Drugs and Trump
If a country, state, county, or community is filling with drugs it is a sign that things are very wrong.
It is a sign that some people — folks no different in aggregate than those anyplace else — have given up hope.
Addiction isn’t outright suicide, but it is close. As Bernice, addicted to crack since 14, told me while hustling in the Hunts Point neighborhood of the Bronx: “I am out here trying to kill myself. I want to get a gun and do it faster, but I am too scared to blow my head off.”
When I asked her to describe herself in one sentence, she said “I am a wounded person.”
Addiction is often that. A mark of someone wounded. When it reaches epidemic levels, it is a mark of wounded communities. Of deep structural problems.
This is well understood by working class Black and Latino communities, who have long born the brunt of the trauma that comes hand in hand with poverty and racism.
They have long known the frustration of growing up feeling excluded. Feeling everything is stacked against you from day one, and then KNOWING that it is as you mature. A sense that everyone and everything — the schools, the legal system, the job market — has failed you. A sense of not feeling part of the larger fabric of society. It makes drugs an easy and alluring option to numb the accompanying pain.
Now that broader frustration, and the drugs that follow it, are hitting many middle- and lower-class white communities. And the results are starting to become just as awful.
Penny Stringfield was born into a working-class neighborhood in Binghamton, New York, and raised her sons there. “I grew up four blocks from this church. I raised Johny four blocks from this church. He went to Sunday school, sang in the choir in this church, and then I buried him in this church.” Johny died of an overdose at the age of 24 .
Penny is one of the many mothers I have met across this country who lost their children to drugs. In any community I go to, especially lower income communities — white, black, hispanic, whatever —everyone knows someone who has died because of drugs. A friend. A relative. A congregant. The pain and impact is visceral.
That pain is also changing our national politics.
I never intended to write about Trump. I was writing about drugs, yet whenever I was in a white community filling with drugs I saw Trump support. Wherever I saw hope leaving a white neighborhood, I saw drugs and Trump entering.
That connection is something I wrote about before and shortly after the election.
It is something academics have seen in the data post election (and noted before as well.) Like Shannon Monnat:
So when I look at our country and I see Trump as president. I am not surprised. The increase in addiction in this country is more than a canary in the coal mine. It is smart people choosing to march right into the coal mine even knowing the canary has died. It is about people making reckless decisions with their lives.
People don’t make reckless decisions because things are going well. They make them because they have reached a breaking point. They are desperate enough to trying anything new. Especially if it offers escape, or a glimmer of hope. Even false hope.
That might mean drugs. Politically that might mean breaking the system. Especially if you think the system is not working for you. And viewed from much of the America the system doesn’t work. The factories are gone. Families are falling apart. Social networks are frayed.
The sources of meaning have been eroded, and now people are desperately trying to find meaning in other ways.
I am not sure what the answer to all of this is. I certainly don’t believe it is Trump. But I believe the answer requires first understanding the frustrations in this country that have driven many people turn to drugs.
Understanding why so many people would choose something they know is just a way of slowly “trying to kill” themselves.
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Some other pieces by me
Photos (and stories) from the Hunts Point neighborhood in the Bronx: Faces of Addiction