Posted Thursday evening, April 27, 2017.
They just can’t quit each other. Photo by Evan Vucci courtesy AP via Salon.
The opioid crisis is real. The Trump administration’s intention to deal with it is probably not.
Or no more real than anything our President sets his mind to. It’s clear---or should be clear by now---that Trump can’t set his mind to anything, not even to his main passion, making money. He picks up thoughts, holds onto them for a little while, then drops them when something else catches his attention or he discovers that the actual work required to put the thought into action is beyond him or will take more time and energy than he feels like putting into it. Sometimes he comes back to a dropped idea. Sometimes he doesn’t. He’s driven like a leaf before the wind by appetite, ego, vanity, and whim, so it’s as the mood takes him. He even seems to be losing interest in his big, beautiful Wall. But he knows the opioid crisis is one of those issues he should be concerned about because it’s devastating people in "Trump Country" and he's concerned about keeping their votes, so:
On March 29, President Trump held a listening session on drugs and opioid abuse, where recovering addicts and the mother of an addict who overdosed after nearly a year clean spoke about their experiences. On the heels of the session, Trump signed his executive order forming a Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. The commission, headed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, will study the issue and come up with advice for the administration. They’ll file an interim report by late June and final recommendations by Oct. 1.
Sounds like Trump went on to use his “listening” session to make others listen to him mouth off about immigrants, but here’s what I want to know.
I understand why Chris Christie, a grateful beneficiary of the wheels of justice grinding exceedingly slowly, clings to Trump. He’s going to need a real job soon and possibly a presidential pardon. But why does Trump keep him around? I’m impressed and surprised by Trump’s continued loyalty to the jamoke. Trump isn’t known for being loyal to anyone beyond his immediate family. If he has anybody like a close friend the media hasn’t identified him yet. But here’s Christie, still hanging around. Is it a Gaston and LeFou thing? The big bully needs to have the worshipful little sycophant nearby to applaud his every move and tell him how big and strong and handsome he is?
A mystery for the historians and biographers to unravel. Christie seems to exert an inexplicable hold on people. At one point, and it was not that long ago, right up until the New Hampshire primary, members of the political press corps couldn’t quit Christie either, although in that dynamic they made themselves LeFous to Christie’s Gaston.
At any rate, Trump’s commission is unlikely to accomplish much except give Christie something to do beside run out to McDonald’s to pick up lunch. This is one of those all for show moves that any and all political leaders pull to make it look like they’re dealing with a problem they don’t really know how to deal with and don’t have the time or money to put into it if they did, and for all the good it will do, they might as well be honest about it and call it the Commission to Keep Chris Christie Nominally Employed and Sort of in the Public Eye But Out of Our Hair and Out of Trouble Until We Come Up With Some Real Work For Him to Do or He’s Indicted, Whichever Comes First.
Like I would know. I have barely more than a Breaking Bad-level of understanding of what’s going on out there---and around here, actually. Our snug little corner of the county is happy and prosperous, but we’re surrounded by the kind of depressed rural areas where the crisis is breaking at its baddest---so I have nothing more substantial to offer except a heartfelt “ain’t it a shame?” But I expect that If the problem’s going to be solved, it’ll probably be by the states and then it will depend on the competency and commitment of the governors and state health and law enforcement officials and the relative dysfunctionality of the state legislatures.
If it goes the way the "War on Drugs" has gone in the past, which it probably will, the federal response is going to be a combination of high-minded posturing, Malthusian neglect---hoping the problem solves itself by attrition---and some token amounts of money tossed to the states, mostly earmarked for hiring more cops and building more jails.
Frost may have been right that there’s something in nature that doesn’t love a wall, but if there is, whatever it is, it’s not in essence Republican. Republicans love walls. Building walls, physical and symbolic, is their prefered solution to every problem that can’t be solved by blowing things up, physically and symbolically. The new and improved health care plan builds higher walls between the healthy and the sick and the rich and everybody else. It’s just a question of whether they’re walling in or walling out. I expect that if the Republicans ever do get around to tackling the problem, they’ll do it by walling in as many addicts as fast as they can build prisons to wall them up in.
This means a lot of Trump voters will either be going to jail themselves or watching their friends and relatives hauled off the prison by the busload. It’s just a matter of time before the Republican elites successfully Other those people. Trump voters shouldn’t think they’re immune from Othering just because they’re white. Human beings generally are pretty good at Othering each other and Republicans have been at it as a matter of policy and as a formula for political success for a long time now and they’ve gotten to be experts at it. It’s pretty much all they are expert at anymore. And Trump voters should keep in mind that the reason most of them voted for him was his talent for Othering.
I think the Othering has already begun. It’s in the Republicans’ health care plan with the (they think) hidden permission they’ve given insurance companies to not cover pre-existing conditions by making it too expensive for people with those conditions to afford coverage. And bad backs, blown knees, on the job injuries that take a long time to heal if they ever really heal, workplace induced diseases and cancers are pre-existing conditions that afflict blue collar workers who are economically anxious in places like York, Pennsylvania at a much higher rate than they do people who cheerfully employed in the global economy in offices in big blue cities like San Francisco. Plus, Trump’s voters skew older and aging is a pre-existing condition.
And it’s there in the (again they think) hidden permission given to the insurance companies to not cover treatment for mental illness. Addiction in itself is a mental illness but I believe that what we’re seeing with the opioid crisis is the same as what we’ve seen with addictions to other drugs and alcohol---people with mental health problems self-medicating. There’s plenty of evidence that depression is epidemic in the parts of the country that went hard for Trump. But the mentally ill were othered long before Trump and Paul Ryan came along. Which contributes to the problem. People who are hurting are ashamed to seek treatment. They don’t want to be Other.
Back in the summer of 2015 when he was running for president and people were still paying attention to him, Rand Paul Othered working people with disabilities and mental health problems, dismissing them as malingerers. He used that word. Malingerers. They weren’t really incapable of working. They just didn’t want to, he said.
Over half of the people on disability are either anxious or their back hurts — join the club. Who doesn’t get a little anxious for work and their back hurts? Everybody over 40 has a back pain.
Paul, an avowed libertarian is supposedly not a typical Republican. Trump’s supposedly not a typical Republican either. But they are typical Republicans in their ability to Other people that cost the rich money and in their eagerness to throw those people to the wolves.
“You’re sick? You’re in pain? You’re poor? You’re getting old? You’re alone? You’re afraid? Well, that’s too bad. But what’s it to me? Oh, you don’t have the money to see a doctor, go to the grocery store, pay your rent and you need some help? You know what that makes you, don’t you?”
“One of THEM!”
I know. Depressing. Heather Yakin’s column in our local paper isn’t going to cheer you up. But you should read it. It gives an idea of how people who are trying to deal with the problem by doing more than setting up commissions are going about it. Follow the link to No time to waste in opiod crisis at the Times Herald-Record.