Donald Trump has a long history of questioning the citizenship of non-white politicians

Donald Trump has a long history of questioning the citizenship of non-white politicians
Election '20

When former Vice President Joe Biden announced, on August 11, that he had chosen Sen. Kamala Harris of California as his running mate, it didn’t take long for some far-right Republicans to show their racism — including birthers, who are claiming that Harris is unqualified to be vice president of the United States due to citizenship issues. The claim is total nonsense: although Harris is the daughter of immigrants — a Jamaican father and an Indian mother — she was born in Oakland, California on October 20, 1964 and is a lifelong U.S. citizen. Harris lived in Montreal, Canada as a teenager after her parents divorced, but she moved to Washington, D.C. in the early 1980s to attend Howard University and has spent most of her life in the U.S.

Nonetheless, President Donald Trump hasn’t hesitated to promote birther claims about Harris, saying on August 13, “I just heard it today that she doesn’t meet the requirements” to be vice president. And this is not the first time Trump has promoted birtherism, a trend in which racists question the citizenship of politicians of color.

Here are three examples of Trump embracing birtherism.

1. President Barack Obama

In January 2009, Barack Obama made history when he was sworn into office and became the first black president of the United States. And in the early 2010s, Trump was among the extremists who promoted the conspiracy theory that Obama was unqualified to be president because he wasn’t really a U.S. citizen. That claim was racist nonsense: Obama’s birth certificate clearly showed that he was born in Honolulu, Hawaii on August 4, 1961. And some people on the right had enough integrity to call birthers out, including the late Sen. John McCain — who Obama had defeated in the 2008 presidential election. But Trump embraced birtherism wholeheartedly.

Former First Lady Michelle Obama, in her “Becoming” memoir of 2018, said that she will “never forgive” Trump for promoting the lie that her husband wasn’t really a U.S. citizen, writing, “The whole thing was crazy and mean-spirited, of course — its underlying bigotry and xenophobia hardly concealed. But it was also dangerous, deliberately meant to stir up the wingnuts and kooks.”

2. The Squad

During a July 14, 2019 rant on Twitter, Trump told the four congresswomen of color known as The Squad — Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, Rep. Ilhan Omar and Rep. Ayanna Pressley — to “go back” to the countries they originally came from. But only one of them, Omar, was born outside the U.S.: Omar is originally from Somalia, although she has been a U.S. citizen since 2000. And the other three have lived in the U.S. all their lives. AOC was born in New York City, while Tlaib was born in Detroit and Pressley was born in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Trump tweeted, “So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly….and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how.... it is done. These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough. I’m sure that Nancy Pelosi would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!”

The fact that Trump viewed non-white natives of NYC, Detroit and Cincinnati as being not really American speaks volumes about his mentality — and the mentality of all the Republicans who continue to support him despite his birtherism. Trump couldn’t see past the congresswomen’s skin color any more than he could see past Obama’s.

3. Sen. Kamala Harris

To say that Biden’s campaign vetted Harris thoroughly would be an understatement: they gave her a thorough evaluation before choosing her over other contenders who ranged from Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts to former National Security Adviser Susan Rice. But that didn’t prevent Tim Fitton, the extremist who heads the far-right Judicial Watch, from shamelessly tweeting, “Is Kamala Harris ineligible to be Vice President under the U.S. Constitution’s Citizenship Clause?” Jenna Ellis, a Trump campaign adviser, reposted the tweet — and Trump didn’t hesitate to promote birther claims about Harris. At an August 13 press conference, Trump said, “That’s a very serious — you’re saying that, they're saying that she doesn't qualify because she wasn't born in this country.”

No one with any credibility is saying that, but Trump was feeding red meat to his base. And between now and November, the racist attacks on Harris will only get uglier. To birthers, the fact that Harris had a Jamaican father and an Indian mother makes her less than American and unqualified to be vice president. And the ironic part: Trump himself is the son of an immigrant. Trump’s mother, the late Mary Anne Trump, moved to the U.S. from her native Scotland in 1930 and became a U.S. citizen in 1942.

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