Birtherism: Is it doping or unfair wage competition?

Consipiracy theories tend to be long on motive, short on coherence. The Elders of Zion may be hard to pin down, but it’s not hard to understand what they stand to gain by manipulating international commerce and news media. But Birtherism — the theory, mostly associated with Donald Trump, that Barack Obama was not born in the US, hence is no more an American than Ted Cruz — has always struck me as particularly lacking in motivation. Why would the Democrats take the risk of putting their fates in the hands of a non-citizen who could be unmasked at any time?

One theory is that this is a kind of unfair competition, like doping in sport: The rule requiring the president to be a natural-born US citizen is not a way of ensuring proper loyalty, but rather a guard against unfair competition. Of course, the thinking goes, Americans have little chance in a political competition against the inherent advantages of a Kenyan usurper. (Women, similarly, famously have such a structural advantage in politics that all manner of laws and customs have been required to level the playing field. Trump has pointed out the uphill struggle he faces, running for president as a wealthy white male, but garnered remarkably little sympathy.)

Another theory is that Obama is just another illegal immigrant, undercutting American workers on wages. The presidency pays only $400,000 a year. You can’t expect a qualified American man to work for that. That’s why only Trump, with his original proposals for monetising the presidency (derived from post-Soviet and Latin American models — who says he’s insular!) can be the great white male presidential hope.

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