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So Donald Trump, Mill and Obama walk into a bar…

April 9, 2011

I cannot speak for everybody, but I believe many of us share this similar experience; after you meet someone new, it seems as if you run into them everywhere!  I noticed this happened to me a lot in high school as well as U of M, only in a different form.  After reading Mill, I noticed a lot of his ideas and arguments began to show up everywhere: in the news, other classes and even conversation. Recently, a news story caught my attention that brought to mind some of his arguments, it dealt with the legitimacy of President Obama’s birth in the United States.

For those not familiar with the subject, “‘Birther’ activists on the right have circulated the unsubstantiated claim…” that Obama is not an American citizen, “…in an effort to depict Obama’s presidency as the outgrowth of a shadowy, constitutionally illegitimate conspiracy” (Pompeo, Trump Brings Media Blitz to NBC, ‘steamrolls’ Meredith Vieira on Birther Issue).  The claim stems from the idea that Obama was born in Kenya or Indonesia, making it illegal for him to be President of the United States.  The problem is, “The birther position has been thoroughly debunked…”(Pompeo). Obama proved himself when he published his birth certificate online for skeptics to read.  Also it has been noted that his birth was published in two different Hawaiian newspapers.

Even still, the potential Republican nominee, Donald Trump has brought up the issue, yet again.

So the main question becomes, does Donald Trump have the right to continue to voice this allegation, even though there is substantial evidence against it?  Mill says, “…the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is…if the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error”,and in regards to false opinion; “We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavouring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still” (Mill, pp 34).

What if there was evidence verifying it as a false opinion?  In Obama’s case, he presented to the public a copy of his birth certificate.  There is evidence of his birth in American newspapers.  At what point can someone say enough is enough, the opinion is incorrect and invalid?  If Mill was alive today I would bet that he would still say that Donald has the right.  There are always going to be individuals who will be swayed to believe false or ridiculous ideas, even with ample evidence.  For example, let’s pretend a man is professing his opinion that the world is flat on the diag.  A few individuals may believe him (hopefully not) but most would just walk away knowing, for a fact, it is not.  Nothing can be done about those who choose to believe it, because realistically it is bound to happen, but what if it’s not just a simple issue.  In the diag example, that man isn’t really helping or hurting any cause by expressing his opinion, but what if that opinion had more weight and consequences?

After Donald Trump’s TV appearance, it was noted that Trump was “accidentally doing well in GOP polls”.  “Trump leads Romney 22-21 with the birther crowd, but Romney holds the overall lead because he’s up by a much wider margin with the folks who dismiss the birther theory” (Stuef,Donald Trump Accidentally Doing Very Well In GOP Polls).  Thankfully more people dismiss the theory and it was mentioned that some of his other issues from his “podium” interested voters, but still.  His opinion got a lot of press, and as the saying goes, “all press is good press”.  If enough voters were to believe him, it could become a big point and potentially have a great impact in swinging the vote.  It is too early to tell one way or another, but it is a little disconcerting.

With this in mind, though, I wonder what Mill would say now?  I’m not sure how much indication there is that Obama will show an original copy to the world (on TV perhaps?), but even then there will most likely be people shouting, “fake”!  I feel either way it will still be a conspiracy to at least some individuals.

So, in theory, if this does have an impact on the vote in a negative way should it be allowed?  Would Mill still say Donald Trump can continue to use this as a campaigning point, even with the evidence against it?  For now, I think Mill would stand strong and say Donald does, but if in the future it becomes Ad Hominem and plays a large part in the outcome of the election, then I think he would raise an eyebrow.

Obama’s Certificate of Live Birth


Mill, John S. On Liberty. London: John W. Parker, 1859. Print.

Pompeo, Joe. “Trump Brings Media Blitz to NBC, ‘steamrolls’ Meredith Vieira on Birther Issue.” Web log post. The Cultline. Yahoo! News, 7 Apr. 2011. Web. 8 Apr. 2011. <;.

Stuef, Jack. “Donald Trump Accidentally Doing Very Well In GOP Polls.” Wonkette. 5 Apr. 2011. Web. 09 Apr. 2011. <;.

Trump: “This Country Is Going to Hell’ Perf. Donald Trump and Meredith Vieira. Yahoo! News. NBC News, 7 Apr. 2011. Web. 8 Apr. 2011. <;.

  1. Jeremy Kucera permalink
    April 10, 2011 5:23 PM

    I agree with you that I think Mill would stand strong and say Trump has the right to voice whatever opinion he wants. Mill expressed this idea in multiple ways in many texts. His view is that people learn from false opinions. I disagree with you that the idea that if Obama might not have been born here and if affects the election then Mill wouldn’t support it. Mill has always said that he supports all free speech no matter if it’s right or wrong–the affects on an election wouldnt’ sway him because obviously enough of the voting population believes it. Fruthermore, I cannot agree with you that this claim is one hundred percent false and ridiculous. There are enough Americans out there who at least have questions about Obama’s birthplace. I mean this whole thing could just be put to rest if Obama just showed his real birth certificate to everyone. Why can’t he? I’m not saying I believe it or not, but you have to wonder why he can’t just show it. It raises my eyebrows.

    • April 11, 2011 1:51 PM

      Thank you for your comment!
      In regards to the claim, looking back my diction should not have been so absolute. With any claim or opinion there is the chance of it being right or wrong even with evidence from either side. (Also I did not mean to call the Obama claim ridiculous.)

      The question about Obama’s birth is a tricky one because of Hawaii’s birth policies. In Hawaii they have CertifiCATES of Live Birth and CertifiCATIONS of Live Birth, they are not the same thing but they are both both considered birth certificates. When I was looking into it some more I found on, “The Certification of Live Birth is not only just as valid as the Certificate of Live Birth, it is just as much a birth certificate, and is considered prima facie evidence of Hawaiian birth for all legal purposes…”. I also checked the Hawaiian government website and verified it. So technically the certification he published online is valid. Whether it’s real or America chooses to accept this is another question. I’m curious if Americans think (or you if you want to respond), does the published certification count as showing it to everyone?


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