Friday, June 1, 2012

The Audacity of Evidence

There's an index card on my desk with a few sentences written on it, sentences I need to take heed of and remember for when I encounter them around the internet. Sentences like "the moon landing was a hoax" and "all taxation is theft" and "the birth certificate is a fraud." Sentences that, in other words, serve as a gigantic, waving flag that any other arguments offered by the person flying them can be safely discounted - because if someone believes one thing so divorced from all real-world evidence, what assurances do I have that anything else they've chosen to believe has any real grounding? The problem is that while moon-hoaxers are fundamentally harmless, committed anti-taxer lolbertarians or those who double down on the idea that President Obama isn't a natural-born American can make seriously negative waves in the society around them.

People like Donald Trump, who has stuck around to remind us that the 1980s weren't necessarily all that they're cracked up to have been these days. Earlier this week, while sharing a Las Vegas stage with Mitt Romney, Trump again reminded us all that he very strongly believes that Obama has no right to be President, that he is some kind of Kenyan-born Kenyan, based on the strength of evidence such as... well, such as the fact that he very, very strongly believes it, I suppose. Not that any sort of evidence would do much good. This is reality, such as it is, and Phoenix Wright can't dramatically point and shout "take that" and watch as the vain attempts at bluffing and misdirection crumble to dust.

In a word, it's ridiculous - the same word, incidentally, that Wolf Blitzer chose in a recent interview he conducted with Trump, only for Trump to attempt to turn it around - because, apparently, Donald Trump lives in a world where pointing out that Honolulu newspapers from 1961 that carry announcements of the future president's birth is "defending Obama," and "I know you are, but what am I" is a valid tactic in debates between adults. Here, have a partial transcript of the YouTube video available here:

WOLF BLITZER: Did the conspiracy start in 1961 when the Honolulu Star-Bulletin and the Honolulu Advertiser contemporaneously published announcements that he was born in Hawaii?

DONALD TRUMP: That's right, and many people put these announcements in because they wanted to get the benefits of being so-called "born in this country."

I can't help but be reminded of Mike Reed's catalog of online flame warriors - specifically Ferrous Cranus, a warrior "utterly impervious to reason, persuasion and new ideas... ever unfathomable, Ferrous Cranus cannot be moved." Today, this sort of warrior is on the march in politics, in business, in culture all across Earth. People like this, people like Trump, know what they know and refuse to be moved, in spite of evidence or the lack thereof. The Hawaiian government presents the actual long-form certificate? It's obviously a fraud. Newspapers carry birth announcements? Obviously it was an immigration scam.

I almost want to ask Trump if he can conceive of any mundane evidence that would convince him that Barack Obama is a natural-born American. "Almost," because I'm pretty sure the answer would be is that there isn't any. This kind of belligerent bullishness isn't indicative of someone who's weighing arguments. It's the hallmark of someone whose mind is made up, and damn the torpedoes.

I don't think there's a long form of this one.

Why? It's the question that echoes endlessly in my skull, the most important question we can ask, the question that we must always work to answer if we ever want to be something more than what we are. Why? Donald Trump and others seem to be going the extra mile to make the nature of Obama's birth a non-falsifiable hypothesis; for every piece of evidence presented, there's some special pleading as to why it's a fake or why it doesn't say what you think it says. Are these the actions of people who are honestly seeking after truth? No! These are the actions of people with an agenda.

Donald Trump's own agenda is easy enough to guess at: he wants his team to win the 2012 election, and his attempts to cast doubt on Obama's heritage are just one of the many avenues that are being tested to diminish Obama's shot. Evidence is poison to people like this; bare evidence, after all, doesn't have an agenda - that's what interpretations are for. So every piece of evidence offered up in support of the certificate being genuine is ruthlessly re-interpreted, at which point the interpreters act like that evidence has gone away.

Maybe, to them and a lot of their supporters, it has. But even if a million people believe "rabbit" is spelled with a "k," we won't be seeing "kabbit" in dictionaries any time soon. This sort of interpretation does not change reality.

What I'd actually like to see is Trump's evidence - the evidence that originally gave him reason to suspect that Obama wasn't a natural-born citizen, the evidence suggesting that the long-form certificate held by the Hawaiian government is a forgery, the evidence that it was some kind of immigration scam. I mean, there's got to be evidence, right? Is twenty-year-old book promotional material really the best he's got? Doesn't he have some sort of evidence that makes his opinions more believable than David Icke's "world leaders are really twelve-foot-tall alien lizards in disguise" hypothesis? If that's the case, why is he hiding from us?

Because Trump is a rational, reasonable man, right? That's got to be what happened, isn't it? If McCain had been elected in 2008, Trump would have been the voice of reason investigating whether or not his birth certificate was a fraud, and he was actually born in Panama, wouldn't he? It couldn't possibly be because Obama is - gasp - black, right? Trump doesn't have something to hide... like, say, the notion that he's the time-displaced clone of a warlord from the future, right? He wouldn't have a problem with demonstrating that his DNA is a match to that of his parents, right?

Where's the evidence, Donald? Point us to the evidence!

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