04/28/2011 07:52 pm ET | Updated Jun 28, 2011

White America's Shame

On Wednesday the president of the United States was subjected to a humiliating moment that no president of the United States should ever be forced to experience, to prove he's an American citizen and therefore qualified to be president.

Yes, other presidents have had their moments of public humiliation, not least Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, but in Mr. Nixon's case and Mr. Clinton's their humiliation resulted from illegal and immoral conduct. Neither is true of Mr. Obama.

Barack Obama's humiliation was brought on by circumstance over which he has no control -- the color of his skin.

The birther movement was born by Barack Obama's blackness.

Those who lead the campaign questioning Mr. Obama's birthplace did so because they cannot accept that a black man is president of the United States. They will deny their racism because to acknowledge it carries legal, societal and political consequences; but there should be no confusion -- their hatred of President Obama is centered in the color of his black skin. And what the election of 2008 denied they have sought by other means to counter -- no matter how dishonest or despicable those means.

It is no small irony of our history that the political party that has sought to benefit from challenging the president's citizenship is the party of Abraham Lincoln, the man considered by most historians as America's greatest president.

But Republicans who signed on for the crusade to destroy Barack Obama's legitimacy as president have no shame, and being known as "The Party of Lincoln" is valued only to the degree it is useful against charges of racism.

But their defense won't stand, because what's happened is racist at its core -- and the party of Lincoln stands in ruin.

Ample opportunity has been given Republican leaders to denounce the birther movement, but almost always they answer in the language of evasion.

Except, of course, for Donald Trump.

Mr. Trump has used the birther movement to gain the lead among potential Republican candidates for president in 2012; potential candidates that otherwise might have been expected to claim that lead -- Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin -- now trail Mr. Trump.

There can be no other reason for Mr. Trump's ascendancy than his endorsement of the birther movement, as he alone claimed to have "agents" in Hawaii searching for proof of Mr. Obama's birth. (In this he was given a free media pass since no one demanded the identity of his "agents.")

Mr. Trump denies racism is the cause of his birther sympathies. He cites "friendship" with prominent blacks as proof he's no racist, but it's too late in the game to make that claim, because the birther movement is a race-based movement.

But in the most profound sense this isn't about Donald Trump or the Republican Party or the collective failure of its leadership to have stopped the birther movement at its inception, because here's the hard truth, we are all to blame -- and white America most of all.

Every white American that has allowed this crusade against the first black president of the United States to continue stands under indictment for its moral failing -- yours and mine.

Because ultimately this isn't about political parties or philosophy of governance or religious views or none, at its core it's about human values, about whether we as a people embrace The Framer's belief "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

That's what we claim. That's what we say we believe. That's who we say we are. And from this noblest of sentiments we have forged our national identity. But where in the birther movement does such evidence exist? The birther movement is about skin color and class and social standing and is thereby a denial of The Framer's vision for America.

The consequences of this immoral and corrupt political movement, which is ultimately what the birther movement is, have damaged our national interest by damaging our standing in the world. Beyond our shores there must be great puzzlement as to what kind of people would allow a president's birth certificate to dominate its national debate?

At a time when our common problems call for shared sacrifice we must face a difficult truth -- we have permitted our country to be divided by a movement racist in origin, racist in meaning, and racist in denial of man's equality.

Mr. President, I cannot speak for anyone else. I have no authority to apologize in behalf of others. I can only tell you, Mr. President, I am sorry I waited until now to witness against the indignities and evil to which you, your wonderful wife, and your lovely children, have been subjected to. I know you believe in the power of forgiveness. I ask now, Sir, that you forgive me for my silence.