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Trump Knows Kamala Harris Is An American. Journalists Should Ignore His Lies

President Donald Trump speaks during a briefing at the White House August 13, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
President Donald Trump speaks during a briefing at the White House August 13, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

Hey, wasn’t Andrew Jackson an “anchor baby?”

His parents claimed they were fleeing political unrest and religious persecution in Ireland when they landed in Philadelphia in 1767, but where’s the proof? Has anyone confirmed it?

How convenient that Andrew Sr. died just a month before Elizabeth Hutchinson Jackson gave birth to the man who would become the seventh president of the United States. Did anyone check to see whether she ever applied for public assistance?

Was Andrew Jackson even eligible to serve as president? I don’t know the answer to that question, but a lot of people are asking. Someone should look into it.

What about Woodrow Wilson?

His father grew up in Ohio, sure, but what about his mother? Wasn’t Janet E. "Jessie" Woodrow born in Carlisle, England? Didn’t we launch a revolution in this country to get away from those people? And didn’t Wilson describe himself as “a mama’s boy?” That sounds to me like a man beholden to an agent of a foreign power.

You have to have some sympathy for Donald Trump, caught on the eve of his doomed re-election campaign between his toxic xenophobia and his virulent racism. How to choose?

You have to have some sympathy for Donald Trump, caught on the eve of his doomed re-election campaign between his toxic xenophobia and his virulent racism.

Must he take down that portrait in the Oval Office of Jackson, his “populist” role model, the slave-holding president who forcibly removed Native Americans from their ancestral lands? Must he issue a presidential proclamation congratulating the Black Justice League at Princeton for pressuring the university to remove Wilson’s name from campus buildings, even though that British mama’s boy did manage to re-segregate a long-desegregated federal workforce?

Nah. That would require intellectual consistency.

The idea that Sen. Kamala Harris of California, the presumptive Democratic nominee for vice president, is disqualified from serving because her mother and father were born in India and Jamaica, respectively, is absurd on its face. Harris was born in Oakland, California in 1964. She claims her citizenship by birthright.

Donald Trump knows that. So does the news media. So why, oh why, has this circus come to town again? Did journalism learn nothing from its complicity in the first corrosive round of racist “birther” conspiracies when Trump spearheaded his years-long attack on Barack Obama’s citizenship?

To whom do we owe this latest demand that a Black candidate for high office certify her legitimacy? Thank Newsweek which published an incoherent piece of legalese by John C. Eastman, a right-wing law professor best known for his activism with the National Organization for Marriage, a group formed to oppose the right of same sex couples to marry.

“I heard it today that [Harris] doesn’t meet the requirements,” Trump said yesterday. And, by the way, the lawyer that wrote that piece is a very highly qualified, very talented lawyer. I have no idea if that’s right. I would have assumed the Democrats would have checked that out.”

If, by “very highly qualified, very talented lawyer,” he means a legal crank who has long argued that the United States Constitution does not grant birthright citizenship despite the 14th Amendment which reads: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”

And, yes, of course Trump has “no idea if that’s right” because “right” is not the point. Stirring the racist pot is the point.

But why is the rest of journalism so eager to amplify a message it knows to be false? ... Has it so soon forgotten that the lie repeated is the lie reinforced?

Newsweek is free to publish what Laurence H. Tribe, a professor of constitutional law at Harvard Law School, called an “idiotic” idea comparable to the “flat earth theory” and “total B.S.”

But why is the rest of journalism so eager to amplify a message it knows to be false? Does the profession imagine that Trump has abandoned his craven use of the politics of distraction? Has it so soon forgotten that the lie repeated is the lie reinforced?

At least 167,000 people — probably tens of thousands more — are dead from the novel coronavirus rampaging unchecked through the United States. Millions of Americans are out of work. The president wants to withhold money from the U.S. Postal Service to undermine mail-in voting in November.

Mass death. Depression-level unemployment. A twisted autocrat’s need to debase the democratic process in a desperate bid to win re-election. That’s news.

Kamala Harris’s citizenship? Not.

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Eileen McNamara Cognoscenti contributor
Eileen McNamara teaches journalism at Brandeis University. The author of a biography of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, she won a Pulitzer Prize as a columnist for The Boston Globe.

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