Now the more haunting question: How did this poisonous and not very subtly racist allegation get such a grip on our conservative movement and our Republican party?
I know there will be Republican writers and conservative publicists who will now deny that birtherism ever did get a grip. Sorry, that’s just wrong. Not only did Trump surge ahead in Republican polls by flaming racial fires – not only did conservative media outlets from Fox to Drudge to the Breitbart sites indulge the birthers – but so also did every Republican candidate who said, “I take the president at his word.” Birthers did not doubt the president’s “word.” They were doubting the official records of the state of Hawaii. It’s like answering a 9/11 conspiracist by saying, “I take the 9/11 families at their word that they lost their loved ones.”
Yet even now, the racialist aspect of the anti-Obama movement has not subsided. Trump has moved from the birth certificate to questioning the president’s academic qualifications for the Harvard Law School. Trump himself was a troubled student (at one point he attended a military school) who nonetheless gained admission to Wharton. His father’s wealth and business success cannot have hurt with that application. Yet he feels himself qualified to pronounce on who is and who is not smart enough to attend Harvard Law. Barack Obama graduated magna cum laude. (And to anticipate a new line of attack – yes, Harvard Law School exams were blind-graded.) He was elected editor of the law review. And his classmates, left and right, universally admired his abilities.
I wish it were otherwise, but it does seem that these racialized attacks on Obama have exacted a toll on him. But they also have exacted a toll on the opposition to Obama. The too-faint repudiation of birtherism by regular Republicans has shaped not only the Obama brand, but also the Republican brand. It was not only white people who heard the implied message about who counts and who does not count as a “real American.”
David Frum would have a more valid point if the members of the set of "Republicans guilty of too faint opposition to the birthers in the GOP" didn't include David Frum. He's been banging this "Gosh you guys should stop with the birther stuff" gong now for a couple of years. Naturally, the worst criticism Frum could come up with about this idiocy is that it's probably the internet's fault:
Or maybe all this reflects an even more basic trouble in modern media democracy: With cable blaring 24/7 and the Internet distributing rumors faster than thought and Facebook creating digital enclaves of like-minded networks across the planet — maybe we’ve all lost some of our immunity to lunacy.