Sometimes what's old becomes new again, and we find ourselves in this surreal moment with respect to Herschel Walker, former football player turned candidate for the U.S. Senate. For some time, and even up to a few days ago when I began drafting this piece, I was convinced that he had agreed to run for the Senate because he was so flattered by the attention it garnered. Other than his recent reality show appearances and mixed martial arts bouts, the last time he heard his name this much on television must have been back in his prime football-playing days in the 80s. To give you an idea of how long ago that was, it was back when Ronald Reagan was President, Johnny Carson was the king of late night, and the most scandalous thing on TV were those Where's the Beef commercials.
Perhaps it was a flawed hypothesis, much like our childhood naiveté that rival gangs in New York City settled turf wars through break-dancing. It isn't flattery or nostalgia that explains how Herschel Walker is still a viable candidate in spite of the credible allegations of his intimate partner violence, chronic absentee fatherhood, and abortion payments to his mistresses. It is something much more cynical that puts Walker on track to pulling off the biggest upset in politics if he manages to beat the good Reverend Senator Raphael Warnock next month.
There are all kinds of memes and humorous takes I could post to illustrate my thoughts on this match-up, but we don't need to laugh at the prospect of a Senator Walker. We need to be terrified and motivated to do everything possible to ensure otherwise. Sure, it is expected that we would poke fun at his gaffes and insane "theories" about climate change and electric cars, but fun time is over. November is coming and the polls are tied. We are literally at that point where Walker could shoot someone on Peachtree Street in front of the historic Margaret Mitchell Home and it would not have any negative impact on his electoral chances.USFL and that Herschel Walker was once one of its marquee players? And did you also remember that one Donald J. Trump, the former DESPOTUS, was an owner in that enterprise? If so, then here is your prize: a vintage copy of JET magazine.
Because that is how I remember being introduced to Walker in the 80s, before I moved to Georgia for college. We didn't follow college football growing up, so I read about him in JET when he went pro before graduating. We couldn't see his games because he was in a different television market (and unlike watching NFL games today, you could only see your local team). And I sort of remember this McDonald's commercial. Although I pride myself on my memory of random popular culture factoids that no one else typically stores for future reference, it took reading a few articles and seeing this video to recall just how far back and entangled Herschel Walker and Donald Trump are (listen closely around 1:38).
That shed a different light on everything such that I believe there is a lot more happening with this Senate campaign than just a couple of rich guys getting their egos stroked. Some people will compromise everything to access and maintain power. EVERYTHING. We learned this lesson the hard way in 2016 and saw a violent demonstration of that on January 6, 2021, no doubt intensified over the loss of this very Senate seat since Warnock was declared the winner that morning.
We underestimate what drives Trumposaurus Rex to destroy everything in his wake, which is his intent even in this election. I just watched that documentary about him, Unfit (2020) and while I have no psychoanalytic expertise to offer, I came away from that feeling profound relief that 84 million votes had prevailed in saving this country from annihilation. But that respite is tempered by the reality that he hasn't gone away and that he is still hellbent on destruction if he doesn't get what he wants.
Even if you are not old enough to remember much about football in the 80s (other than the Superbowl Shuffle), then reading up on the history of the short-lived USFL provides one of many clear examples of Trump's vengeful impulses. Legend has it that in 1981 Trump expressed interest in buying the Baltimore Colts but was rebuffed by Robert Irsay, the team owner at that time. He then bought the New Jersey Generals, part of the nascent USFL, a league that offered football in the Spring. After a disastrous meeting with then-NFL Commissioner Peter Rozelle, Trump persuaded the other owners in the USFL to move the season to the Fall to compete head on with the NFL. He also filed an antitrust suit that ultimately bankrupted and shuttered the fledgling league.
While he has not succeeded in destroying the NFL yet, just give him time. Anyone else similarly humiliated and exposed as a liar and grifter in court like that would have slunked away in shame, but not Trump. He spent the subsequent decades plastering his name on everything from casinos to office buildings, making cameos on television and in movies, and marrying his mistresses, before barging into politics. He left plenty of carnage in his wake with those other endeavors too. Thus, when his recent bids for NFL ownership were rejected again, he used the bully pulpit of the Presidency to savage its players and taunt the owners. He used the NFL as a proxy for his culture war, characterizing its workforce (primarily Black men) as ungrateful and taunting the team owners (all white men) as feckless.
That Jim Lampley interview from 1985 referenced a personal service contract between Walker and Trump, into which Walker was allegedly locked until 1989. But since the League folded and Walker was picked up by the Cowboys in 1986, who wonders what transpired behind the scenes to have kept Walker so loyal all of these years? And having lost the Presidency due to his fragile ego and stunning hubris, Trump is exactly the kind of megalomaniac to lob a few heat-seeking missiles at the government and its institutions. This is Trump meeting with Peter Rozelle all over again, except this time his nemesis is Mitch McConnell and the GOP establishment, who regarded him as little more than a useful idiot. And just as he did with the USFL, Trump will gladly burn the entire system down.
Enter Herschel Walker, one of Trump's many useful idiots bringing the firewood.
Walker and Trump have a lot more in common than just a shared love of football, their mistreatment of women, and being inveterate liars. Walker stuck by Trump even when it wasn't lucrative for him, as he admitted in this interview back in 2016. I don't have the psychoanalytic skills to diagnose the intensity of his narcissism either, but I'm guessing that it must be on par with Trump's. How else to explain that he knew how many numerous skeletons were hiding in his closet, yet agreed to run for office anyway? And before anyone feels sorry for Christian Walker for opening Pandora's Box on his father's myriad sins, consider how being Herschel Walker's gay conservative son built him a verified social media following. Methinks somebody's money got funny.
We've had men of bad character serve at every level of government (actual slaveowners), so this isn't some sanctimonious diatribe. To be fair, Herschel Walker isn't even the worst of the lot that Trump has chosen to carry his standard into battle; he just happens to be the most famous. So if it helps, I can denounce Mehmet Oz, J.D. Vance, Blake Masters, and every other Trump-aligned candidate with the same broad brush. They are all terrible and would be disasters if elected to the Senate. If you need any proof, just look at Sen. Tommy Tuberville's racist rant about crime and reparations and how that revelation of his true character stunned and hurt many his former Black players. Lest we forget, Trump's original choice for that Alabama Senate seat was accused pedophile Roy Moore.
As my Spelman sister argued in this opinion piece, there were better choices if the intention was to pit two Black men against each other. Of course, since Trump killed Herman Cain back in 2020, his pool of options shrank by one, but what about Vernon Jones? I wouldn't vote for him, but the goal was never for someone like me to be
tricked convinced to supporting someone like him just because he is Black. It was to provide cover for white folks who bristle at being called racist, but who under normal circumstances would never vote for a Black Senator unless he had been a Heisman trophy winning UGA Bulldog.
Therefore, I will not attack Walker's intellect or his extracurricular shortcomings as disqualifiers for public office. Instead, my issue is that it is the combination of his lack of integrity, moral character, and intellect make him a dangerous risk for the Senate. I think back to just a few months ago when this same body deliberated the confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson for the Supreme Court, a lifetime judicial appointment. The irony that her job history--having been a defense attorney and advocate for sentencing reform, is what almost derailed her nomination. No one is raising concerns about Walker's career in sports, but we are questioning his personal character. It confounds logic that a man who physically abused his wife and child could be considered fit for a position where it would be his duty to give advice and consent on the qualifications of others, especially women, to serve in a co-equal branch of government. I wouldn't be any more inclined to vote for him if he were running for a seat in the House of Representatives, but at the very least the damage he could do is minimized in a legislative body where he would be one out of 435.
Finally, there is the issue of re-platforming Donald Trump in national politics by default. Hopefully after the evidence just offered at the January 6th hearings, he won't be able to run in 2024 from prison; however, installing his minions throughout the government is akin to allowing the cancer to metastasize and spread. He has already done significant damage to our democracy with all of the imps and trolls who have overtaken the GOP as well as the unqualified judicial appointments from his tenure in office. There is no use in trying to contain Trump because as any oncologist will tell you, even a controlled cancer can be lethal. The tumor must be surgically removed, zapped with radiation, and then poisoned with chemotherapy. And it can still recur, so we may never be rid of this evil man until the Rapture.
But we can fight like hell to rebuild a stronger democracy. We can hold out hope that something redeemable from the Grand Old Party of Lincoln can be found under the layers of rubble and ruin. I may never agree with them, but in a flourishing democracy, diversity of thought and ideas are how we progress. One party rule that stifles dissent and rebuffs compromise is authoritarianism. Trump is a fascist, and useful idiots like Walker and Tuberville are no different than SS soldiers wearing those red hats instead of armbands.
To make use of a few final pop culture references from the 80s, I pity the fool who doesn't believe that we are one to two Senate seats away from disaster. Donald Trump doesn't care about anyone but himself and like his James Bond villain doppelganger Max Zorin, he'll sacrifice anything and anybody. He's made threats to instigate more chaos once he's indicted, so his next coup attempt is already underway, aided and abetted by a cabal of abusive womanizers, tax cheats, racists, and charlatans. Debates over face masks, gas prices, and solar panels won't matter if our country descends into an actual civil war...over face masks, gas prices, and solar panels. Our disagreements over how to address those issues aren't tests of our love of country. The only reason why Walker made it this far as a viable candidate is his connection to Trump, so a vote for him is a vote that endorses the notion that our best days are behind us. I am no fan of Ronald Reagan, but growing up, it was his allusion to America as a shining city on a hill that inspires me to always work for the improvement of all. So please, reject Trumpism and his let's win one for the Gipper.