NEW YORK -- If you really, really dislike Barack Obama, his long-form birth certificate, finally proffered in exasperation, is quite simply a counterfeit.
If you are a fan of the president — or even a respectful critic — you are relieved finally to have rid the country of the plague of "birtherism," the rabid belief that Obama wasn't born in this country and isn't constitutionally qualified to be president.
To whichever group one claims membership, one can't help wondering when exactly we lost our minds.
What are we to make of these crazed factions that become obsessed with conspiracies, unconvinced by facts? Perhaps most important, what is the rest of the world to think of us? Will even Third World countries someday (soon) look at the United States and say, "Oh, well, those Americans, they're crazy, you know"?
(If at this point anyone is offended, please feel free to take full possession of the insult.)
Unfortunately, the plague is not quite spent or conquered. Since Obama issued his "real" birth certificate, which has more information than the shorter "certificate of live birth," reactions have run the usual gamut. Meaning that many of those who disbelieved still disbelieve.
This is beyond depressing. But also depressing is the cynicism that reportedly prompted the president's decision to finally address the issue. Why did Obama give in to the charges that he wasn't a proper citizen?
It is also fair to wonder why he didn't do it sooner. Perhaps it was a simple matter of not wanting to dignify what was so clearly an accusation of "otherness" that had dogged him since he began running for president. It may have been a simple matter of pride.
Perhaps, too, he felt protective toward his mother, who was only 18 when he was born and probably not quite 18 when she conceived. Even though this was known, seeing it on the birth certificate was yet another reminder. No decent man wants to subject his mother to the kind of scrutiny that was bound to follow by people who do not wish him or her well.
The official reason was that the birth question had become an intolerable distraction. This is surely true, but it has been true for more than two years. Why now? Was it the Trump factor? Did Donald Trump's trumpeting of the birther issue -- loudly and ceaselessly -- provide the final impetus?
Yes, obviously. Trump resurrected the birther cause and breathed new life into it. But it wasn't only to end the debate that Obama sent for his certificate. According to the vineyard, it was also to prevent other Republican candidates from looking sane by comparison to Trump.
How does one make Mitt Romney look like a fringe candidate with the fire-eating, cartwheeling Trump creating the sort of sideshow that makes any other candidate look Rushmorian?
In a saner time, Trump would be dismissed as the carnival barker Obama implied he is. People would have recognized Trump as a self-aggrandizing megalomaniac and put a period at the end of the sentence. Not remotely would his name be followed with this phrase: "who is leading other Republican candidates in polls."
Which, at the moment, happens to be true. Indeed, Trump is enjoying a resurgence of self-regard, awarding himself accolades for forcing Obama's hand.
To answer my own question, I honestly don't know what to make of Trump's popularity nor of the continuing belief that Obama wasn't born in the 50th state. Yet even otherwise rational people continue to carry on and react as though facts were irrelevant. Even as the president spoke at a news conference to dispel remaining suspicions, the Twitterverse confirmed that nothing had changed. The conspirators conspired; the rueful rued.
Alas, there is no reasoning with the unreasonable, too many of whom these days seem to self-identify as Republicans or conservatives. This is as Democrats would have it, needless to say, but no one is served by our national descent into silliness. Sadly missing on the Republican side is the leveling voice of the grown-up who will say not only that he takes Obama's word (and the clear evidence), but that the Republican Party won't tolerate further discussion. Case closed.
Instead, too many seem satisfied to let the fringe inform the base. We dwell in a time when buffoons are elevated and presidents are compelled to respond to the jester. These circumstances cannot bode well for the republic.
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