Donald Trump is embarrassing himself (as if that was really possible) in his new campaign to demonstrate that Barack Obama was not born in the United States. But the more interesting question is what has been behind the birther movement, which has shown a remarkable strength despite the absence of the tiniest scintilla of evidence for its cause.
One answer can be found in an infamous little book written in 1850, one of the greatest composers of all time (he would definitely be in my top five), and one of the worst persons of all time (its hard to compare someone who was actually not responsible for the deaths of anyone with the Hitlers and Stalins of the world, but he would definitely make the top 25, I think.)
Anyway in this little screed he argues that composers of Jewish origin (he focuses on Felix Mendelssohn and the French opera composer, born in Germany, Giacomo Meyerbeer) can never really be German or European. Both of these gentlemen had converted to Christianity, but it wasn’t enough for Wagner, indeed it made things far worse. Because of their racial background, the most they could do was outwardly ape the forms of European civilizations, and appear to be German, while they really weren’t.
Wagner was at the beginning of a new, and as we know, horribly virulent phase in the history of anti-semitism. For centuries, Jews had been the “other” the non-Christian minority. They dressed different, they talked different, they lived among themselves, and prayed to a strange God.
But by Wagner's time Jews were no longer the other. Jews were us, apparently indistinguishable from good Germans. But of course Jews were still the other. But they had gone from despised outsiders to despised insiders, which meant they went from being despised for their powerlessness to being despised for their supposed powerfulnesss. Without putting all the sins of Hitler on Wagner’s head, a direct line leads from Judaism in Music to the death camps.
Barack Obama’s is Donald Trump’s Felix Mendelssohn, the outsider who has become the super-insider who is still an outsider, though they can find no rational basis for his outsiderhood, except his racial affinity to many genuine outsiders, immigrants and poor blacks.
Where does this leave us? Donald Trump is no Hitler, and the Tea Partyers not black shirts. But the most dangerous fury is not the hatred of the other, but the hatred of the almost like us.
Obama tries, but for people like Trump he can’t really be an American, because deep down, in his essence, he isn’t one. And this is where we are in America today, and this passion is bitterly and hatefully destructive, and will lead to no good.