The Worst Thing You Can Say To A Person In America
And by "person", I obviously mean "white guy":
From the outset, I have been very critical of Trump on the birther questions and have repeatedly called him a buffoon. Yet calling Trump a racial provocateur is a sure sign of intellectual laziness and descends the depths of disingenuousness. Trump has been a prominent public figure for decades. If he bore racial animus it would showed itself long ago. As misguided as Trump was to focus his attention on Obama's birth certificate, liberals are making the mistake of assuming that his criticism of President Obama is motivated solely by race.
Nobody is saying that Donald Trump is motivated solely by race. He's also motivated by being an overly ambitious, attention-seeking bastard, by the body of slavering lunatics that make up a significant portion of the Republican base, and by the fact that he keeps getting nuzzled behind the ears and told to do the trick over again by reporters.
But yeah, a huge part of the motivation behind Trump's birtherism is race. If you're being charitable, you could potentially argue that Trump's birtherism is something akin to his anti-choice views: a position he's taken out of total ignorance of what the position actually entails. He's not racist, he's just so blisteringly stupid that he's just saying things because they're popular, like a first grader who goes around saying curse words because older kids do.
What makes me think that Trump is either directly racist or presuming racism on the part of his audience are his demands for Obama's college records. He claims he just wants to make sure Obama got good enough grades to get into Harvard, which seems like a bizarre demand – it's not clear who Obama would have known that would have gotten him into the second most prestigious law school in the nation with terrible grades. However, the basis for the birther inquiry into Obama's college records isn't the belief that he's stupid, it's the belief that he claimed to be a foreign student to get into the Ivies (and, presumably, gain preferential admissions treatment).
Coupled with his belief that Bill Ayers wrote Dreams From My Father, the Trump narrative becomes clear: not only is Barack Obama not one of us, but he's not even wily enough to infiltrate America on his own. It took some misguided and fooled white liberals at Obama's colleges to let him in, it took a white radical to write his book for him, Obama was only on Harvard Law Review because of white liberals (and apparently didn't have to do any work while on the Law Review, which, having done the work of a Managing Editor and Editor-in-Chief this year, makes me wonder how that thing got published).
The narrative that the birther brigade has adopted is simple: Barack Obama is alien. Because he is alien, both in terms of his nationality and his race, his accomplishments cannot be his, and must be the result of a vast conspiracy of white Americans who wanted to use him (in the most contrived scheme of all time) to do…something. At some point. The reason this smacks of racism to so many minorities is because it's the same thing that every minority goes through when they succeed. If you're young and black, you're sent the message that you have to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps and succeed, and stop whining about how you're such a victim. If you do succeed, however, you've inherently victimized some cohort of white person, probably because someone gave you a leg up that they didn't have. You can never win and never succeed on your own merits, unless you happen to pull a Bill Cosby and savage your brethren for not having your success. Merit, particularly for blacks, is not a matter of what you've done, but a matter of what you're willing to let your success say about the unwashed hordes who trail behind you.
Barack Obama is suspect in the eyes of birthers because he is a prominent minority who refuses to burn the bridge behind him. Whatever his failures as a President and as a leader, he is not willing to turn his race into a badge of shame in order to curry favor. And because of that, we'll be talking about the Photoshop layers on his birth certificate until January of 2017.