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Trump and the birthers

9/24/2016, 2:59 p.m.
News Flash: Donald Trump now believes that President Obama was born in the country of which he is president.

Clarence Page

News Flash: Donald Trump now believes that President Obama was born in the country of which he is president.

That news may be a relief to the president, although I doubt that he was losing much sleep over it.

After a night of oddly competing statements from Mr. Trump and his own campaign team, the Republican presidential nominee announced three things at his new Washington hotel.

Two of those things were false. “Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy,” he declared on Sept. 16. “I finished it. I finished it.”

No, there’s no evidence that his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton or her campaign had anything to do with starting birtherism, as PolitiFact found in 2015.

But the bizarre “birther” movement was fading in 2011 when Mr. Trump, the TV star and real estate developer, gave it new life through his well-developed capacity for self-promotion.

And he hasn’t finished it, either. Diehard birthers and other paranoids will believe what they want to believe, undeterred by anything so trivial as evidence or a lack of it.

Some folks still can’t wrap their minds around the possibility that Americans actually elected a black president, even after the president seemed to put it to rest with his roast of Mr. Trump at the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Association dinner.

President Obama hilariously flashed his long-form birth certificate that night on a giant screen as Hulk Hogan’s theme song, “(I am a) Real American,” rocked the room.

Mr. Trump “can finally get back to the issues that matter,” the president told the black-tie crowd that included an unsmiling Mr. Trump. “Like: Did we fake the moon landing? What really happened in Roswell? And — where are Biggie and Tupac?”

Yet the one true thing Mr. Trump said about the issue last week was his concession that, “President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period.” He left the podium without taking questions. The issue had served its purpose. Now after years of feeding hate and suspicion, Mr. Trump was eager to move on.

In a private August email among others that hackers recently leaked, former Secretary of State Colin Powell told the uncensored truth:

Clarence Page

“Yup, the whole birther movement was racist,” Mr. Powell, a Republican who endorsed President Obama, wrote. “That’s what the 99% believe. When Trump couldn’t keep that up he said he also wanted to see if the certificate noted that he was a Muslim. ... As I have said before, ‘What if he was?’ Muslims are born as Americans every day.”

Responsible leaders in our very diverse society know they face a choice with their appeals to communities undergoing economic and demographic change: They can try to calm public fears and anxieties or they can try to exploit them to win votes.

Having benefitted from his divide-and-conquer strategy, Mr. Trump has been reluctant to leave it, even as he tries to broaden his appeal to skeptical Republicans and independent swing voters who don’t want to be associated with such other questionable Trump fans as David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader and current U.S. Senate candidate in Louisiana.