  5. Browse a pictorial reference book on American presidents. I recommend The American President: The Human Drama of Our Nation’s Highest Office.
  6. Select four presidents you’d like to know more about. Determine to read one substantive biography of each before next Presidents’ Day (15 Feburary 2010). Here are some recommendations: John Adams, by David McCullough; Washington’s Crossing, by David Hackett Fischer; T. R.: The Last Romantic, by H. W. Brands; An Honest President: The Life and Presidencies of Grover Cleveland, by H. Paul Jeffers; and, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Or you might select from The American Presidents Series, a stunning set of easily digested volumes. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., the general editor writes, “It is the aim of the American Presidents series to present the grand panorama of our chief executives in volumes compact enough for the busy reader, lucid enough for the student, authoritative enough for the scholar. Each volume offers a distillation of character and career.” This is a great series for getting to know those forgotten presidents—James Buchanan, book-coverbenjamin-harrisonBenjamin Harrison, Andrew Johnson, Grover Cleveland, Chester Alan Arthur, William McKinley, James K. Polk, Martin Van Buren. I have the volume on Chester Alan Arthur, by Zachary Karabell, and the one on William McKinley, who was assassinated, written by Kevin Phillips.
  7. Alternatively, read a book that compares presidents from an interesting vantage point. For this I suggest Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America, by Michael R. Beschloss. Beschloss is the fellow you see interviewed so often about presidential history. He has several bestselling books to his credit.
  8. For the biographies of those who ran for the presidency and lost, I recommend They Also Ran, by Irving Stone.
  9. In the category of historical fiction, you might try something like The Shut Mouth Society, by James D. Best; The President’s Lady: A Novel about Rachel and Andrew Jackson, by Irving Stone; or, Never Call Retreat: Lee and Grant—The Final Victory, by Newt Gingrich. In the “alternate history” category, there’s 1901, by Robert Conroy, imaging the transder of power from William McKinley to Theodore Roosevelt when Germany invades the United States. For speculative fiction involving presidential decision making during crisis, try Brad Thor’s novel State of the Union, or Absolute Power, by the bestselling thriller novelist David Baldacci.
  10. Identify a favorite non-living president and write down ten things you admire about him. Share these with a friend or family member.
  11. Pick a president you know little about, and see if you can learn ten interesting things about him. Try to identify skills or character traits you admire.
  12. Imagine a conversation with one of our past presidents. Who would you like to spend an hour with? What would you want to talk about? Write down ten questions you would ask? Do this with friends or family, and compare.
  13. Write an imaginary conversation between yourself and one of the presidents, or between three presidents who never knew each other (I did this in a blog post recently).
  14. Read select speeches of various presidents (for example, nomination and convention speeches, inauguration speeches, state of the union speeches, or speeches on important occasions—as when Reagan addressed the nation after space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after launch).
  15. Rent a movie. Here’s a list of some “presidential” films, of different state-of-the-unionposter1kinds and quality: State of the Union, The American President, Dave, All the President’s Men, Nixon, Jefferson in Paris, Murder at 1600, Absolute Power, Wag the Dog, Primary Colors, JFK, Young Mr. Lincoln, Wilson (1944, with Charles Coburn), Gabriel Over the White House, Air Force One, In the Line of Fire, The Assassination of Richard Nixon, The First Wives Club. Don’t forget about movies from The History Channel: JFK: A Presidency Revealed, FDR: A Presidency Revealed, and Nixon: A Presidency Revealed. Here’s the IMDB site for a listing of Ronald Regan’s movies. For a book on how Hollywood has portrayed presidents and their administration, see Hollywood’s White House: The American Presidency in Film and History.
  16. Watch past episodes of 24 and The West Wing.
  17. Write a blog post with your own suggestions.
  18. Post suggestions in the combox for this post!

Related posts:

Presidential History: Rutherford B. Hayes


Presidential biography is a long-standing interest of mine. I’ve read more about Theodore Roosevelt than any other historical figure. He would be my favorite in many respects. But I also especially enjoy learning about lesser-known Presidents, like Chester Arthur and Rutherford B. Hayes. Since my Reading Jags often include forays into the arena of Presidential history, I’ll include periodic posts about these jags. This post is dedicated to the nineteenth President of the United States, Rutherford B. Hayes (1822-1893).

Jag for July 23, 2008

Jenny Drapkin posted her blog at http://www.mentalfloss.com today. She acknowledges that Hayes was widely known as a man of integrity. But she attributes considerable responsibility surrounding his controversial election to the man himself. This is probably unfair. Hayes went to bed on the night of the election expecting his opponent to win. His opponent expected the same result. Drapkin recounts a few of the details that determined the somewhat shocking outcome. To say the least, close elections raise special problems.

The Hayes vs. Tilden horse-race was made more complicated by the continued festering of North/South relations. It was still a period of reconstruction, and there were no easy solutions. Who can say what a Tilden presidency would have been like? As it was, the Hayes presidency lasted for only a single term. (The Wikipedia entry on Hayes indicates that Hayes had promised to serve for one term only and had advocated for one-term presidencies of six years. It might be enjoyable to hear a conversation between Rutherford B. Hayes and Franklin Roosevelt on that point—and why not include George Washington, for good measure?)

The White House Biography points out that Hayes, who was from Ohio, sought to establish stronger support for the Republican party in the South. But those with Republican sensibilities considered it too risky to exhibit public sympathy for this effort. (Some will be surprised to learn that Mark Twain campaigned for Hayes, the Republican who wrote in his diary, “the best religion the world has ever had is the religion of Christ.”)

Drapkin’s article comes at an interesting time, in the pre-convention days of the contest between senators John McCain (Republican) and Barack Obama (Democrat). She alludes to “the current political process,” and mentions the “chad debacle of years past,” but she doesn’t explicitly reference the current contestants. Her brief article is a reminder that intrigue has marred presidential politics for a good long while. She suggests that what our generation has witnessed is comparatively benign.

It is useful to sober up on the smelling salts of history when we are in the midst of an election period with so much at stake and such partisan division.

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