People For the American Way

Down The Racist Rabbit Hole With Donald Trump

This piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

Today, Donald Trump pretended to end a lie and, in the process, told more lies.

After years of being a leading proponent of the racist “birther” movement, ignoring all actual evidence in order to raise questions about the first African-American president’s legitimacy, Trump today declared that he no longer believes that President Obama was born overseas.

First, Trump promised the press that he would address the birther issue in a press conference at his new hotel in Washington this morning. Then he made them sit through a parade of fawning endorsers before finally spending 30 seconds addressing his birtherism. Trump at last told the truth that Obama “was born in the United States, period.” But he couldn’t help packaging this rare truth with more lies, ludicrously, unbelievably claiming: “Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy. I finished it.”

Trump claims he “finished” the birther myth by causing President Obama to publicly release his long-form birth certificate in 2011, but he himself continued to enthusiastically promote the myth for years afterward, saying as recently as this January that he would write a very successful (of course) book on his “own theory” about the president’s birth.

And even if Trump had stopped being a birther in 2011, that doesn’t mean he could take credit for “finishing” a myth that he himself had helped create. Obama would never have had to go as far as to make his long-form birth certificate public if Trump hadn’t helped create an alternative universe dominated by the lie that the president’s citizenship was in doubt.

In fact, this is a pattern that Trump has followed many times.

Take Hillary Clinton’s recent bout of pneumonia. A reasonable reading of Clinton’s situation would be this: Clinton, a woman who is used to working long hours in demanding jobs, got sick and decided to power through that illness in order to get her work done.

But Trump and his allies had spent months building an alternative universe in which Clinton was hiding some sort of mysterious infirmity. In Trump World, that meant that Clinton was hiding some deep dark secret illness for nefarious reasons. When Clinton fell ill, the press held her to the standards of Trump World rather than the real world, portraying her as secretive and shady for failing to announce to the world that she had caught a common illness.

Trump has done the same thing with his lies about having opposed the Iraq War and his lies about his constantly changing position on the issue of abortion. He tells whatever version of events he thinks will be convenient at the time and everyone, including his fellow candidates, are suddenly supposed to live in whatever new reality he’s created.

Trump pretended that a racist conspiracy theory was true when it would help him get attention and win the support of the GOP’s fringe. Now he’s pretending that his hands are clean and that it was his opponent who was dredging up racist myths for the past five years. Trump wants us to accept whatever convenient new reality he’s concocted at any given time. The media has to stop being played by his rules.