Memo to Donald Trump: You're fired

Score one for Donald Trump. The cartoonish pseudo-candidate managed to strong-arm Barack Obama into proving that his presidency isn't built on a giant con.

The public release this week of Obama's Hawaiian birth certificate proves that the president of the United States of America was indeed born in one of those states.

Never mind that there was never a scintilla of evidence that he wasn't.

The controversy over Obama's birthplace was spawned and fueled by a handful of right-wing nuts, led most recently by Trump. They tapped into Americans' fears, ignorance and discomfort, and cloaked their concerns in patriotic ardor.

"I feel I've accomplished something really, really important," Trump bragged to reporters in New Hampshire this week, after the release of the document demonstrated that he was wrong.

"I am very proud of myself," he said, "because I've accomplished something nobody else has been able to accomplish."

Spoken like a middle-school kid who just prevailed in a game of "Truth or Dare."

Good boy, Donald. What you "accomplished" is to make a fool of yourself and diminish our president's dignity.

It's time for us to fire you, and dispatch your sideshow to the trash heap.

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I'd be dreading the next 18 months if I believed that The Donald is really planning a presidential run. His campaign charade has already lent a reality-show quality to the race. I'm betting — and hoping — it's nothing more than a long-running commercial for "Celebrity Apprentice."

Still, it's disturbing how easily Trump elevated the discredited ramblings of birther-mania to a challenge the president felt compelled to meet.

That's a testament to Trump's showmanship and shamelessness. And a reflection of our gullibility.

Think for a moment about the machinations that the birthers' conspiracy would require, beginning with the birth announcement printed 50 years ago in a Honolulu newspaper … phoned in from Kenya, I suppose, on the off-chance that this African-born infant might one day want to lead America.

The notion is absurd, and yet one in four Americans — and almost half of Republicans — believe the president was born on foreign soil.

That's if you trust the opinion polls, and I'm not sure I do anymore. Maybe they're the product of conspirators, intent on making Americans look dumb.

Psychologists and political scientists offer up a variety of explanations for why we're willing to embrace such folderol.

Some blame racial animus. Studies link racial prejudice to doubts about Obama's right to hold office. Whites deemed "high prejudice" by their answers to personal questions tended to characterize Obama as "less American" than Joe Biden in a study conducted by University of Delaware professor Eric Hehman.

But irrational skepticism is not just the province of bigots or conservatives. We all tend to live in ideological echo chambers, listening mostly to people who think like us. Online and in our social lives, we link to validating forces that give comfort to notions others might consider outlandish.

Like the whispered suggestions three years ago that Sarah Palin wasn't really the mother of baby Trig. She was trying to hide her daughter's illegitimate child, the rumor went. That shows how little we knew of Mama Grizzly Bear back then.

Then there's the claim that President Bush and his cronies allowed the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. A survey in 2006 suggested that one-third of Americans — and more than half of Democrats — suspected that federal officials assisted in the 9/11 attacks. I believe that poll because my friends were among the believers.

The notion never got much mainstream traction — a media conspiracy to ignore it, of course — but it thrived in email chains and video posts. Watch enough of those for long enough and the idea doesn't seem so preposterous. I know.

We'll bind rumors to lies to half-truths to make peace with uncomfortable realities. My inbox was full of contortions beyond common sense, in response to last weekend's column on the flap over a cartoon portraying Obama as a chimp.

Like this, from a Florida resident who laid out evidence gleaned from the internet that Obama might not legally be president:

"One blogger who wrote concerning a certain article I read about a week ago stated that a certain man — and he gave his name, but I don't remember it now — personally went to Mombasa, Kenya, to the Coast Provincial Hospital there, secured a copy of Obama's original birth certificate, then sent a copy of it to each member of Congress. I myself don't know whether this is true, but it sounded to me that it might possibly be."

I guess "it might possibly be" true to someone bothered by the very idea of an uppity black man being our nation's leader.

I don't disagree with Herbert O'Fallon when he goes on to say: "A lot of people in this country are disturbed that our President has not shown respect for them by showing his original birth certificate. He has, with arrogance and defiance, refused to do so. It is my opinion that the American people have the right to demand that he show it."

I just think it's a shame. What I hear him saying is that Obama needs to vouch for his American-ness in a way no president before him has, because a lot of people in this country can't see past his name, his skin color, his unlikely life story.

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So Obama has met the demand and shown it. Can we move on now to important stuff, like jobs and wars and balanced budgets?

I don't expect Trump to go away soon. He's playing the country like a violin.

Polls say he's popular with Republicans. His celebrity status, and uncritical media attention, have rolled him to the front of the pack.

His fans like him because he's rich and blunt and seems to delight in picking fights. "I like his calling a spade a spade," a woman in New Hampshire told our reporters. "He's not afraid to be the politically incorrect candidate."

But it's time to contain the coronation. Trump's not even a candidate. He's just a loud-mouthed man with a big bankroll, a bad haircut and some business bankruptcies under his belt.

He's done well at building a brand. But then so has Kim Kardashian. That doesn't translate to being commander in chief.

If only governing a country was as easy as firing somebody every week on TV.

sandy.banks@latimes.com

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