“I was a really good student at the best school. I’m like a smart guy, OK?” Donald Trump boasted on The View last week. “They make these birthers into the worst idiots.”
For a week now, Trump’s been all over TV going full-tilt, red-in-the-face birther—in order, he says, to defend the honor of those “who happen to think there’s a possibility this man [Obama] was not born in this country.” If Trump is smart, ergo, birthers aren’t stupid. It’s quite gallant of Donald, really, this offer to become the Birthers’ Brain. But as serious questions arise about his brain, some Republicans are increasingly worried that the battle for the GOP presidential nomination has become a contest between Dumb and Dumber. Because, you know, that might play into the hands of those terrible Dems.
“Do you ever think about the fact,” Gretchen Carlson wondered on Fox & Friends, “that maybe [Obama] is not showing [his birth certificate] because it keeps sort of stirring the pot about these other people discussing it, and it doesn’t make them look so good?” Without naming names, she meant people who tickle the tiger of birtherism, like Trump, Huckabee, Gingrich, Hannity, Bachmann, Lou Dobbs and other stars of the Fox box.
And Gretchen’s not alone. Glenn Beck has long been pushing this conspiracy theory about the birthers’ conspiracy theory: It posits that Obama is promoting the idea that he isn’t an American citizen and therefore shouldn’t be president in order to make all Republicans look like morons. Beck has even called the folks who unwittingly do Obama’s bidding “crazies,” “fringe,” and “birther idiot[s].” “One of the reasons why [Obama] doesn’t just come out [with his birth certificate] is because it is so great for him, because it immediately marginalizes anybody who says that kind of stuff,” Beck said on his radio show in 2009. “It makes them immediately look like they’re flat-earthers.”
If so, 51 percent of Republican primary voters have dropped off the edge, believing that Obama wasn’t born in the United States (while a teetering 21 percent say they’re not sure), according to a recent poll. Non-birther Bill O’Reilly doesn’t believe these numbers, but they give Karl Rove the willies.
"This is the White House strategy, they love this," Rove told O’Reilly. “We need the leaders of our party to say, ‘Look, stop falling into the trap of the White House.’ ”
Too late. The GOP leadership, by refusing to unambiguously disavow birther beliefs, has lent birtherism tons of cred. And now Trump is splashing in, making more noise in the shallow end of the celebrity pool than all the potential GOP candidates combined, thereby calling attention to the dingbattiness of the entire field. This cannot be good. Any more than it is good that Trump is offering himself as proof that not all birthers are, as Beck says, “idiots.”
Because as much as I want to take Donald Trump at his word that he’s “really smart,” questions remain. As Lewis Black points out, for instance, “The guy bankrupted his own casino! A casino—where the house always wins!”
That doesn’t sound like someone who went to “the best school.” And neither do the other bright moves Trump’s made within the last few days:
—In an “exclusive” to Newsmax on Monday, Trump released what he said was his birth certificate—only to find it wasn’t an official document at all! In fact, he couldn’t have even gotten a passport with it. Unlike the official Hawaiian certificate of live birth that Obama released (thoroughly vetted, inside and out, by FactCheck.org), Trump’s hospital-issued certificate doesn’t even have his mother’s first name. He finally found the real thing, but only after stepping on his own message.
—Trump insists he’s only asking Obama to release what previous presidential candidates had already ponied up. On Fox & Friends, he said, “They asked John McCain for his birth certificate. They’ve asked others for their birth certificate. They asked Bush for his birth certificate, by the way. I just found out over the weekend.” (He soon added Reagan to this list of birth-vetted pols.)
Trump hasn’t offered a smidgen of evidence for these heretofore unheard-of, potentially historical requests, and of course his Fox pals never questioned him. During the 2008 Senate hearing on a prophylactic resolution declaring that John McCain (who was born in the Panama Canal Zone) was eligible to run, no one demanded his birth certificate, contrary to some blather Trump may have “found out over the weekend” from a Hannity radio show. Trump’s office has not responded to several phone and e-mail requests for the boss’s sources.
—Despite all evidence, Trump insists no one remembers the young Obama. When the 72-year-old governor of Hawaii, Neil Abercrombie, says he was there at his birth, Trump pounces: “I think this guy should be investigated. He remembers when Obama was born? Give me a break!”
—Trump feels perfectly confident making reckless, easy-to-disprove charges.“I grew up with Wall Street geniuses,” he said last night on O’Reilly. “What they do in terms of fraud and how they change documents, and I’ll tell you something, if you notice, those dates [of Obama’s birth announcements in two Honolulu newspapers] were three days later” than his birth. (As Media Matters points out, “Take a look at the other birth announcements published on that day’s paper—all of the newly announced births took place on dates ranging from July 30 to August 6. Did all of those people, too, have their child out of the country, only to…then publish birth announcements in the local paper?”)
Then O’Reilly gives Trump a very public IQ test:
He’s never seen a birth announcement? I think this guy should be investigated!
And talking about smarts, schools, and “fraud,” Trump University, the mogul’s how-to-get-rich cyber-school, has received miserable grades. Last year, the Better Business Bureau handed the school, which boasted of an “Ivy League quality curriculum,” a D-minus rating (up from an F in 2009). Its rating is still under review, according to the BBB site. “Attorneys general in six states have fielded dozens of complaints—and the New York Education Department demanded Trump U. stop calling itself a university,” Doug Feiden wrote in the Daily News last May. That month the newly named Trump Entrepreneur Initiative also became the target of a class-action fraud lawsuit filed in California; the school has countersued for defamation.
It’s all enough to make a former child think that going to school is itself one big conspiracy. Remember when, during the primaries, Hillary attacked Obama as too ambitious because he wrote a kindergarten essay titled “I Want to Become President”? By birther logic, she did that so that she’d look ridiculous, thus helping Obama win, so that she could become secretary of state and off Qaddafi in order to help Bill assuage his guilt for not intervening in Rwanda because, of course, she’d rather he suffer guilt only, and eternally, over Monica.
Wait, I got that messed up—I’ve never said I was a really smart student at the best school. It should read: Republicans pander to birthers not only for the obvious reasons—that it makes Obama’s presidency seem illegitimate, sets him up as an anti-American Muslim atheist (as Gingrich, that other self-proclaimed genius, might say) and is the most effective dog whistle since “welfare queen.” The deeper purpose behind the pandering is to encourage us all to relax into the stupid.
The more a population can be enticed to accept fringe delusions—whether birtherism, creationism or Martian anal probes, it doesn’t matter—the more they’ll accept mainstream delusions (cutting spending will create jobs). This isn’t ideology, it’s the exaltation of ignorance and dark paranoia. And it leaves people less willing to think critically or even recognize their own interests. And so, more and more, we’re seeing “populists” fight for the right of millionaires and corporations, like GE, to avoid taxes—which in turn creates the canard that states have no money to pay teachers, who could possibly teach “smart guys” to look at evidence before they start blabbing at the mouth.