At long last, Donald Trump has set himself free.
At a highly choreographed event Friday, the Republican nominee for president of the United States finally issued his verdict on the birthright of our two-term president, who, it turns out, is a real American!
“Barack Obama was born in the United States. Period,” Trump intoned to the great relief of no one.
Well, howdy-do. Welcome to planet Earth, son.
But Trump’s announcement was merely a curtain call on a theatrical production otherwise known as Free Publicity for Trump. For the preceding 24 hours, Trump gleefully baited and dragged the media through Con Man’s Swamp, first refusing to answer the question posed by The Post’s Robert Costa about whether Trump still thought Obama wasn’t born in the United States, then building suspense Friday morning that he would make a “big announcement.”
As reporters drummed their fingers and cameramen shifted their feet, Trump dilly-dallied, finally arriving late to the venue, which happened to be his very own new hotel in Washington. Awaiting him on the dais was a gathering of war heroes, who spent 20 minutes extolling Trump’s virtues, many of which one has never before associated with the nominee — his intellectual curiosity, his great temperament and his raw intelligence.
Only Trump could believe such things about himself — and he obviously did. Nearly glistening from the mist of blown kisses, he beamed like a boy with a brand new toy.
Now, I don’t doubt that those on the stage sincerely support the Republican nominee. And nothing I say about Trump is intended to reflect on these extraordinary Americans, especially not on Michael Thornton, a retired Navy SEAL, whom I single out because he happens to be a friend. I commend his remarkable story to anyone seeking perspective and inspiration.
My heart sank just a little when I saw Thornton standing behind Trump, even though I’m aware that it’s difficult for many battlefield veterans, especially those from the Vietnam era, to find a Clinton acceptable as commander in chief. Although no American women engaged in direct combat in Vietnam, thereby eliminating any expectation that Hillary Clinton should have served (we were saner then), she still bears the burden of Benghazi, justified or not. But Bill Clinton dodged the draft, while 58,000 members of his generation fought and died. To many Trump-supporting veterans, once a twofer always a twofer.
Seeing Trump wedged among men who had served heroically, several of whom risked their own lives to save others, had an effect more minimizing than elevating. Trump avoided the draft, too, with a doctor’s excuse, often available to sons of the rich, and otherwise isn’t qualified to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Medal of Honor recipients.
As I watched them dutifully take turns saluting Trump, I recalled something I had read several years ago about heroes. It was a column by military scribe W. Thomas Smith Jr., who was writing about Thornton and three other Medal of Honor recipients. Smith, also a vet, was describing what it takes to be a hero — and those characteristics that would be antithetical to the heroic impulse.
He wrote: “Selfish men, bullies, and braggarts don’t perform well in battle. And those believing in their own extraordinariness rarely if ever accomplish feats worthy of the MoH.”
Obviously, the commander in chief doesn’t necessarily have to have participated in war to be effective. Nor will he or she ever physically act in war once elected, except in movies. But it does seem that qualities, values and virtues that we expect from our military troops and commanders — and that we recognize in our heroes — are no longer required of our political leaders.
In making his announcement, Trump also repeated two familiar refrains that are factually false. One, that Hillary Clinton first raised the question of Obama’s birthright. Even though it was raised by at least one of her supporters in 2008, it was Trump who, for years, led the birther movement and then used the notoriety to launch his campaign.
Trump also said that, thanks to him, Obama was forced to provide his birth certificate. Wrong again. And, by the way, does anyone think that the Clinton machine wouldn’t have produced contrary evidence of Obama’s citizenship had it existed?
It’s good that Trump has finally owned up, if way too late to make any difference. But one should keep in mind that the birther movement was racist to its core. And the man who would be president led the charge.