This is an except from a guest post on Medium by Helio Fred Garcia, originally published on August 5, 2020.
As Trump tries to sabotage the post office, news anchors express puzzlement that Trump keeps insisting that mail-in voting is a disaster and ripe with fraud, but that absentee voting is OK. They seem totally confused about the distinction between the two. Or they think he is confused.
Don’t be fooled. We’ve seen this play before. It’s part of a pattern of predictable behavior by Trump.
Create an artificial distinction between two ways of saying the same thing.
Demonize one of them, while admitting the legitimacy of the other.
Use that distinction to make false claims, and to confuse and distract.
In so doing, create a social context laying the groundwork to question the legitimacy of the electoral outcome.
He did the same thing in the five years before running for president in 2016.
Show Us Your Birth Certificate
In early 2011 then-real estate mogul and The Apprentice TV host Donald Trump told the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) that he would run for president to take on the incumbent, Barack Obama.
He began by raising questions about whether President Obama was born in Hawaii. He argued, without evidence, that no one in Hawaii knew who Obama was. He said,
“Our current president came out of nowhere. Came out of nowhere. In fact, I’ll go a step further: The people that went to school with him, they never saw him, they don’t know who he is. It’s crazy.”
This was an oblique reference to what had become known as the “birther” movement, claiming that Obama was not born in the United States and was secretly a Muslim. The CPAC audience would recognize the signal for what it was.
Trump never did make good on his pledge to run against Obama, but he spent the next five years questioning Obama’s legitimacy. A centerpiece of it was demanding to see Obama’s birth certificate.
But in the summer of 2008 the Obama campaign had already released the birth certificate, called a “certificate of live birth.” They issued a “short-form” certificate of live birth, and the State of Hawaii confirmed its authenticity. The document itself says,
“This copy serves as prima facie evidence of birth in any court proceeding.”
But in 2012 Trump kept insisting that Obama release his birth certificate. When confronted with the fact that Obama had released it years earlier, Trump declared that there was a meaningful distinction between a “birth certificate” and a “certificate of live birth.”
He told Fox & Friends,
“They give you a certificate of live birth, which anybody can get, just walk into the hospital, and you get a certificate of live birth. It’s not even signed by people. Now, this guy either has a birth certificate or he doesn’t. And I didn’t think this was such a big deal, but I will tell you, it’s turning out to be a very big deal because people now are calling me from all over saying, please don’t give up on this issue. If you weren’t born in this country, you cannot be president.”
Of course, the first part of that was a lie: a private citizen cannot simply walk into a hospital and leave with a certificate of live birth. It is a formal government document, issued by the state health department. The rest of the statement is also part of the pattern. He says something true (Obama either has a birth certificate or he doesn’t; if you weren’t born in this country you cannot be president) and mixes it with a sense of illegitimacy (people are calling me from all over saying, please don’t give up...)
Trump kept emphasizing that the certificate of live birth is not a birth certificate.
In April 2011, in response to the controversy created by Trump, President Obama asked the state of Hawaii to release the long form of his birth certificate, which it did.
Contrary to Trump’s claim that a long-form birth certificate is different from a certificate of live birth, this longer document also was called a “Certificate of Live Birth.”
But despite that evidence, birthers — including Trump — persisted. The following month a Gallup poll showed that 13 percent of all Americans, and 23 percent of Republicans, believed that President Obama was not born in the United States.