Trump has never apologized for advancing birtherism. Indeed, he’s portrayed himself as a vindicated seeker of truth for proving that Obama was born in the United States; the former president released his long-form birth certificate in April 2011. But as with Warren, the documents were never the point. What became evident early on in the birtherism saga was that much of the energy directed against Obama was simply intended to create partisan misdirection, confusion, and distraction. Those things all aided Trump in his quest for power, degrading the national discourse in the process. In a way, Trump proved true an old adage from the legendary author Toni Morrison: “Know the function, the very serious function of racism, which is distraction,” she instructed an audience at a 1975 lecture.
Read: Is Elizabeth Warren Native American or what?
The episode with Warren isn’t birtherism. Warren is not subject to the racial animus that Obama was, nor is she the subject of the towering edifice of conspiracy theories that was built around Obama’s person. She is, for all intents and purposes, a white woman, whose clash with Trump has mostly served to further poison the well of racial discourse and policy instead of enlightening it. And the kinship she has purportedly established by providing DNA evidence is not one that’s recognized by tribal law and understandings. “It makes a mockery out of DNA tests and its legitimate uses while also dishonoring traditional tribal governments and their citizens,” wrote Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. in a press release on Monday. “Senator Warren is undermining tribal interests with her continued claims of tribal heritage.”
But Trump has no interest in those considerations, nor in the negative reactions among Native Americans to his own attacks against Warren. The key takeaway of Trump’s birtherism stint is that he has proven adept at wielding bullying and gaslighting in service of racial gatekeeping, and he isn’t impeded by facts. The age-old game of racial essentialism and blood policing is itself intended to stack the deck in favor of bullies, to always siphon power from the weak, and to require an ever-shifting burden of proof among aggrieved parties that can never be met. Trump will always win this game because it is rigged for him to win.
In choosing to play along, Warren ratifies the tired game. The order of events that will ensue are predictable. Trump will not retire his slurs. Republican operatives beholden to him will continue to ridicule and poke holes in the evidence Warren has presented. There will be no substantiated bets. Everyone will fight a little longer over an ancestor from the 1700s. And the people hurt most by the bullying—by the slurs and a government increasingly fluent in bigotry—will be those who are still carved out, and who have no real say on where in the hierarchy they stand.