Since Donald Trump finally abandoned the birther nonsense he had long indulged, the big question has been whether he will apologize to Barack Obama.
But that's not the right question. The real issue is this: Will he apologize to the citizens of the United States for degrading our democracy and our discourse by trafficking in absurd, irresponsible, racially tinged conspiracy theories designed to kindle suspicions that a popularly elected president was somehow illegitimate?
And this should matter as much to those who once harbored doubts about Obama's birthplace as it does to Obama supporters. If you fall in the former camp, Trump owes you an apology too, for helping sow those doubts, for leading you to think that there really might be something to the supposed story.
Let's review the history here: In 2011, when he began toying with a 2012 presidential campaign, Trump seized upon an issue that had been the stuff of fringe conspiracy theories and took it mainstream. He said there was real doubt about whether President Obama was born in Hawaii. (There wasn't.) He even claimed to have sent investigators there to check things out.
"I have people that have been studying it, and they cannot believe what they're finding," Trump told NBC, adding that his investigators might just reveal "one of the greatest cons in the history of politics and beyond." As others have, I asked Trump's campaign to provide the names of those investigators and their report. No response. Imagine!
Fox News, the rumor-mongering conservative network, gave his charges extensive coverage, though his clownish performance was over-covered by other outlets as well. It wasn't until Obama released his long-form birth certificate — and artfully skewered Trump at the 2011 White House Correspondents' Dinner — that the truth-trampling real estate mogul began to back off.
But even after that, Trump, in his patented prevaricate-by-proxy style, continued to raise doubts about even that birth certificate, maintaining that "a lot of people feel it wasn't a proper certificate." (Trump also said he'd make public his tax returns if Obama released his long-form birth certificate; pressed subsequently on that commitment, Trump dodged, saying he'd do so if he ran for president. So far, he has reneged on that promise.)
So if you happen to be a Trump supporter, consider: Trump used this divisive fringe issue to get national attention. Then, the matter having served its purpose, he wiggled away from it, last week declaring that Obama was indeed born in this country. Note that he didn't say when he had changed his mind or why. What he did do, in an astonishing act of chutzpah, was blame Hillary Clinton for starting the controversy and credit himself for ending it.
If you once considered Trump a responsible figure and not the political flimflam man he has since revealed himself to be, and thus thought there might be something to what he said about Obama, you should be angry. You took him seriously — and he played you for a chump.
And now he's moving on, with no explanation or apology.
Nor is this the first time he's done that. Remember how he said would round up all 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States and send them home? On the last day of August, in a speech so full of sound and fury that not everyone noticed, he backed off that pledge.
This is Trump being Trump. He has no reverence for the truth. And he will say whatever is convenient, whenever it's convenient, to win.
We all know the old saying: Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. How many times has he tried to fool us now? And what does that tell us about what he'd do as president?