So much has been said about Herschel Walker’s gross incompetency as he takes aim at securing a seat in the U.S. Senate. As I looked at the recent nail-biter polling – Walker and incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock are even at 46.4% on Thursday night – my first thought was: How could this race be this close?
Then, I felt enormous shame for this country. A place my family and I, Nigerian immigrants who became naturalized citizens more than 20 years ago, have always viewed as a symbol of true democracy. A country where we proclaim justice and freedom and fight fiercely to uphold those signature markers. A nation fervently striving, still, for common decency.
But in recent years, there has been a trend away from these American hallmark qualities. Since the rise of Donald Trump, the pursuit and upkeep of democracy is slipping away before our eyes, morphing into his vision of totalitarianism by way of misinformation indoctrination. Walker’s ascending candidacy, endorsed by Trump, has proved just that.
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Here is a verifiable unqualified man following the same playbook of the former, similarly inept president who willfully and gleefully incited a takedown of democracy on Jan. 6, 2021, and God help us all, Walker may just break through in Georgia.
Shame on you, America
Much like Trump with the presidency, when Walker threw his hat into the Senate race, people scoffed at the idea. There was no way a man who can barely form a coherent sentence could convince reasonable citizens that he, over a well-respected, educated pastor, was the better choice. And, much like Trump, I strongly doubt, given his rambling speeches and cringe gaffes, that Walker knows what the Constitution is, let alone grasp his duties to protect it.
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The requirements to run for Senate ought to be more than that, no? The actual prerequisite is that the nominee must be 30, a U.S. citizen and a resident of the state. That’s it.
Perhaps after this embarrassment of a candidate and the slew of election deniers we’ve seen throw their hats into races, we ought to have stricter rules. Perhaps testing their knowledge of the Constitution? The founding of democracy? A standard qualifier that serves as a screening of those seeking to be responsible for preserving America’s self-governing system.
And no, neither Walker’s former quick feet on the field of the University of Georgia (where he did not graduate) and later in the NFL nor his Heisman Trophy are qualifications.
And not his faith. With 64% of Americans practicing the faith, Christianity is the dominant religion in the nation. In Georgia, among the most religious states, 80% of the population practices the faith. It’s a con people like Walker have realized help their candidacy, and voters, mostly white evangelicals, are none the wiser.
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Similar to Trump, who before the presidential election had an audio leaked where he bragged about sexual assaults and his pervasive objectification of women, yet, voters – overwhelmingly, white evangelicals – overlooked this, and this man who knew and knows nothing about American democracy, the Constitution and the urgent need to protect it became president because … God. Because religion. Shame on you, America.
Token Black puppet of the GOP
This, I’m afraid, is the Republicans’ new playbook. Bad people behaving badly has become on brand with American conservatism.
And much like Trump taking the highest office in the land, Walker could follow suit in Georgia. A man prone to violent outbursts, with a track record of domestic violence and sexual abuse, who once talked about “having a shoot-out with police” and threatened his former wife’s life with a gun, is who Georgians see as the best man to represent them in the U.S. Senate? A man who flashed a phony law enforcement badge as a campaign prop? The token Black puppet of the GOP who doesn’t know the supreme law of the land from the Bill of Rights, who, because of a famous name, has voters seriously thinking, yes, he can represent the state because he’s run down a football field?
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Walker symbolizes the stereotyped Black man, forever misunderstood. He’s being paraded around by GOP leaders as a pervasive caricature of who Black Americans, specifically men, have been typecast to be – illiterate, lazy, only good at being an athlete, absent father and a dunce. And he wears it like a prize. And Georgia voters – predominantly white Americans – love all of it. This is the kind of Black candidate they want – the antithesis of Warnock.
That is exactly what the GOP has been banking on. Walker resembles Warnock in skin tone alone but is an empty vessel – an instrument they can contort to get Republicans one more vote in the Senate. It’s all about the vote.
A threat of fascism swirling
To be clear, this is not a knock on American conservatism. American conservatism is intended to preserve the principles of this nation and its Founding Fathers. Founders who were rebelling against tyranny.
Now, conservatism is synonymous with tyrannical oppressors and criminals.
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It’s a stain, like Walker’s candidacy and ascent, on America’s storied legacy that has long been the pride of many. For immigrants like me, knowing that America is our beacon of hope and a land of endless opportunities, we fight to hold on to what America has always symbolized. A hope-against-hope type of faith in its still-young democracy, remembering still and always what the fight up to this point has been for. When ill-equipped, dishonest people like Walker threaten America’s path forward with their baseless candidacy, it fractures the hard-fought foundation of this country.
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Trump’s presidency cracked open this setback. Since then, there has been a threat of fascism swirling. If this trajectory of tyranny and misinformation continues, the regression is far worse than any of us could’ve imagined. Just this year alone, we’ve seen glimpses of it: the reversal of Roe v. Wade, and the legal challenges to same-sex marriage, contraception and affirmative action.
It’s a stain on America’s legacy that we’ve allowed election deniers, demonstrated idiots and outright criminals to hold any power. Walker may very well become the U.S. senator of Georgia, and that’s on you – on us – America.
Rita Omokha, an adjunct at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, is an award-winning Nigerian American journalist and essayist.