Opinion by Norman Eisen and Colby Galliher
Updated: Tue, 10 May 2022 20:24:57 GMT
Editor's Note: Norman Eisen is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the editor and co-author of "Overcoming Trumpery: How to Restore Ethics, the Rule of Law, and Democracy." Colby Galliher is a research analyst at Brookings and a co-author of the book. The views expressed in this commentary are their own. View more opinion on CNN.
In our new book, "Overcoming Trumpery," we explain that former President Donald Trump's seemingly chaotic style actually constituted a philosophy of corrupt governance -- and that it is spreading.
We see that in primaries across the nation where candidates such as Dr. Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, Herschel Walker in Georgia and dozens of others are running on a platform of Trumpery. It poses a clear and present danger to the American republic.
The book analyzes the Trump years, looking in detail at his and his appointees' actions, and extracting seven defining characteristics -- what we term the "seven deadly sins of Trumpery."
Perhaps the most lethal of these is the one that dominated the end of Trump's presidency: the outright "big lie" assault on democracy. Walker, Oz and dozens of other federal, state and local officials have enthusiastically embraced it; in many ways it appears to be the gateway to Trump's endorsement.
Oz, for example, declared at an April debate that "we cannot move on" from the purported fraud in the 2020 election -- despite a lack of evidence of wrongdoing and, indeed, overwhelming proof there was no widespread fraud.
For his part, Walker took to Twitter prolifically in the immediate aftermath of the 2020 election and through early 2021 to claim that the vote was marred by fraud. He has kept it up with a penchant for baseless conspiracy theories.
And those two have had plenty of company, from the likes of gubernatorial candidates such as Kari Lake in Arizona and David Perdue in Georgia, as well as over 80 other candidates for governor, attorney general and secretary of state from coast to coast.
These candidates also evince another hallmark of Trumpery: purveying dishonesty and disinformation. In the case of Oz and Walker, it is not just limited to falsehoods about the 2020 election. They have also shaped their campaigns in Trump's image with a plethora of small and medium-sized falsehoods as well.
For example, Walker was reported to have greatly exaggerated his business record and the success of enterprises he founded. His campaign has disputed the evidence and asserted that stories about this topic are efforts to support his opponent in the Senate race.
Oz claimed that he had "never been politically involved in Turkey in any capacity," even though he voted in the 2018 Turkish election. An Oz spokesperson replied that he had simply been doing humanitarian work in the region and took advantage of the opportunity to vote. Neither that explanation, nor the fact that his primary opponent has attempted to exploit the issue as part of a nativist appeal, fully address the question of dishonesty.
This disregard for truth may seem petty compared to Trump's thousands of falsehoods and misleading statements during his presidency, but it is an ominous sign if these candidates are elected to office.
The Trumpery ticket also is characterized by a disregard for ethics, another pillar of the former President's style. Reporting suggests that Walker's personal financial disclosures are missing information that would indicate to voters whether he would bring any conflicts of interest to the Senate. His campaign has not yet commented on the allegations.
Sound familiar? A separate story indicates that companies Walker has founded or owned have reportedly failed to pay back multiple loans totaling millions of dollars, with his campaign defending his business record in response but not addressing the specific claims of failure to repay loans.
Oz, meanwhile, has exhibited a proclivity for endorsing suspect or outright pseudoscientific medical treatments that raise questions of medical ethics. Like Trump, he pushed hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for Covid-19. Oz's campaign replied that "government," "the corporate media," and "the medical establishment" were stifling debate on untested treatments.
Trump let nothing stand in the way of his personal gain, and that naked greed is also on apparent display among his would-be political heirs. For example, Oz's promotion of unfounded medical cures didn't begin with the pandemic. A group of doctors alleged in 2015 that Oz pushed unproven treatments for various ailments in pursuit of "personal financial gain," and a study a year earlier found that the treatments he plugged on his TV show were based on evidence 46% of the time. In response, Oz questioned the doctors' motives for penning the letter, alleging various forms of bias.
These competitors for Trump's favor have also adopted his propensity for exacerbating our country's social divides to stoke the base. Oz has pinpointed the culture wars as a path to victory, saying at a Trump rally that Republicans have been "walking into these culture war knife fights with index cards."
Instead, Oz argued, they must "go in there with your fists sometimes," evoking the specter of violence at Trump rallies before adding, "metaphorically." Not to be left behind, Walker has maligned Black Lives Matter leaders as "trained Marxists" opposed to American values and insisted that racism no longer affects American society.
Then there is Trumpery's shamelessness. If Walker feels any embarrassment about his utter lack of preparation to be a US senator, he has concealed it well by relying heavily in his pitch to voters upon his athletic prowess and stardom -- rather than on a coherent policy platform or solutions to the nation's ills.
Oz has done him one better: The Ivy League-educated physician has genuine policy positions, but he has brazenly abandoned them. That can be seen in his flip-flop on abortion, along with recent reversals on other topics, such as his prior "reflections on systemic racism and how it leads to disparities in health outcomes, and his discussions on how to reduce deaths and injuries from guns," according to The Guardian. Every politician changes positions, but Oz is taking it to a whole other level.
A final characteristic of Trumpery, and close kin to the attacks on democracy with which we began, is contempt for the rule of law.
Walker's ex-wife has accused him of being physically and verbally abusive to her, according to an Associated Press report, citing court records, and she told ABC News that at one point in their marriage he held a gun to her head. Walker has said that he is "accountable" for these violent episodes, that he was suffering from mental illness at the time and offered details in a book about his mental health. But recent reporting has challenged some aspects of his account. His campaign says that he "emphatically denies these false claims."
Oz, meanwhile, has been flagged by experts as a potential national security risk, given his alleged ties to the Turkish government and business elites. He has chalked up his connections to these strata of Turkish society to his level of celebrity and has sought to frame his ties to Turkey as part of his family story. Oz also rejected the assertion that Turkey's president would have any sway over him.
But all this behavior is no worse than their exemplar's constitutionally prohibited foreign emoluments -- that is, payments to Trump's properties by foreign entities posing a direct conflict to our national interest. Trump denied any wrongdoing, saying that "the President can't have a conflict of interest," but the courts allowed litigation over the matter to proceed during his term in office. (It was dismissed as moot after the end of his presidency.)
The American people resoundingly rejected Trumpery at the ballot box in 2020. As we explain in "Overcoming Trumpery," that contest was in part a referendum on this corrupt style of governance. Trumpery is on the ballot again in 2022. Exposing that is an important part of clarifying the choice our nation faces.