Is Barack Obama Finally an American?

The release of the president's birth certificate doesn't erase the understanding among African Americans that he -- and they -- have been deeply disrespected and are still cast as outsiders.

Does Donald Trump have any sense of decency? He declared this morning that he was “proud” of himself for forcing President Obama to make his detailed birth certificate public. The president of the United States had to “prove” that he was actually a United States citizen, two years into his term. “We do not have time for this kind of silliness,” the president declared after releasing a copy of the long-form document.

But it wasn’t silliness that pushed the president to respond. Trump’s line of attack on Barack Obama — fueled by news media that don’t know how to say no — had evolved from hilarious to dangerous.

Last night on MSNBC’s Hardball With Chris Matthews, Patrick Buchanan amplified one thread of Trump’s attack, questioning Obama’s qualifications for being admitted to Columbia and Harvard universities. “I hear he was a terrible student, ” Trump said. Buchanan, as can be expected, went further: “He went to Occidental College; then suddenly he shows up at one of the best schools in the country, Columbia. He vaults from there to Harvard Law School; suddenly he’s on Harvard Law Review; suddenly he’s the editor of Harvard Law Review. We’ve never seen any grades of the guy — these are legitimate questions … I think he’s affirmative action all the way!”

Maybe Trump did us all a favor — not by pressuring the president to release the document — but by turning to qualifications and, by extension, affirmative action. Yes, affirmative action is red meat for that segment of white Americans who are always on the lookout for signs that blacks are getting some kind of unfair break. But it also brings the race issue out into the open.

African Americans may never get the majority of white Americans to share their belief since the start of the Birther campaign that many of the attacks on the president conceal a nasty racial element. From the unprecedented and disrespectful “You lie!” outburst by Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) during the president’s 2009 speech before a joint session of Congress, to the argument made by pundits from Glenn Beck to Ben Quayle to Trump (again) that Obama is the “worst president in history,” many black Americans have believed that, while there are legitimate reasons to criticize Obama, many of these attacks have had an unusually virulent edge.

And occasionally we have glimpsed the naked rage that drives some Obama opponents: the racial caricatures — now censored out of Tea Party gatherings — and racist cartoons or photos like the one sent by a Southern California GOP official last week, portraying the president as a chimpanzee.