In a piece at The Atlantic, Adam Serwer defines birtherism as “the baseless conjecture that the 44th president of the United States not only was born abroad and was therefore ineligible for the presidency, but also was a secret Muslim planning to undermine America from within.” Here is more:
Trump’s dalliance with birtherism did not harm his presidential prospects when the 2016 primary came around, because, unlike most conspiracy theories, birtherism was never meant to answer a factual query. Birtherism is not trying to explain some purportedly mysterious phenomenon, like Tupac Shakur’s unending posthumous releases, the lingering sight of water condensation behind aircraft, or how 19 hijackers evaded detection and managed to execute the most successful terrorist attack in American history. These theories are outlandish, weird, and offensive, but they are all attempts at answering actual questions, even if those questions are stupid. Birtherism was, from the beginning, an answer looking for a question to justify itself.
Birtherism was a statement of values, a way to express allegiance to a particular notion of American identity, one that became the central theme of the Trump campaign itself: To Make America Great Again, to turn back the clock to an era where white political and cultural hegemony was unthreatened by black people, by immigrants, by people of a different faith. By people like Barack Obama. The calls to disavow birtherism missed the point: Trump’s entire campaign was birtherism.
Trump won the Republican primary, and united the party, in part because his run was focused on the psychic wound of the first black presidency. He had, after all, humiliated and humbled Obama. None of the other Republican candidates could make such a claim. None could say, as Trump could, that they had put the first black president in his place. And so none could offer an answer to the anguish that produced birtherism. That very same anguish helped Trump win the presidency.
You could call birtherism a conspiracy theory, sure. But in 2020, looking at the Trump administration’s efforts to diminish the power of minority voters, imprison child migrants, ban Muslim travelers from entering the country, and criminalize his political opposition, it could be more accurately described as the governing ideology of the United States.
Read the entire piece here.