Drugs, Despair, and Trump

Battle Creek, Michigan

I didn’t intend to write about Trump, or politics, when I set out in a car to travel 100,000 miles around the US. I was writing about addiction and poverty.

What I saw was huge parts of US, more than reported, was filling with drugs. And where there was drug there was despair.

Dundalk, Maryland

How that despair was being rendered — how the accompanying humiliation expressed — — was different by race, class, and geography.

For poor minority communities the despair was defined and heightened by structural racism (unequal access to everything) that had long been present.

Lewiston, Maine

For working class whites the current despair was also about unequal access to most everything, but it was more focused and defined by differences in education.

They were the “back-row kids” — they didn’t have much of an education beyond high school, and lived in towns without many elite college graduates. (Definition of front-row vs back-row in footnotes)

And over the last 30 years their jobs prospects, earnings, and communities have been devalued and destroyed.

Frustrated and upset, they were then told they had white privilege. They were told this — often lectured about it — by those with elite educations — the front-row kids.

Yes, relative to working class blacks working class whites have lots of privilege. But they were not comparing themselves to them, but instead to the front-row kids lecturing them! And compared to the front-row kids they didn’t seem to have any privilege. If anything they saw it the other way around.

Wise, Virginia

As one white guy (jobless, living in trailer, in rehab) said to me, “Look at what all my fucking privilege has gotten for my ass!

When that despair, a predictable result of trauma (loss of community IS a trauma), turned to addiction. More stigma came their communities way!

There came the usual scolds — — drugs are just for the weak — — something minorities have had to deal with for decades.

There also came a nasty wave of scolding from the “Liberal media elite”. Some of the most very most front-row kids.

Feeling cut off, and offered a wave of insulting advice (“Just move!”), the whole communities were further humiliated. And angry.

That is where I first saw Trumps message really entering. White hoods in despair, with folks feeling humiliated. Lashing out.

Lewiston, Maine

Trump didn’t mock them. He didn’t lecture them. He acknowledged the frustration, and then sold them cheap pride.

Respect. That want for being valued part of something bigger than themselves. Trump was the first presidential candidate to address that.

So I read about the continued increases in overdoses and suicides in working class whites and get even more depressed. Because I count myself a progressive. I like the front-row kids (I am one!). And I don’t like Trump!

Yet until we stop only yelling “white privilege” and really address the despair Acknowledge it as real. Understand it viscerally. Understand we are partly responsible for it.

Dubuque, Iowa

And we acknowledge the solutions are not necessarily “rational”. That truly valuing faith can play a large role.

Until we front-row kids get out of our comfortable bubbles (Yes. cliche. But sometimes they are right) The despair will continue. And we will all lose.

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PS: My definition of Front-row kids vs Back-row kids

A simpler look at this: Divided by Meaning

Yell at me on twitter here: Chris_Arnade

This piece lack nuance? Too oversimplified? Here are my longer pieces: Chris Arnade at Guardian