I’m always interested in the evolution of the language surrounding Obama conspiracy theories. The key term “birther” is undergoing adaptation from simply doubting that Obama was born in Hawaii, to questions about anybody’s birth anywhere. So naturally, I wanted to see what happened to the term as it appeared in a headline at Mother Jones: “Talking about Obama and Orlando, Trump Pushes a Birther-Like Conspiracy Theory.”
In some present usage, birtherism is connected to labeling someone as “other than American,” not necessarily in place birth or by parentage, but by goals and ideals. Trump takes the fact that President Obama does not use the words “Radical Muslim Terrorism” to mean that he is in some way sympathetic to terrorism. I would echo what White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said last year (paraphrasing): if the President’s choice of words is the strongest criticism his opponents can come up with, that’s not very much.
In February of 2015, Mr. Earnest gave a more lengthy reply at a press briefing to a question about the President’s choice of language to describe terrorists, which I excerpt following:
At the same time, Jim, they would love nothing more than for the United States to engage in a — the United States or the West to engage in a religious war with them. But the fact of the matter is, that is not what this is. This is not a religious war. This is not a war on Islam. And those individuals do not represent Islam; the leaders of Islam say as much. And there are a variety of ways that we can assess this. Let me just give you one good example.
In the operation to recover and bring to justice Osama bin Laden, our operators also recovered a treasure trove of material from his residence where they were able to evaluate some of his ongoing communications and even some of his thinking about the state of al Qaeda. And in those writings there is clear evidence that he was frustrated; that Osama bin Laden was frustrated that al Qaeda was being recognized and acknowledged and fought, not as a religious organization, but as a terrorist group.
He even contemplated, in those writings, changing the name of al Qaeda to try to more closely identify it with Islam. He felt like that would be helpful to their flagging recruiting efforts. That is an indication that our efforts to be crystal-clear about what it is that we’re fighting and what we’re not has not just been successful, but actually frustrated the efforts of our enemies.
Donald Trump, on the other hand, seems quite ready to start a war with Islam.