“President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period,” Donald Trump said on Friday morning.
The statement came after five years of questioning Obama’s citizenship on television, at press conferences, in interviews and on social media. By the time Trump renounced his birtherism—the cutesy name given to the ugly practice of wondering aloud if the first black president was really one of us—it had already done everything he needed it to: put him within arm’s reach of the White House.
He offered no apology.
“Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy,” he said, which is a lie. “I finished it. I finished it, you know what I mean.” He added, “Now, we all want to get back to making America strong and great again.”
At 9:23 a.m, the Republican nominee said he was heading to the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., “for a major statement.”
The appearance was billed as a “campaign event,” and amid a media frenzy about Trump’s refusal to say he was no longer a birther, despite his campaign manager and spokesman claiming he believed Obama was born in the United States, reporters poured into the gilded ballroom of gold decals and crystal chandeliers in the $212 million hotel at 1100 Pennsylvania Ave., the location of the Old Post Office pavilion, which remains federal property.
In the end, the Republican nominee would be 63 minutes late. He would cocoon himself in a protective shield of heroes for the first 30 minutes of the event. He would hardly talk, in fact, giving the microphone instead to Medal of Honor winners and former generals. He would say nothing at all about birtherism, until the very end, after many cable networks had already cut away from the stage, frustrated that he had led us all here for no reason.
He would, in a word, troll everyone.
The campaign erected a blue curtain behind the stage, spanning the length of the room. In front of it stood six American flags and a Make America Great Again! sign, inviting all who read it to “Text ‘TRUMP’ to 88022.” Fanned out in front of the sign were veterans and what Gen. Mike Flynn said were 17 Medal of Honor winners. “The room is stacked with generals,” Trump said. “I love leaders.”
The hotel, which remains under construction, is partially open for business, with rooms available for $895 a night. Omarosa, the former Apprentice star, is now a guest. Trump’s opening remarks were an advertisement. He stood at the lectern stamped with his name. “Nice hotel,” he said. He claimed the hotel was finished under budget and ahead of schedule (which is not true).
Then he turned his attention to the people onstage. He said he has “very good chemistry” with the generals he’s befriended. He invited a series of Medal of Honor winners to speak as he stood off to the left, his hands clasped in front of him.
When he returned to the lectern, the crowd erupted in chants of “USA!”
He talked in a sleepy tone, in platitudes about improving the country and mistruths about the state of the country. And then he said it, finally.
He took no questions and offered no explanation for why, five years after Obama released his long form birth certificate, and eight years after he disclosed his birth announcement, he had a change of heart.
For as long as Obama has been in public office, his detractors have attempted to paint him as somehow alien.
In 2004, Andy Martin, a failed congressional candidate who vowed to “exterminate Jew power in America,” pushed out rumors that Obama was a secret Muslim, which evolved into yet more misinformation, spread with ease through the slippery channels of chain email and message boards.
By 2008, fringe Clinton supporters were passing around claims that Obama’s mother was unable to fly in the late months of her pregnancy, and so she delivered him in Kenya. Phillip Berg, a 9/11 truther and Clinton supporter who once served as deputy attorney general in Pennsylvania, filed a complaint in federal District court in August 2008 that said, “Obama carries multiple citizenships and is ineligible to run for President of the United States. United States Constitution, Article II, Section 1.”
Clinton did not push the rumors. And although, throughout the general election, right-wing extremists perpetuated the idea, neither did John McCain.
For the ensuing handful of years, birtherism was mostly confined to loony toons like Orly Taitz. But then, in the spring of 2011, Trump started to talk about it.
He appeared on The View, and said, “Why doesn’t he show his birth certificate?”
He claimed he had sent private investigators to Hawaii to look for the real story. “I have people that have been studying it and they cannot believe what they’re finding,” he said.
When Obama released the certificate, Trump declared victory in a New Hampshire press conference—but he never said he was convinced.
In fact, he spent the next five years casting doubts.
In August of 2010, he Tweeted, “An ‘extremely credible source’ has called my office and told me that @BarackObama’s birth certificate is a fraud.” In 2016, he said he planned to write a book on the topic. “I’ll do it very successfully,” he told CNN.
Trump’s announcement comes as the polls are narrowing, his campaign strategists’ advice to act more diplomatically having proved effective. But a few words on the subject can’t erase years of just asking questions to the delight of racists throughout the country.
After Trump exited the ballroom, the blue curtain collapsed onto the stage, taking down the American flags with it.