Now that CNN has dismantled Donald Trump's birtherism, can anyone take him seriously?
One of the biggest challenges in navigating mainstream society for a person of color, is spotting prejudice.
We're a long way from the days when most racists would feel comfortable expressing those ideas in public. So learning who to trust and befriend can become a guessing game of sorts. And the biggest clue is often an unreasonable dislike for racial, ethnic or religious minorities.
That's why CNN's examination of Donald Trump's "birther" ideas was so compelling Monday night. By the end of a contentious interview with anchor Anderson Cooper, Trump was stuck insisting on supposed facts he couldn't prove: that President Obama's birth certificate is supposedly missing; that there are no details about his birth; that his grandmother initially said in an interview that he was born in Kenya and changed her story when the impact of her statement was known.
Cooper deployed actual facts, sending reporter Gary Tuchman to Hawaii for a step-by-step investigation of the issue. Predictably -- considering that news organizations across the world have looked into this and courts have thrown out lawsuits over the issue -- Tuchman found a Republican official in Hawaii who says she has seen his birth certificate and a Democratic official who says he remembers Barack Obama as a baby.
Tuchman also noted that the original birth certificate, which those born in Hawaii can request from the government, isn't accepted as an official document proving birth. The state says only a certificate of live birth, which Obama released three years ago, is acceptable.
Of course, that wasn't good enough for Trump, who insisted he had investigators in the state looking into the issue, despite the fact that CNN couldn't find anyone connected to the issue who had spoken to them. Trump claimed to have heard that Obama's birth certificate was missing, but would not say how he knows this or why he believes it, in the face of statements from officials in Hawaii from both parties supporting that Obama was born there.
On Sunday, ABC News analyst Cokie Roberts made the connection to prejudice, saying that some people seem intent on believing that Obama is a Muslim because they find it more socially acceptable to say they don't like Muslims. Which creates two problems; people are unwilling to admit that race is the real reason Obama makes them uncomfortable, while they promote the idea of mistrusting someone based purely on their religious beliefs.
A writer on the conservative media watchdog website Newsbusters.org took exception to Roberts' comments, raising the typical complaint that opponents of Obama are always unfairly labeled as racist and insisting that she shouldn't have made such a controversial allegation on Easter Sunday.
This is a typical rhetorical tactic, arguing against something Roberts never said. She didn't say the bulk of Obama's opponents are racist or that sentiments against his policies stem from racism. She did say unreasonably clinging to a belief that the President is somehow not part of America's accepted religious culture or citizenry, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, is evidence of prejudice. And Roberts added an important kicker: That being a Muslim isn't instant evidence of nefarious intent, either.
It's not the first time someone has used empty prejudice to win points with an electorate. The question is how long will conservatives tolerate a potential candidate whose biggest arguments are based on misstatements, twisted facts and outright deception?