Of course, Donald Trump declared victory. “I am really honored and I am really proud, that I was able to do something that nobody else could do,” he said in New Hampshire Wednesday morning, after President Obama released the long-form birth certificate that Trump had long demanded. That the document demonstrated conclusively that Trump had been spouting nonsense for the better part of two months did not seem to faze the man who never admits to losing.
This will be the rule, not the exception. Don’t expect much more contrition from elsewhere in the Obama-is-not-what-he-claims-to-be industry. Facts were never what this was all about. In the next breath, Trump declared that Obama needs to release his Occidental College school records, to dispel rumors that he was a bad student who did not deserve a transfer to Columbia University, and later acceptance to Harvard Law School, where he edited the law review and was widely praised by his teachers and peers as a standout intellect. “How do you get into Harvard if you are not a good student?” Trump said. “I don’t know why he doesn’t release his records.”
Next month, Jerome Corsi, who wrote the book on John Kerry’s swift boat career, plans to release an entire book documenting all the reasons why the birth certificate that exists may not exist. He wrote the book because it will sell. It will probably even sell now that Obama has released his long-form certificate.
And in this fact is proof that Trump, Corsi and the other not-so-serious carnival barkers of the public sphere are on to something much bigger than just the birth place of the 44th President of the United States. Like Glenn Beck, who can seamlessly connect the uprising in Cairo with the 1960s radical Bill Ayers, they are trying to provide answers to a certain segment of the population seeking outlandish explanations for recent events, because the factual ones are not satisfactory. They seek an emotionally satisfying outlet for their fury at their country’s decline, the decade-long collapse in the credibility of its institutions, and the rapidly changing demographic makeup of its leadership. Birtherism was never about Obama’s birthplace. It was the MacGuffin, the symbolic, hollow device for moving forward a narrative. Alfred Hitchcock, the great director, once explained how the MacGuffin worked.
It might be a Scottish name, taken from a story about two men in a train. One man says “What’s that package up there in the baggage rack?” and the other answers “Oh, that’s a McGuffin.” The first one asks “What’s a McGuffin?” “Well”, the other man says, “It’s an apparatus for trapping lions in the Scottish Highlands.” The first man says “But there are no lions in the Scottish Highlands,” and the other one answers “Well, then that’s no McGuffin!” So you see, a McGuffin is nothing at all.
In a statement Wednesday morning, Obama acknowledged what he was up against. “I know there is going to be a segment of people for which no matter what we put out this issue will not be put to rest,” he said, in a hastily called press conference. “But I am speaking to the vast majority of the American people, as well as to the press. We do not have time for this kind of silliness. We’ve got better stuff to do.”
In that quote, Obama also explained why he had decided at this moment to release a document that both he and most of the press had long deemed unnecessary to release, for good reason. Obama had found a way to turn the birther issue to his own political advantage, to demonstrate to the country that he was the mature, reliable leader they seek. This is the central message of his third year in office, and it will be at the core of his reelection campaign. Obama, too, knows how to use a MacGuffin.