'New Yorker' Editor Reacts To 'Birther' Issue

On Wednesday, President Obama released his "long-form" birth certificate in response to continued skepticism in some quarters about his place of birth. Michele Norris talks to David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker magazine. Remnick writes that those who harp on Obama's birth seek to "arouse a fear of the Other."

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

When the president released his long-form birth certificate yesterday, he said he hoped it would settle the matter, so he and others involved in politics could get back to more pressing matters. But the issue is far from settled.

Some, including many African-Americans, were disappointed the president released that document, saying it was an act of capitulation. Some are still not convinced the president is a naturalized citizen. And some, including Donald Trump, immediately began amplifying other conspiracy theories about the president's grades and his performance in college.

David Remnick is the editor of The New Yorker magazine and he weighed in with his thoughts on the debate and what it says about American politics. David Remnick joins me now. Welcome to the program, David.

Mr. DAVID REMNICK (Editor, The New Yorker Magazine): Thanks for having me.

NORRIS: Now, you don't mince words about Donald Trump in your column, and you say he's playing a very dangerous but very effective game. When are you talking about?

Mr. REMNICK: He's race-baiting. He's hatemongering. It's very clear what he's doing. He's trying to arouse half-buried feelings in many people that are unfortunately still there, and highlighting what people suspect of him in some corners; that he's the other, that he is a radical.

And Donald Trump, who wanted to make a name for himself yet again, and to -he's the kind of exhibitionist, a moral or immoral exhibitionist. And he was willing to play this really ugly game and he got exactly what he wanted -higher TV ratings, attention, lots of microphones in front of him. And he's a clown.

NORRIS: Now, you say he's a clown but there are all kinds of polls, particularly among early primary Republican voters, who suggest that some people are taking him seriously. And there's something else interesting that's going on that we should talk about. And when you look at these polls, one in 10 republicans tell pollsters that they believe Obama was definitely or probably not born in the U.S. And it's a safe bet to say that most of them would insist that this is not about race, and that they are not taking the bait.

Mr. REMNICK: Well, just as everybody thinks that they have a sense of humor, no one ever thinks that they're a racist. But I - my concern here, my fiercest words are for the people who do the active arousing of these feelings, that there are latent racial anxieties or feelings about otherness, or whatever they may - we know that.

And when you see the numbers backing Trump, these are manipulable people, unfortunately.

NORRIS: What does the resilience of the birther issue in all of these conspiracy theories mean for the Republican Party, where a number of party elders, including people like Karl Rove, have said that this is a settled matter and it should be set aside? And they seem to agree with you that it is a dangerous game.

Mr. REMNICK: Well, you see sometimes when Republican Party leaders are interviewed on television, Mike Huckabee and others, they refuse to outright say its fantasy, its nonsense, this shouldn't be an issue. And that's part of the ugliness here.

Karl Rove, for whatever other qualities he may have and what other ferocious disagreements I may have with him, at least is smart enough and strategic enough to know that any candidate who's playing this game is on a dead end.

NORRIS: What explains the poll numbers, the political activists who say that they're still not convinced, the people who still support legislation that's been offered in a number of states that would require presidential candidates to provide proof of their citizenship?

Mr. REMNICK: Well, it's interesting that this never happened before. Why is this happening for the first time now? You might ask yourself that question. And to me, there's racial roots to this. Really, I'm not in the habit of screaming racist at every turn. I don't think you are and I don't think most people are.

But the attempt with Obama is to delegitimate him as an American, as somebody both worthy of and legally allowed to participate at the presidential level in American life.

NORRIS: David Remnick, thanks so much.

Mr. REMNICK: Thank you.

NORRIS: David Remnick is the editor of "The New Yorker" magazine. He's also the author of "The Bridge."

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