OPED: When professionals sell out, we get a president like Trump
When he was 16, Friedrich Trump, President Trump’s grandfather, fled mandatory military service in the German Imperial Army. Having decided he was too weak to serve, Trump slunk off to North America around 1885. Now it appears that Trump’s father, Fred, took pains to pass Friedrich’s moral cowardice on to Donald.
In 1968, according to the New York Times, Fred may have struck a draft-dodging deal for Donald with one of his tenants, Larry Braunstein, a podiatrist. Braunstein’s daughters remember their father saying he diagnosed Trump with bone spurs as a “favor” to his landlord. The diagnosis won Trump a medical exemption from the draft during the Vietnam War.
Corrupting doctors is something of a leitmotif of Trump’s history. Remember Dr. Harold “Sweetheart, this is Watergate” Bornstein? Dr. Ronny “Candy Man” Jackson? They’re not unlike the president’s iffy lawyers: Marc “Watch Your Back” Kasowitz, Michael “I’m Going To Come At You” Cohen, and Rudolph “Truth Isn’t Truth” Giuliani.
Doctors and lawyers, along with clergy, architects and engineers, are members of what used to be quaintly called “the professions.” Unlike a real estate promoter who runs casinos into the ground, heads up a fake university and promiscuously sells his ignoble name, professionals are expected to stand for something higher than profit. Many swear oaths in their fields. And they can lose their standing if they violate their profession’s ethical tenets.
For professionals, shirking duties and dancing around fraud is not — as Trump claimed about his history of avoiding taxes — “smart.”
But people with JDs and MDs can be seduced, too. And the president has succeeded time and time again in getting professionals to throw over their integrity just to curry favor with him. In fact, it appears to be a Trump specialty.
When Trump announced his candidacy in 2015, he looked not entirely well: bulky, inarticulate, quick to anger, pocked. The one-sheet health report he made public that year did little to allay concerns.
Signed by Dr. Harold Bornstein, a gastroenterologist who had also treated Trump’s father, the letter praised Trump’s health as superhuman, employing the hyperbolic doggerel we’re now used to hearing from the president himself: “If elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.”
Unequivocally — and signed by a doctor in good standing, with a medical degree from Tufts.
After Bornstein’s office was raided by Trump’s bodyguard, the doctor admitted what most people had guessed. “I did not write that letter,” Bornstein told CNN. “He dictated the whole letter.” He also pronounced that, in his medical opinion: “Sweetheart, this is Watergate, goodbye!”
A year or so later, Trump made public more personal medical information. The doctor seemed beyond reproach. Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson had already served as the White House physician during the Obama presidency. But when he briefed reporters it was just as surreal as Bornstein’s letter. Jackson claimed the 6-foot-3, 239-pound Trump “might live to be 200,” and that he had “incredibly good genes.” (No mention of bone spurs here.)
Jackson’s apparent reward was a nomination to the Cabinet. Under scrutiny, his Navy regalia didn’t look so polished. Nearly two dozen colleagues came forward with allegations that Jackson had liberally doled out sleeping pills, opiates and stimulants. He was also said to have created a hostile work environment, allegedly getting drunk on the job. He denied wrongdoing.
Medicine is disgraced when doctors let themselves be used, or lie. And the law is similarly disgraced when attorneys turn into flacks and fixers.
Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s unpaid TV lawyer, is a caricature of the type. Pro bono, he rants and raves on Trump’s behalf — a pit bull for Trump’s id, sometimes implicating his own client and pulverizing his reputation as a lawyer in hopes of what? A pat on the back from his client? How in the world can this be worth it?
Marc Kasowitz, Trump’s former personal lawyer on the Trump-Russia investigation, resigned in 2017 after it was reported that he might have both a drinking problem and Kremlin-tied clients, including the oligarch Oleg V. Deripaska, patron to Trump’s now-jailed campaign manager Paul Manafort. Kasowitz’s charming, expletive-studded late-night emails warning a stranger to “watch your back” also made him look like a low-level mob lawyer.
And then there’s Michael Cohen. Where Giuliani and Kasowitz have decent track records as attorneys, Cohen, now cooperating with the Office of the Special Counsel, mostly just had Trump. He confessed to paying off Trump’s alleged mistresses, and lying to Congress to help the president. Now that Cohen’s headed to prison, he should be a warning to other professionals: If you’re caught selling out, you’ll take a fall.
Bill Browder, financier and human rights activist — the tireless advocate for the Magnitsky Act — considers these corrupted professionals “enablers” because they pave the way for what Cohen called the “dirty deeds” of figures like Deripaska and Trump.
When our current national nightmare is over, if it ever is, everyone — from doctors and lawyers to PR firms and lobbyists — who enabled the bad guys must face their own reckoning.