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Chris Honoré: ‘History doesn’t repeat itself’

Mark Twain once said that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes. Which led me to think of Donald Trump. We’ve seen his like before, an individual standing stage center practicing the art of dissembling while those in the crowd embrace his every word, no matter the distortions and calumny.

But for all of his litany of stunning statements, there is one — call it the Big Lie — that was not only malevolent in its construction but profoundly revelatory regarding the character of the man behind the patina of affluence, theatrics and self-aggrandizement.

So, here it is, the Big Lie: in 2011, Trump contemplated a presidential run. As prologue, he suggested that President Obama was not a U.S. citizen, was not born in Hawaii but in Kenya.

In 2012 he referenced an “extremely credible source” that had informed him that President Obama’s birth certificate was fraudulent. It was at this point that Trump disclosed in an interview with an NBC reporter that he had sent a team of investigators to Hawaii and uncovered what he characterized as “one of the greatest cons in the history of politics and beyond.” His “people,” he said, were still looking into Obama’s country of origin and searching for a copy of his birth certificate and “they cannot believe what they’re finding.” When asked by the NBC reporter if he meant he still had people in Hawaii he said, “absolutely.”

The reporter, reflecting the posture of the media in general, did not press Trump to disclose specifically what his “team of investigators” found.

Trump soon became the de facto leader of what came to be known as “the birther movement.” The inherent irony was that while he demanded that President Obama provide concrete proof of his birth, he was never aggressively asked by the media, print or electronic, to provide evidence of his allegations. The media chose instead to practice what can only be characterized as stenographic journalism.

Trump, doubling down, also floated the idea that Obama was not a Christian but a Muslim, followed by one of his now familiar tag lines, “I don’t know if he loves America.” And so the Muslim/does he love America? became an adjunct to the Big Lie. And, as it turned out, according to a CNN/ORC poll of last year, 54 percent of Trump supporters and 43 percent of Republicans nationwide believed that Obama is a Muslim.

And yet all of it — the entire scaffolding of birther/Muslim accusations, which Trump seeded and nurtured — has gone on for five years and was a lie. A fraud of immense proportions.

What it amounted to was Trump, and a cohort of Republicans, attempting to denigrate and delegitimize America’s first African American president. Regrettably, as Trump and the media devolved into a cacophony of “show us,” President Obama appeared in the White House briefing room with his long-form birth certificate in an attempt to put to rest any speculation.

And now, half a decade later, Trump has the temerity to call a press conference in his newly built Washington D.C. hotel (he asked the press if they wanted a tour) and tersely declared, “President Obama was born in the United States — period.” Implicit in that statement was the fact that the Big Lie he perpetrated year after year amounted to a smear of America’s first black president, while cravenly bending the truth to fit his own calculated objectives.

But he had no sooner made his “Obama was born in the U.S.” acknowledgement than he crafted a new lie: “Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008,” he said with unabashed conviction, “started the birther controversy. I finished it.”

Trump’s spokesperson stated, with blatant audacity, “Mr. Trump did a great service to the president and the country by bringing closure to the issue that Hillary and her team first raised.”

Trump said, with a straight face, “I am really honored, frankly, to have played a role in hopefully, hopefully, getting rid of this issue.”

Meanwhile Hillary’s honesty is questioned as her decision to use a private email server during her tenure as Secretary of State is repeatedly parsed.

— Chris Honoré of Ashland is a Daily Tidings columnist.