Before Donald J. Trump was president, he repeatedly demanded to see President Barack Obama’s birth certificate. A leader in a “birtherism” movement that openly called into question Obama’s citizenship, the bigotry by the then-New York developer and reality TV show celebrity helped propel him into the presidency in 2016.
Is it any surprise then that this week Trump, now president, is reprising his role as Birther No. 1?
In a press conference Thursday, President Trump gave credibility to racist conspiracy theories that call into question Kamala Harris’ eligibility to run as Joe Biden’s running mate.
“I heard it today that she doesn’t meet the requirements,” Mr. Trump told reporters. “I have no idea if that’s right,” he added. “I would have thought, I would have assumed, that the Democrats would have checked that out before she gets chosen to run for vice president.”
There is nothing to check out.
Born in Oakland, Calif. to Jamaican and Indian parents — her mother was a breast cancer scientist, her father was a professor of economics at Stanford University — Kamala Harris is eligible. Period. End of story. The 14th amendment of 1868 and the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in United States vs Wong Kim Ark (1898) settled that people born in the United States are citizens of the United States. No amount of arguing over this will change those facts.
A much larger and more fraught question is: Why are these theories so popular on the internet with a certain slice of the American population. And why is President Trump repeating them in press conferences?
Here’s a theory.
President Trump knows that channeling white fear in a changing America helped him win the presidency in 2016. It’s not new. American history has shown that exploiting white people’s fears is a safe bet if you want to sit in the Oval Office. But white fears seem more acute in 2020 as America transforms into a more racially and ethnically diverse nation where power sharing will increasingly become the rule, not the exception.
The question in 2020 is are there enough white people who are moved by such blatant race baiting to put him into office again?
That’s an answer we’ll have to wait for.
If this spring’s marches across the country that were teeming with white people shouting in solidarity with Black Lives Matter activists and organizers are any indication, the president has his work cut out for him.
But as 2016 taught us, it’s unwise to underestimate the power of bigotry to move the white electorate.
That’s why it’s important to call out Birtherism 2.0 for what it is: An attempt to inject racist rhetoric into the heart of political discourse to exploit white fear as a Black woman runs for one of the highest offices in the land for the first time in our nation’s history.