There was a time when if someone asked me about my blogging, I would start by saying, “Do you know what a birther is?” I don’t do that anymore. Everybody seems to know by now, and if they didn’t, an estimated 84 million people who watched the Clinton – Trump debate Monday night heard about it. And those who didn’t watch the debate heard about it the next morning on morning news such as NPR’s Morning Edition:
LIASSON: When the debate turned to racial healing, Trump was asked by moderator Lester Holt about birtherism, the false accusation that President Obama was not born in the United States that launched Trump into the presidential race.
(SOUNDBITE OF DEBATE)
HOLT: The birth certificate was produced in 2011. You continued to tell the story and questioned the president’s legitimacy in 2012, ’13, ’14, ’15…
HOLT: …As recently as January. So the question is what changed your mind?
TRUMP: Well, nobody was pressing it. Nobody was caring much about it. I figured you’d asked the question tonight of course, but nobody was caring much about it. But I was the one that got him to produce the birth certificate, and I think I did a good job. Secretary Clinton also fought it. I mean, you know, now everybody in mainstream’s going to say, oh, that’s not true. Look, it’s true. Sidney Blumenthal sent the reporter. You just have to take a look at CNN the last week the interview with your former campaign manager, and she was involved. But just like she can’t bring back jobs, she can’t produce.
HOLT: I’m sorry. I’m just going to follow up and I will let you respond to that because there’s a lot there, but we’re talking about racial healing in this segment. What do you say to Americans…
TRUMP: Well, it was very – I say nothing. I say nothing because I was able to get him to produce it. He should have produced it a long time before. I say nothing.
It pains me that this tawdry little conspiracy theory that I write about has grown into a factor in the presidential election, but Birtherism’s importance today stems not from the merits of the theories themselves, rejected by every mainstream organization and court, but rather from the underlying biases, including the racial divide, that leads some Americans to embrace these rumors and to use them to internally validate their own prejudices.