I work with a Chinese gentleman, Sam, who’s English is a little weak. He speaks well enough to be generally understood, but the subtle nuance of our native tongue frustrates him. He’s a good guy trying to understand America – a stranger in a strange land.
The other day Sam approached me, wrote a short word on the scratchpad I keep on my desk and asked me what it meant. The word was ‘birther’. As I blinked at the question he said he tried to look it up in the dictionary, but found nothing and when he Googled it the results didn’t make any sense.
I squirmed for a moment (I try to avoid politics at work) then offered, “The word is a noun; I guess a proper noun – the name of a thing. You won’t always find proper nouns in the dictionary. And this is a pretty new word, probably just a couple years old. I think the Internet block here at work probably keeps any controversial sites from your search results. So, looking on the Internet from here won’t tell you much.”
Since I hadn’t answered his question he just stared at me and pointed to the scratchpad – “Birther,” he repeated in a thick Chinese accent. Sam doesn’t like it much when I dance around issues – so I stopped dancing.
“Birthers are a group of people who believe Barack Obama should not be president because, they think, he was not born in the United States,” I finally replied.
Sam stared at me for a long moment, and then looked at the scratchpad with his new English word. Suddenly, he stood straight up and, in perfect English, said “Oh, racist,” then went back to his desk.
I don’t know why I was surprised by Sam’s translation. After all, demanding the first African-American president to ‘show his papers’ does appear, well, racist. But, I think there actually may be more to it than good, old fashion, KKK style hate. I think there is a political strategy behind this juvenile game. I believe the Republicans are attempting to offer the president (and anyone else they disagree with) a Kobayashi Maru.
For those who are not Star Trek nerds the Kobayashi Maru is an unwinnable scenario, a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation. In the fantasy of Star Trek is was used as a test of character; in our real world it is used by schoolyard bullies and Republicans to corner people and keep conversations off relevant topics.
Similar to the way a ten year old child bully might pin down an eight year old and, and while holding a hand full of dirt, asks, “Do you want to eat this or are you gay?” the right wing adult bullies attempt to pin down the president and repeatedly ask, “Weren’t you really born in Kenya and didn’t you become president through a criminal conspiracy?” In either case no answer is really expected. In either case any answer is wrong. In both cases the interrogative is actually declarative. In case one, the child bully is really declaring the smaller weaker child gay (a child/idiot’s insult). In case two, the political bully is really declaring the president a Kenyan criminal – without actually saying it.
While this technique, in our current context is racist, in a broader more general context it is childish and cowardly. But cowardly childishness has become the currency of the American right wing, so there is no surprise.
It is of little wonder that when Donald “Comb-Over” Trump was confronted with the newly released Obama birth certificate, his immediate reaction was to demand to see the president’s high school and college transcripts. Donald has questions about whether the president should have been allowed into Harvard. What a surprise!
And let’s not forget about Republican Colorado Governor Tom Tancredo suggesting that, “Obama withheld his birth certificate to make republicans look nuts.” Wow, classic Kobayashi Maru – regardless of what Obama says, he’s wrong.
Well ladies and gentlemen of the Republican Party (and Tea Baggers too) I have a Kobayashi Maru question for you:
Are you all racists or just stupid?
(Don’t take offense, after all, its just a question.)