The ever-shifting collusion/obstruction/25th Amendment quest of the Democrats is their very own form of "birtherism." Real birtherism arose during the Obama administration as a desperate attempt to undo a presidency that many simply would not accept.
In its manifold forms, birtherism always had one goal: delegitimizing Barack Obama's presidency. It shifted arguments as facts demanded, but it was never sidetracked. When President Obama finally released a copy of his Hawaiian birth certificate, after cruelly trolling the poor birthers for far too long, they were unfazed: "Forgery!" they said, without missing a beat, and the Internet bloomed with annotated copies of the birth certificate purporting to reveal forensic evidence conclusively proving the document to be fake.
While the Democrats blew birtherism up into something big and dark — namely, ugly evidence of the taint of racism on the American soul — it was always small potatoes: kooky, non-elite citizens trying to prove something they ardently wanted to believe true but were doomed never to prove. Does anybody seriously believe that if there were a Kenyan birth certificate for Obama, the Hillary Clinton campaign would not have unearthed it first and found a way to leak it?
By contrast, the birtherism of the left today is well-funded (special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation), led by Ivy League-educated professionals, and cheered on by the establishment media — in short, it's supposedly respectable.
Unlike with their Obama-era kin, our Trump-era birthers may end up finding something to unseat a hated president. Then again, they may not. My point is not what Mueller eventually might turn up — we don't know — but rather the surprising psychological affinity of our current gentry neo-birthers to their ostensibly less sophisticated trailblazers of the Obama years.
Neither group ever lost sight of the goal (ending an unpalatable presidency), even when confronted with challenging facts that jeopardized the mission. Instead, both groups have manifested a striking fluidity, always within the overall purpose, that would make Proteus, the character in Greek mythology who could change shapes, swoon with envy.
Many of those who were undone by the electoral results of 2016 originally saw the Mueller investigation as a probe of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government to steal the election. Yet facts keep arising that suggest that it was Clinton allies who were actually working with Russians, to create the so-called Trump Dossier, which triggered the investigation. After several months, the hyper-leaky Mueller team doesn't seem to be closing in on collusion.
That won't stop the Trump birthers. They'll just instead argue that President Trump's real crime was obstruction in the firing of former FBI Director James Comey. And if that doesn't pan out, they'll try this line: Trump is crazy, and it's time to use the 25th Amendment, which established that a president can be removed from office for mental disability.
And you thought regrouping after the "Kenyan birth certificate" was revealed as a fraud took fancy footwork! Fluidity and adaptability are key — rationality, not so much. Don't expect them to back down no matter what. If, for example, it dawns on them that they won't likely strike pay dirt with the 25th Amendment (that would require Vice President Mike Pence, not exactly the gift-bearer of their dreams, turning on the president. Even if he did, Pence isn't the president of their dreams either), don't be surprised if they revert without batting an eye to collusion, obstruction, or perhaps come up with an entirely new avenue to removal.
What's next? Diet Cokes have made Trump crazy?
Yet here is the biggest difference: The Obama-era birthers had to be content with outlets such as World Net Daily. The neo-birthers have a decided advantage: They are about as establishment as you can get. But like the Queen in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (a good work to invoke in present-day Washington), they show that their credentials don't keep them from thinking six impossible things before breakfast. The media has made enormous mistakes in reporting on investigations against Trump.
Never Trumper David Frum insisted on CNN, which was reeling from anti-Trump overreach, that "The mistakes are precisely the reason people should trust the media. … Astronomers make mistakes all the time because science is a process of discovery of truth. Astrologers never make mistakes, or at least they never own up to them, because what they are offering is a closed system of ideology and propaganda."
In the current media climate, I bet astrologers are owning up to mistakes more often than media figures such as Joy Behar of "The View." Behar interrupted her show to make a giddy announcement that Michael Flynn would testify that as a candidate Donald Trump had directed him to make contact with the Russians. When the original report, by ABC's Brian Ross (who, perhaps surprisingly, was suspended without pay for faulty reporting) was discredited, Behar merely dubbed her mistake "premature evaluation." No facts need apply.
There is one big difference between the Trump birthers and the Obama birthers. I am afraid it has to be advantage: gentry birthers. The leaders of the Obama-era birthers were people such as Orly Taitz, a dentist with a mop of bleached blonde hair (she liked to be called doctor) turned conspiracy theorist, and Sheriff Joe Arpaio (then the longtime sheriff of Maricopa County in Arizona, who had a birth certificate investigator and held press conferences on the supposedly forged birth certificate).
The elite birthers are establishment, polished, credentialed, and all too often ensconced in high government office or highly visible media jobs. Although irrational, they know how to pull the levers of bureaucratic power.
The original birthers failed and were forced to sit it out until the 2016 election, whose upset birthed the neo-birther movement. Our current birthers are grasping at straws, too, but it's not so obvious when you sport the right credentials and wear well-cut suits.