Deplorables IIIa – Birtherism

Deplorables IIIa – Birtherism


Howard Adelman

This blog will say more on the birther issue than you will ever want to know.

The bottom line is that Donald Trump and his surrogates are distorters, deflectors, dissemblers and, most of all, outright liars. Trump Two-Two in an interview with his shill, Sean Hannity, on Fox News on 14 April 2011, when the Donald was being questioned about whether he would run against Barack Obama in the 2012 election, noted, “if I run, I will have to disclose my…finances.” He never fulfilled that forecast. Yesterday, I wrote about his insistence that he was not and never has been a racist. Yet he engaged in some racist practices and, more importantly, took initiatives to support structural racism. The birther issue discussed in this blog is related to the issue of race because Barack Obama is a Black president whose place of birth and legitimacy to hold high office was repeatedly questioned by Trump Two-Two. On Friday, he broke his vow to no longer discuss the issue. He caved this past Friday, But far too little and far too late.

“President Barack Obama was born in the United States. Period.”

What is the birther issue and what does it have to do with racism? Birtherism is the claim that a political candidate was not born in the United States. It went beyond a mere political tool used by a rival to a widespread movement with the widespread belief that Barack Obama was not, or may not have been, born in the United States; if he wasn’t born in the US, he would be ineligible to be president of the United States.

Birtherism did not start with Barack Obama. The issue was raised with respect to Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney’s father was born in Mexico, yet served as Governor of Michigan and was himself once a Republican presidential candidate running against Richard Nixon in the 1968 contest when the birther controversy first arose.

Note the American constitution does not require that a presidential candidate be born on American soil, only that the person be a “natural born citizen.” That in itself needs deciphering since one readily asks what an unnatural born citizen could be. But “nature” is not being used in the ordinary sense of the natural world, but in the sense of “regular” and consistent with past practices. Regular means in accordance with American citizenship norms. In an article in The New York Law Journal at the time of George Romney’s bid to be the Republican presidential candidate, the author examining the issue concluded that anyone born to a U.S. parent was a natural American and did not need to be naturalized. And, therefore, was eligible to be president. The authoritative Congressional Research Service concurred. The legal meaning of “natural born citizen” refers not only to anyone born on U.S. soil, but anyone born overseas of at least one parent who was a U.S. citizen. End of story. As George Romney wrote years ago, “I am a natural born citizen. My parents were American citizens. I was a citizen at birth.”

This became clear because John McCain was born in the Panama Canal Zone and, more pointedly, Ted Cruz was not even born on American controlled territory but in Calgary, Canada on 22 December 1970. His father was not even an American citizen at the time; his mother was. Which would have put him in the same position as Barack Obama even if he had been born in Kenya, which he was not. Obama’s mother was born in Kansas. Ted Cruz was deemed to be a natural born American because his mother too was born in America. Nevertheless, in January in the primary season when Trump Two-Two had already become the frontrunner, he “attacked Ted Cruz over his birth in Canada, saying it raises questions about his presidential eligibility.” Trump was an equal opportunity swinger. But the question of Ted Cruz’s place of birth never became a movement. Further, though questioned on the law, there was no challenge on factual grounds.

So how did the birth certificate ever become an issue for Barack Obama? Not because it was relevant to his eligibility to run. Not because there was no birth certificate – there was. Why did it continue after President Barack Obama even produced his long form birth certificate and the Republican official in Hawaii authenticated that the certificate was real and that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii on 4 August 1961? And it did continue. It did not end because Trump Two-Two claimed he had forced Obama to produce the birth certificate. Trump did not end the issue in 2011. Trump continued to raise the issue and question the authenticity of the birth certificate. “I heard from a very reliable source that the birth certificate was a fraud.”

Did Hillary Clinton or senior personnel in the Clinton campaign initiate the issue in the 2008 run for the presidency against Barack Obama as Trump Two-Two continued to claim? Hillary never raised it, never endorsed it and explicitly condemned even the effort to question Obama as a presidential candidate on the grounds that he did not have American experience in growing up. One connection to the Clinton campaign took place when, in December 2007, a volunteer coordinator in Iowa forwarded another email which was not even about Obama’s place of birth, but about his heritage.
Did Mark Penn, a Democratic pollster and Clinton 2008 strategist, question the President’s birth in a March 2007 memo as Kellyanne Conway tried to argue in defence of the claim that the Clinton campaign in the 2007-08 election first raised the birther issue? Kellyanne insisted that Mark Penn “put President Obama’s citizenship in question when he wrote a famous memo in March of 2007 questioning Obama’s “American roots.” ( The memo was stupid enough, but it did not mention the legitimacy of Obama’s citizenship. It was not about Obama’s place of birth and eligibility to be president.

Penn offered Clinton bad advice in suggesting the possibility that Hillary raise the issue of Obama’s American experience. Clinton did not take that advice. She not only rejected it, but went on to apologize to Barack for anyone in her campaign raising the issue in the first place. And the issue, to repeat, was not the legitimacy of his place of birth and Obama’s eligibility to run, but whether he had sufficient sense of American having grown up abroad. Clinton told Obama she did not accept the advice and it nowhere made any appearance in the campaign. It was a terrible idea and irrelevant, but it had nothing to do with where Obama was born.
So there is not one iota of evidence that Obama’s birthplace was part of the Clinton campaign when she ran against him. What is the evidence that Trump took the lead in the birther campaign? He was by far the most prominent person to continually raise the issue. But Donald Trump did so, and did so repeatedly:
March 23, 2011

“Why doesn’t he show his birth certificate. And you know, I wish he would.

April 7, 2011. Meredith Viera One-on-One with Donald Trump on the To-day Show

“I’ve had very smart people say stay on the China issue, stay on the Saudi Arabia issue, stay on the India issue taking our jobs, stay on the Mexico issue. Get off the birth certificate issue.”

Why don’t you?

“Because, three weeks ago when I started this issue (my italics and bold), I really thought he was born in this country and now I have a much bigger doubt than I ever had before.”

“His grandmother in Kenya said he was born in Kenya and she was there and witnessed the birth.”

[Meredith arguably lost her job and her $11 million dollar contract because she never challenged Trump for perpetuating this fraudulent conspiracy theory for which Trump then accepted leadership.]
April 28 2011

“I don’t make up anything. Let me tell you something. I have done a great service to the American people.

[CNN has broadcast a series of clips showing Donald Trump questioning Obama’s citizenship in the years Obama released his long-form birth certificate in 2011.

Dec. 16 2015

I don’t answer because if I do answer, that’s all people want to talk about. Once I answer the question, they don’t want to talk about the economy…

May 4, 2016

Wolf Blitzer

“The whole birther thing. Where do you stand?

I don’t talk about it anymore because every time I talk about it, it becomes a story, so I don’t want to waste my time. Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther issue. I ended it by forcing Barack Obama to produce his birth certificate.

The birther issue is irrelevant except as an insight into Donald Trump as a fabulist and about his attraction to material produced by conspiracy theorists. The birther issue is a fabrication alleging Hillary Clinton or her associates initiated the issue. The birther issue became a problem for Trump, because of the reality that Donald Trump promoted it. The birther issue remained alive because Trump did not end the issue after Obama produced his long form birth certificate. The issue continued long after because Trump kept raising it. And even when he finally acknowledged it was a lie, he never took responsibility for his role, never apologized, blamed Democrats and took credit himself for its demise when he kept it alive. The performance was disgusting and insulting to Barack Obama and to Black Americans sensitive to efforts over American history to deprive Blacks of their citizenship rights.

Next: A Black Trump surrogate on the issue

Balak Numbers 22:2-25:9 Soothsayer

Balak Numbers 22:2-25:9 Soothsayer


Howard Adelman

Is it serendipity that last night I listened to Donald Trump address the Republican Convention in Cleveland and this morning I write on Parshat Balak? Is it serendipity that Balak starts out on his journey to confront and curse the Israelites in a plagiarized passage from Genesis? “Abraham rose early in the morning, and saddled his donkey,” rather than allow his servant to do so. (Genesis 22:3) “Balaam rose up in the morning and saddled his donkey,” rather than allow his servant to do so. (Numbers 22:21) Donald Trump has stolen the party of Abraham Lincoln and made it his own.

Donald Trump started his four-day journey to accept the nomination of the Republican Party as its candidate for president of the U.S. with a speech by his wife, Melania, which she insisted to a reporter just before she delivered her talk that she had written it “with as little help as possible.” The speech plagiarized, of all people, Michele Obama, the wife of the current president of the U.S., Barak Obama, whom Donald Trump curses at every opportunity.

Melania: “From a young age, my parents impressed on me the values that you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond and you do what you say and keep your promise, that you treat people with respect.”
Michele: (2008 Democratic Convention) “Barack and I were raised with so many of the same values — like you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond and you do what you say you’re going to do, that you treat people with dignity and respect.”
Melania insisted: believe me, I know my husband.

This is reality TV, a story of ghosts, and ghostwriters in this case. Unlike when Donald himself plagiarized an op-ed of his rival Ben Carson just after the latter left the campaign in March, in this case the item was not written by the same ghostwriter but by an employee of the Trump organization. In March, the large chunks of overlapping text promised to treat Americans living in territories and commonwealths with greater equality and fairness. It was about policy and performance. Melania’s plagiarized text was about the formation of character and deeply held values – hard work, that your word is your bond and the obligation to treat others with dignity and respect when throughout the campaign for the nomination, Donald Trump demonstrated that he could and did treat his rivals with anything but dignity and respect, including Ted Cruz’s father and wife, an instance which came back to haunt Donald on Wednesday night when Ted Cruz made his non-endorsement speech.

There is no expectation that politicians write their speeches or their own op-eds, or that their wives do. There is some expectation that what is said, however, reflects reality, that the policies articulated and that the character attributed are to some degree valid. But when the plagiarizer claims to have written her own speech and it is subsequently revealed that the writer belonged to the Trump organization and not even the campaign, an illegal contribution, when the content of the speech, and that of all his children’s speeches, was about a capacity for hard work, that your word is your bond and that you treat everyone with dignity and respect jut at the time when Donald Trump’s own ghost writer of his best- selling book, The Art of the Deal, was revealing that Donald was not an example of a hard worker, was not an example of a man whose word was his bond, was not a man who treated everyone with dignity and respect in the way that the video collage of testimonials about Donald tried to present him at the beginning of last evening.

Tony Schwartz, ghostwriter of The Art of the Deal:
The New Yorker, 25 July 2016, Jane Mayer, “Trump’s Boswell Speaks.”

The efficient hard worker “a fugue of failure, a farce of fumbling”
a man with “no attention span”
Your word is your bond “Trump has the ability to convince himself that
whatever he is saying at any given moment is true,
or sort of true, or at least ought to be true.”
“He lied strategically. He had a complete lack of
conscience about it.”
“I play to people’s fantasies…People want to believe
that something is the biggest and the greatest and
the most spectacular.”
“I call it truthful hyperbole,” an innocent form of
exaggeration. – and it’s a very effective form of
The man who repeatedly questioned Barak Obama’s
birth in the United States in the face of all the
evidence, lied by claiming his father was born in
New Jersey, a child of Swedish parents; he was born
in the Bronx to German parents.
A man who treats others with “a ham-fisted thug who had unsuccessfully tried to
dignity and respect evict rent-controlled and rent-stabilized tenants
from a building that he had bought”
known for “his willingness to run over people,
a man who would “like people when they were
helpful,” when they were loyal, and then “turn on
them when they weren’t. (Read Roy Cohn, the old
tiger of the Un-American Activities Committee who
served as Trump’s lawyer and confidante.) It wasn’t
personal. He’s a transactional man – it was all
about what you could do for him.”
I know; believe me, I know a man with “a stunning level of superficial
knowledge and plain ignorance”
nobody knows how corrupt and crooked the system is
better than me”
Trump, of course, made his fortune using donations
to politicians
A generous man As for all the testimonials of his anonymous
donations to individuals, which seem to be so widely
known, “in the past seven years, Trump has promised
to give millions of dollars to charity, but
reporters for the Washington Post found that they
could document only ten thousand dollars in
donations.” Perhaps this is the deepest reason he
does not want to release his tax returns.

From the man who repeatedly urges his listeners to “believe me,” from the man who has systematically cultivated a reputation for plain speaking , for transparency, for a man touted as running and managing everything with textbook efficiency when the Trump Convention put on display a mixture of clever and creative endorsement, of self-advertisement, especially when his own clones, that is, children, spoke, combined with a totally clumsy lack of professionalism and behaviour that seemed to belie the claims even more than the revelations of Donald’s ghostwriter.

Of course, when Trump insists he wrote his own autobiography, we can all recognize that this is simply part of his lifelong self aggrandizement, the puffing of a “one-dimensional blowhard” with “an insatiable hunger for ‘money, praise and celebrity.’” Trump presents himself as a man of truth when he is revealed to tell a half dozen lies a day on average. In fact, the whole Convention has about it the sense of the Big Lie, the repetition of slandering an opponent as a crook, a liar and a felon in spite of the investigations that showed otherwise. This is the same way he treated his competitors for the nomination, many of whom turned 180 degrees and then lined up behind him when he won. Such allegations seem relatively threadbare, relatively vapid, like the wisp of smoke representing the ghost in the machine, Gilbert Ryle’s euphemism for René Descartes’ philosophical concept of the mind, for a body in which there actually, in this case, has no mind, only an insatiable appetite.

When there is neither accuracy nor authorship, we know we are dealing with a soothsayer rather than a prophet. This is why Donald Trump is relevant to understanding the story of Balaam. As Anthon St. Maarten, the psychic celebrity, wrote, “Being a soothsayer of a tribe is a dirty job, but someone has to do it.” A soothsayer is known for appearing to be blunt, brutally honest, a diviner who exposes other’s lies, a man of frankness, honesty and integrity, an oracle and pseudo-prophet, but is, in fact, a man full of self-deceit and self-delusion, a man who offers panaceas and supposedly rejects political correctness, who professes to tell the truth, but would not recognize the difference between a true statement and an outright lie. A soothsayer is a person whose true intentions are revealed in the repeated words and actions of the people who follow him like a herd.

The Amorites had been defeated, literally wiped out. Their lands have been laid waste, the very meaning of Balak. The Moabites feared they would be subjected to the same result, ignoring the fact that the Amorites were only eliminated when they committed aggression against the Israelites. So Balak, son of Zippor, the King of the Moabites, ran to the Midianites for assistance, in particular, to Balaam, son of Beor, the Aramaic word for beast. The story is not about the Moabites, for they were afraid, irrationally so, and from the Moabites would arise the prophet Ruth, just as Naaman would arise from the Ammonites. The real problem was the Midianites. God ordered the Israelites to vex and “smite them.” (Numbers 25:17) They were led by a soothsayer, a man, as the Mishnah teaches, with “an evil eye,” “a haughty spirit and an over-ambitious soul.”

If Balaam is allowed to become the leader of the American nation, allowed to be the leader of both the blue and the red states, if Balaam is allowed to lead the union of the Moabites and the Midianites, will the prophecy of Psalm 55:24 come true, that God will bring them down “to the nethermost pit, men of blood and deceit who shall not live out half their days?” What happened to Balaam when the Moabites called on this Midianite to curse the Israelites? What happened when the toadies in the Republican Party ran to Donald Trump and asked him to run and build on his popularity as a soothsayer to lead a movement and take over the control of the Republican Party? God said to Balaam, “You shall not go with them! You shall not curse the people [Israelites] because they are blessed.” (Numbers 22:12) So Balaam rejects the entreaties of the elders of the Moabites and the Midianites. But Balak and the elders would not take no for an answer. They sent delegation after delegation, each one more noble than the last, to entice Balaam to come forth and lead a war to deal with their allegedly ferocious enemies that they believed were out to crush them. Purportedly, Balaam could not resist the will of the people and eventually agreed to go forth and curse the Israelites.

The angel of the Lord tried to block Balaam as he proceeded on his way riding his she-donkey. Upon encountering the angel, the donkey bolted into the field. Balaam beat the she-donkey to get it to return to the road. Caught between a fence and pressed against the wall, Balaam’s leg was caught and squeezed. Balaam hit the donkey harder. Blocked a third time in a narrow lane, the donkey crouched down and for a third time, Balaam beat it with a stick.

Then the donkey spoke. “What have I done to you that you have struck me these three times?” Balaam replied: “You have humiliated me; if I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now.” (22:29) But, protested the donkey, “have I not always been loyal and done precisely what you wanted?” Suddenly God supposedly ended Balaam’s mindblindness, opened his eyes and he saw God’s angel. The angel had drawn a sword. Balaam bent down and prostrated himself before the angel. Balaam was remonstrated for beating the donkey. The donkey had served him loyally and, by veering off the road, had saved Balaam’s life. For if the donkey had gone forth, the angel would have slain Balaam and spared the donkey. But a bully never listens to the bullied, only to a bigger and more powerful bully.

Balaam backed off but went with the Moabite dignitaries to the border with the Ammonites. The message seemed clear. Balaam could not defeat the Israelites with only his Moabite and Midianite troops. Balaam was really not retreating. He needed the Ammonites to join his troops. The retreat was a ruse. He had altars built and got Balak to contribute more to sacrifice on those altars. Then once more he went forth. And once more God purportedly stopped him. And once more he returned to Balak mouthing what he said were God’s words.

“How can I curse whom God has not cursed, and how can I invoke wrath if the Lord has not been angered? For from their beginning (my italics), I see them as mountain peaks, and I behold them as hills; it is a nation that will dwell alone, and will not be reckoned among the nations. Who counted the dust of Jacob or the number of a fourth of [or, of the seed of] Israel? May my soul die the death of the upright and let my end be like his.” (22:8-10) Balak understandably felt betrayed. You agreed to curse our enemies and you praised them.

So a third time, Balak got Balaam to reverse himself by peering over at only a part of the Israelite army and from a distance. He offered Balaam even more rewards. And Balaam betrayed Balak a third time. “God is not a man that He should lie, nor is He a mortal that He should relent. Would He say and not do, speak and not fulfill?… He does not look at evil in Jacob, and has seen no perversity in Israel; the Lord, his God, is with him, and he has the King’s friendship…There is no divination in Jacob and no soothsaying in Israel. (22:19; 21;23) Balak offered Balaam even more. And took him to an even greater height.

For the third time, Balaam blessed Israel. “How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel! They extend like streams, like gardens by the river, like aloes which the Lord planted, like cedars by the water. Water will flow from his wells, and his seed shall have abundant water; his king shall be raised over Agag, and his kingship exalted. God, Who has brought them out of Egypt with the strength of His loftiness, He shall consume the nations which are his adversaries, bare their bones and dip His arrows [into their blood]. He crouches and lies like a lion and like a lioness; who will dare rouse him? Those who bless you shall be blessed, and those who curse you shall be cursed.” (23:5-9)

Balak, was in a corner. He had committed himself to fight the Israelites, but lacked the troop strength. He was in real trouble. Balaam fished Balak in. “If Balak gives me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot transgress the word of the Lord to do either good or evil on my own; only what the Lord speaks can I speak.’” (23:13) Read one way, it says since God is not on my side, even for all your money, I cannot go to war. But Balaam was just upping the ante once again. Pay me more money and possibly I can get God on my (not our) side. It is all Me, Me, Me. “Believe me,” he said. “I know.” I have an open eye that sees. Everything is transparent to me. Moab will be crushed by the Israelites – unless of course you can induce me with more incentives to lead you.

Balak panicked. Each went their own way. But the Israelites did not attack the Moabites. In fact, the Israelites began to intermarry with the Moabites. And participate in prostrating themselves before their gods, especially Baal Peor. There was now no limit to God’s wrath. “Moses, hang all the leaders of your tribes,” God raged. But one Israelite was not afraid and walked openly with his Moabite partner. Pinehas, son of Eleazar, Aron’s son, took a spear and stabbed both the young brash Israelite and his “shiksa” with the one thrust of that spear. And the plague that had been inflicted on the Israelites, killing 24,000, purportedly ceased.