I don’t want to belabor the whole birther circus, or legitimize it, or whatever. In fact, I almost abandoned this post twice. But we’re well beyond that point after today’s events, so indulge me. And I do think the spectacle of an American President having to debase himself to confront conspiracy theorists registers as a low moment in American politics and a signal of US decline. Not just because of what it says about the media, and the hash they’ve made of the public square over the years. The press is nuts, and they’re not even the press – if by that term you mean the organizations who disseminate important information to ensure a well-informed citizenry.
But more important, I think that this marks the end of anyone calling this a post-racial society. Because this entire issue revolves around race, about the alien aspect of a black man in the White House. The comments telling Obama to get off the basketball court is part and parcel of the same thing. Basically, you have a subset of this country who will never see a black man as an American. I think Baratunde Thurston’s words are extremely poignant.
And furthermore, there was this expectation from everyone involved in this – including the President himself – that the release of the birth certificate will change pretty much no minds. We don’t have a society that values facts anymore, if we ever did. We don’t have any critical thinking beyond the tribal logic that persists. And that matters well beyond this fever swamp issue of a birth certificate. If you can challenge the place of the President’s birth in the face of all the evidence, then you certainly can challenge the evidence that tax cuts don’t pay for themselves, or that austerity creates needless human suffering and doesn’t even cut the budget deficit. Facts have no place in this polarized society. And that has driven American decline over the past several years.
You can add in the lack of trust in institutions – political leaders, media figures, virtually anything and everything – which is a universal and not a partisan trait in modern American life. It’s no wonder people conjure up their own stories rather than believe facts anymore.
People want to disparage this whole thing as not a “real” issue – present company included. But what it says about America circa 2011 is very real.