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Robert Slayton Headshot

Who's an American?

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Donald Trump is raising the birther issue again, in a big way. There's no evidence to support his charges whatsoever, but the Donald has been more showperson that businessman for quite a while, so that hasn't stopped him from getting a lot of attention. Some Americans may even be persuaded that he is right.

Mitt Romney is saddled with this loon; the former governor's reply is that he should not be held to everything everyone of his supporters says (while he remains eager to accept their money and fundraising efforts).

That may be a valid argument in most cases, but there should be limits. In 2008 John McCain rebuffed efforts to brand Obama as a Muslim or a crazy radical. In a similar vein, if a Democrat with money, notoriety and a podium proclaimed he had documentary proof that Romney had five wives and opposed traditional marriage, the reelection effort would have to denounce him. The charge is demonstrably false, and because of the Mormon connection, reeks of religious bigotry.

But have Trump and his accomplice Romney gone that far? Have they stepped over any line (other than that separating sanity from its opposite)? And who cares? A recent poll showed that an endorsement by Donald Trump was more likely to cause voters to reject a candidate than to embrace him. So why does this matter?

Back in the 1920s, there was a popular term, "100% American." The meaning was that you could be American -- kind of, but not really. You could sort of, technically be an American, but let's face it, everyone knew that you weren't. If you were Polish or Italian, Jewish or Irish, you might be a citizen, but not 100% American. Never were and never could be.

My parents remembered this phrase vividly and hated it; they well understood what it meant. It excluded them from the country they were a part of and loved, through no actions of their own. Long after it fell into disuse they would still occasionally raise it in conversation, with vehemence.

This, then, is what Trump is doing, and why Romney is a scoundrel for not denouncing it. What Trump is implying is that because of a man's name, because of his politics, and above all, because of the color of his skin, he can't be an American.

Who does this exclude? Any black? What shade: ebony or milk chocolate? Brown? Yellow? Mediterranean tan? Are the 100% Americans only the whites? And of those, only Anglo-Saxons of long descent in this country? Only the Protestants? Any Democrat? How far does this go?

This is not someplace we want to journey to. Never should. It divides us in the sickest way, and is violently immoral.

Thus Trump/Romney are not challenging the president's economic policy or the war in Afghanistan. They are asking if Barack Obama is an American. The question is that fundamental.

The real answer to that query should be this: the only ones in the room trampling on American ideals is Donald Trump. And Romney offers a wink and a smile as he goes along for the money. Who's the American now?

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