Trump’s demand for an announcement by Ukraine of an investigation into Joe and Hunter Biden is analogous to his demand for an investigation into Barack Obama’s birth certificate. The Hunter issue is Joe Biden’s birther issue. The biggest difference between birtherism and Hunterism is that Trump pursued the former without any of the trappings of credibility that come with holding the highest office in the land. Nonetheless, he succeeded in forcing a sitting president of the United States to release his birth certificate as the only means by which a baseless conspiracy theory could finally be quelled.
Trump now brings all the authority of that same presidency to his mode of operation, yet his mode is no different than when he was peddling birtherism. He finds a way to sow just enough doubt to keep baseless allegations alive. Only production of the proof that the allegations are baseless brought it to an end then. The same is true now. Hunter Biden will dog Joe Biden from now until the election just as the birth certificate did Obama.
The Democrats should face the fact sooner rather than later that Hunter Biden will have to be produced in order to put an end to the matter. They should accept a deal for witnesses in the impeachment trial that involves having Hunter Biden testify, too. Not because having him testify is warranted by the evidence. Not because one wants to give credence to a baseless conspiracy theory. But as a service to the country. Conspiracy theories die only when it’s possible to say conclusively, “Nothing to see here, folks.” We are trapped inside the worldview of a conspiracy theorist, and the only way out may be through it.
We need this act of public service to stanch the corruption. Trump’s techniques are spreading. Take as an example Pat Cipollone’s opening statement in the impeachment trial. It was remarkable for the number of times he used the words “ridiculous” and “outrageous.” This was a revealing detail. It didn’t matter that in between those words he strung together a series of misleading statements. No one would follow it all, but what they would take away was two words: “ridiculous” and “outrageous.” Such is the rhetoric of the conspiracy theorist. The opportunity to speak is a vehicle for a message. The words in between the message don’t matter much. All that matters is the chance to repeat the basic message frequently. Obama — no birth certificate; Obama — no birth certificate. Hunter — corrupt; Hunter — corrupt. Impeachment — ridiculous; impeachment — ridiculous.
Congressional Republican support for the president throughout the impeachment process has been remarkable. Are they simply trading truth for power? Or are they so far inside the conspiracy theory world of our birther president that they can no longer see out of it? Or are they genuinely aggrieved by the onslaught from Democrats and the left since the first day of Trump’s presidency — fighting back because of a sense of wrong? I can understand the final motivation and have sympathy for it.
Yet that feeling of aggrievement, however legitimate it may be, may also be something for Republicans to overcome, to put aside in the interests of restoring a country where we resist the trade-off between power and truth, where we seek to hold power in ways that depend on and advance ethical commitments to truthfulness. No, our country does not have an unblemished record on that front, not by a long shot. And, no, the Democrats aren’t exactly unsullied knights in white armor rushing to the defense of the truth.
We are all sullied.
Our best baseball teams cheat.
What have we become? Cheaters from top to bottom?
I pray that that not be the case. I pray that Republicans and Democrats together can find the courage to break us out of the prison of lies and conspiracy theories into which this president has locked this country.
Danielle Allen is a political theorist at Harvard University and a contributing columnist for The Post.