How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky & Daniel Ziblatt

How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky & Daniel Ziblatt

Author:Steven Levitsky & Daniel Ziblatt
Language: eng
Format: epub, azw3, mobi, pdf
Publisher: Crown
Published: 2018-01-16T05:00:00+00:00

Mass e-mails sent rumors and innuendo through Tea Party circles, including one with a photograph showing President Obama carrying a book, The Post-American World, by CNN host Fareed Zakaria. The e-mail read: “THIS WILL CURDLE YOUR BLOOD!!! The name of the book Obama is reading is called The Post-American World and it was written by a fellow Muslim.”

The rhetoric wasn’t limited to Tea Party activists. Republican politicians also questioned President Obama’s “Americanness.” Former Colorado congressman Tom Tancredo declared, “I do not believe Barack Obama loves the same America that I do, the one the founders put together.” Newt Gingrich, who attempted a political comeback and sought the GOP presidential nomination in 2012, called Obama “the first anti-American president.” And at a private fund-raising dinner for Wisconsin governor Scott Walker in February 2015, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani openly questioned the sitting president’s patriotism, declaring: “I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America.”

If the Tea Party hammered home the accusation that President Obama did not love America, the “birther movement” went even further, questioning whether he was born in the United States—and thus challenging his constitutional right to hold the presidency. The idea that Obama was not even from America first circulated in the blogosphere during his 2004 Senate campaign and resurfaced in 2008. Republican politicians discovered that questioning President Obama’s citizenship was an easy way to elicit crowd enthusiasm at public appearances. So they began to do it. Colorado representative Mike Coffman told supporters, “I do not know if Barack Obama was born in the United States of America….But I do know this, that in his heart, he’s not an American. He’s just not an American.” At least eighteen Republican senators and House members were called “birther enablers” because of their refusal to reject the myth. U.S. Senators Roy Blunt, James Inhofe, Richard Shelby, and David Vitter, former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, and 2012 presidential candidate Mike Huckabee all made statements endorsing or encouraging the birther campaign.

The most notorious birther of all was Donald Trump. In the spring of 2011, as he pondered a 2012 presidential bid, Trump told the Today show that he had “doubts” about whether President Obama was a natural-born U.S. citizen. “I have people who actually have been studying it,” Trump claimed, “and they cannot believe what they are finding.” Trump became America’s most prominent birther, appearing repeatedly on television news programs to call on the president to release his birth certificate. And when Obama’s certificate was made public in 2011, Trump suggested it was a forgery. Although Trump opted not to run against Obama in 2012, his high-profile questioning of President Obama’s nationality gained him media attention and endeared him to the Republicans’ Tea Party base. Intolerance was politically useful.

Such attacks have a long and dishonorable pedigree in American history. Henry Ford, Father Coughlin, and the John Birch Society all adopted similar language. But the challenges to Obama’s legitimacy were different in two important ways.


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