If you thought Donald Trump was obsessed with the issue of Barack Obama's birth certificate, then let's set the record straight. His preoccupation with official birth documents goes way back, and it is best illustrated by an event in his own household some years ago.
When Donald Trump, Jr., turned nine, the first born son of the real estate tycoon asked his father if he could have a model train for his birthday. Most billionaire's sons that age already had one, and the request was not unusual. What followed, however, probably went like this, foreshadowing what became the father's principal campaign issue:
"So you want a train. But how do I know it's your birthday?"
"Dad, next Tuesday has always been my birthday. We celebrate it every year ad you always give me lots of presents."
"Yes, but this year it's different. There are a lot of people who claim they were born in the U.S. but really weren't. There just out to get jobs here. One of those jobs is president of this country. We can't just take their, or your, word for it. Show me some proof that this is your birthday."
"O. k., Dad," young Donald says, rummaging through a box of mementos. "Here's a birthday card to me from my Grandpa. That proves it.... doesn't it?"
"No. Your grandfather wasn't there when you were born. What else have you got?"
Young Donald looks puzzled. Suddenly his face lights up.
"My baptismal certificate." Back to the box of keepsakes. Furious shuffling of paper. "Ah, here it is."
"What's that prove?" asks an unconvinced father. It doesn't say when or where you were born. Got anything else?"
Crestfallen, young Donald sits down and thinks... very hard.
"Yeah, my birth certificate!" A triumphant smile lights up his face.
"Now you're thinking," says the proud father. "Where is it?
"I don't know, You never showed it to me. I just know that all kids have one. You must know where it is."
The elder Trump smirks in victory. "If you can't show me a birth certificate, how do I know Tuesday is really your birthday? Son, I'm a businessman. I'd be broke if I took everyone's word as the truth. If you can't show me that certificate I can't buy you a present."
Crestfallen, young Donald puts his head in his hands and fights to hold back the tears. Suddenly, he remembers one last possibility for proving his birth. Back to the box.
"Eureka!" he shouts as he hands an old newspaper clipping to his father. It's the vital statistics column from the local daily, dated almost nine years earlier. "There," says young Donald, triumphantly. "Read that!"
Donald senior takes the aging clipping from his son. There, toward the end of the "Births" column, is the name Trump, indicating birth of a son, with the date given.
"That would be next Tuesday," young Donald offers, pleading.
"Rubbish!" replies his Dad. "Anyone can pay to put this in the paper. This is worth squat!"
"You can't prove it's your birthday, can you," continues Dad. "Now suppose that you weren't nine, asking for a train. Suppose you were middle aged, running for president. The law says you've got to be born in America to hold that office. And some slick talking guy comes along with a piece of paper, like your clipping, saying he was born in America. And a bunch of gullible voters accept his claim and he gets to be president. That's not right.
"I hope you learned something from our conversation. So, to end this lesson, I've got two presents for you." Dad hands young Donald a piece of paper.
"That, son, is your birth certificate. Keep it, carefully, in your box. Be prepared to show it on demand. And don't accept anyone else's claim that they were born here unless they can prove it with the only real evidence there is... a birth certificate.
"And here is your birthday gift." Trump hands his son another piece of paper.
"But, Dad, I wanted a model railroad. This is just a document."
"But it is a train, son. You know how I buy bankrupt property? Well, I bought this one for you. It's a railroad. Donald, you now own Amtrak."
Ralph E. Shaffer is professor emeritus of history at Cal Poly Pomona. firstname.lastname@example.org