It was almost enough to make you feel sorry for Donald Trump. Almost.
Years after the ridiculous question of whether President Barack Obama was born in the United States had been definitively put to rest, Trump found himself answering it again last week.
That’s not the sympathetic part: Trump deserves scorn for promoting the idea that Obama was born outside the United States and thus constitutionally ineligible for the presidency.
But after Obama released both his short- and long-form birth certificates, only members of the true lunatic fringe continued to promote the idea. Trump moved on to other things.
The issue resurfaced in recent days, as Trump’s campaign said the Republican nominee believed Obama was a “natural-born citizen.” But Trump refused to say the words himself. Suddenly, cable media hosts turned into vengeful Inquisition priests, stretching poor Trump on the rack and demanding he confess!
After a bit more dissembling, Trump finally admitted it: “President Barack Obama was born in the United States. Period.”
Whew. Glad we put that one behind us. (Sadly, he blamed Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign for starting birtherism, which it did not.)
A question here: Who cares what Donald Trump believes about Obama’s birthplace?
The great thing about facts is they‘re true regardless of whether you “believe” in them. Obama’s Hawaiian birth was always true, even if Trump was a skeptic. (He had some company; according to The New York Times, one poll found just 38 percent of Americans believed Obama was “definitely” born in the United States.)
But there are all kinds of people who believe odd things. Some will tell you U.N. troops are conspiring with the government to send dissenters to FEMA re-education camps. Others will tell you that contrails made of ice crystals formed by aircraft exhaust at altitude are actually chemicals being sprayed on an unsuspecting populace. And plenty of people still think Obama is coming to take their guns.
You can believe whatever you want, but reality exists independent of your opinions. Believe or disbelieve in gravity; if you walk off the Stratosphere Tower, your skepticism won’t save you.
Now, it’s true that Trump’s views matter slightly more than the average man on the street, given that he’s running for the most powerful office in the land. And it’s also true that birtherism was a vehicle for critics of the president to call his legitimacy into question, and that it’s cost Trump support among black voters. We should recall Trump’s sad dalliance with birtherism and its sleazy proponents as a character flaw, if nothing else.
But ultimately, it doesn’t really matter that Trump’s cable news interlocutors managed to wring a confession from him. It won’t matter when they inevitably ask why it took Trump so long to admit it. And it won’t matter when they demand an apology, which will never come.
Instead, there are plenty of other things Trump believes that ought to concern voters much more than his views on Obama’s heritage. Trump has said he believes wages are too high in America. He believes we should build a very expensive wall along the southern border, and deport millions of illegal immigrants. He’s said he knows more about groups such as ISIS than the generals who are planning the fight against ISIS. (He’s also said he believes the generals have been “reduced to rubble.”)
Unlike the offensive-but-feckless birther lie, Trump’s other beliefs may be dangerous, should he ever be able to put them into practice. And it will take more than a cable news host waving a birth certificate to save us from that.
Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or SSebelius@reviewjournal.com.