April 27, 2011: Put it in your history books, and never forget it. Today is the day a TV star forced the hand of the President of the United States. Welcome to the new America.
Donald Trump, the rich kid turned real estate tycoon turned bankrupt failure turned cartoonish character, spent several weeks crowing to anyone who would listen—including a surprising number of respected media outlets—that President Barack Obama had failed to answer questions about his citizenship. Yesterday Obama succumbed to Trump's demands and released his long-form birth certificate, proving once and for all that he is an American citizen.
Trump didn't start the citizenship rumors, of course. For that you can thank a small group of people who, terrified at the idea of a black man at the helm of their nation, began asking to see Obama's birth certificate when he was still a candidate. What Trump did do, however, under the guise of a possible run for president, is fan the flames of a slowly dying fire that would have burned out very soon on its own. Indeed, even the most conservative of conservatives—Michele Bachmann, Ann Coulter, Bill O'Reilly, etc.—had given up on birther fight. But not Trump.
And as Trump went, so went Fox News. Who cares that the whole birther controversy—and Trump's latest allegation that Obama probably didn't belong in the Ivy League—reeks of racism? Who cares that Trump hasn't even come out and said he's going to run for president? Who cares that, since he's not officially running for office, he's nothing but a gaudy real estate magnate promoting a TV show? Who cares about any of that? A rich, white pseudo-celebrity wants to talk! And when Trump started talking, Fox News was there to amplify him. The network vastly increased its coverage of birther rumors, devoting nearly two and a half hours to the nonsense, in recent weeks.
Let's not pretend for a moment that birtherism isn't steeped in racism. I'm willing to concede that not every conspiracy theorist asking for Obama's long-form birth certificate is a bigot. But it's worth asking: Is there any way any of this would have happened if the president were a white man with an Anglo-Saxon name? At the heart of it, most of the people demanding evidence of Obama's citizenship were just taken aback by the fact that a black guy could be president. How could an African-American attain the nation's highest office without cheating? Impossible. And so, "Prove it, Barack Hussein Obama—if that is your real name."
When Obama won the election, it naturally thrilled the African-American community, which had long been told—tacitly and outright—that it couldn't achieve greatness. In 2008, a black man beat a white man fair and square, and nobody could say anything about it. Three years later, the White House's deference to Trump proves that somebody can say something about it. The heartbreaking lesson of April 27, 2011, is that, as a black man, you better always be ready to justify your success. Even if you're president of the United States.