We do not, President Obama said yesterday, need to spend valuable time on this, yet in a sense we do, for the lessons of hatred and deep-seated racism, which are evident in the Trump-Birther pseudo-controversy, have to be re-learned every now and then if we are ever to move civilization forward.
Hearing Jonathan Capehart on TV last evening, I was taken back to the class I taught on hatred called The Faces of Evil, where we studied the work of psychologists and sociologists who have analyzed the relation of fear to anger and hatred.
Capehart movingly spoke of the pain of being an African American journalist watching the most powerful man in the world--the president of the United States--forced to produce a birth certificate to show the world that he was legitimate. Even when a black person, it seems, achieves the ultimate prize (or because he has achieved it), he still has to prove his worth to a skeptical minority while the rest of us watch with embarrassment.
This comment captured much of the sadness of this issue in which a demogogue has used lies and false accusations to denigrate a man of proven worth. Why? For his own ends. Trump et al. appeal to those in our populace who feel disenfranchised, hurt by the economy, angry at government for understandable reasons, and who lash out at those in charge, feeling empowered by attacking the Other, the one perceived by the majority to be the outsider. This is the classic pattern of hatred.
Ultimately, however, the hater becomes the victim of his or her own hatred. And, as in this sorry case, it wounds the body politic. We are all tarnished by this shameful circus of lying, in which facts and the truth do not seem to matter as much as publicity.
Sadly, there are some Americans who still want to believe that Bill Clinton was responsible for the suicide of Vince Foster nearly twenty years ago. It makes them feel better to have some "inside knowledge" about what a powerful, wealthy man might have done (even if he did not). Conspiracies naturally appeal.
Even worse are the large numbers of Americans who want to believe that Obama is somehow not qualified to serve as President. No documentation or arguments will persuade many of these people since the ideology of hatred they have imbibed is stronger for them than the simple facts will ever be.
I hope Gandhi was right when he said that history shows that the way of truth and love always wins in the end.