[Note: The subject matter of this essay is too urgent to spend months of time researching and analyzing. I have spoken to the items I know, and linked to sources for those in which I am either not an expert or not otherwise experienced. The subject matter might also need to be fully addressed in a book-length piece, which, again, I do not currently have time for. Please extend a little grace given the need for timeliness. Thank you.]
This coming November will mark eight years of sobriety for me, God willing. Sliding into my alcoholic abyss, wrecking everything in my life, and then slowly climbing back out took a few years prior to that as well, so I lived in the mindset of an active addict for a number of years before I was able to more or less put it behind me.
In the time since I started my recovery journey, I have sponsored other addicts, spoken to hundreds or thousands of people on their own recovery journeys, and done substantial study and personal work. I have also been a speaker at a number of meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous (“AA”), AA gatherings, and more recently I have been a guest speaker at a university course on addiction and substance abuse. I’ve spoken for the last 10 consecutive semesters in that course, and it has substantially broadened my opportunities to speak with (and learn from) addicts and non-addicts alike.
I mention all this to reinforce the assertion that addiction is a subject about which I am an expert — not as a researcher, but as one who has deep personal experience with a subject. I’ve never felt myself as much an expert in any other area of study or experience as I do with addiction — likely because I have lived it for as much of my life as I can remember. But not until a recent opportunity to discuss the behavior of addicts with some non-alcoholic friends of mine did I see the correlation between addict behavior and the behavior of many Trump supporters — behavior which causes me so much angst.
I don’t intend to paint with too broad a brush here; I cannot speak about everyone who voted for Donald Trump in 2016, nor those who will do so this coming November. But I do intend to speak about the supporters and promoters of White Supremacy Culture who are also Donald Trump supporters. White Supremacy Culture is a defined and knowable phenomenon with observable patterns and behaviors that are indicative of its presence. (See a generous list of concepts and resources at “Whiteness and White Privilege” by RacialEquityTools.org) It is not new, and it is not elusive; on the contrary, it is everywhere.
Here is a good definition to use as a starting point for understanding what is meant by the term “White Supremacy Culture”:
“White supremacy culture is an artificial, historically constructed culture which expresses, justifies and binds together the United States white supremacy system. It is the glue that binds together white-controlled institutions into systems and white-controlled systems into the global white supremacy system.”
(Sharon Martinas, from the “Challenging White Supremacy Workshop,” http://www.cwsworkshop.org/. For more great definitions and sources regarding racial equity, check out the Racial Equity Tools glossary at https://www.racialequitytools.org/glossary.)
To see how White Supremacy Culture shows up in the world around us, you needn’t look too far. Here is a short selection from a longer list of characteristics of White Supremacy Culture:
- Sense of urgency
- Only one right way
- Either/or thinking
- Right to comfort
The list continues on. (For examples and antidotes to these and other White Supremacy Culture characteristics, see The Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture, or go straight to the source: “Dismantling Racism: A Workbook for Social Change Groups,” by Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun.)
Many people won’t see these characteristics in themselves. Those are the people who have the most work to do. There are many resources available, just a scant few of which I have already linked to.
Since the death of George Floyd earlier this year, many of us have been taking in large volumes of information about the history, study, and methods of both seeing systemic racism, and supporting racial equity. But it wasn’t until the recent death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg (and the immediate proclamation by Senator Mitch McConnell that the Senate Republicans would ignore the rule they set the last time a Supreme Court Justice needed replacing during an election year) that these ideas — of the connections between White Supremacy Culture, addiction, and Trump-supporting behavior — congealed for me: White Supremacy Culture is addicted to Donald Trump (and what he enables and represents).
One of the best definitions of addiction I have ever seen comes from a story in the fourth edition of the book “Alcoholics Anonymous.” In the fantastic story entitled “Window of Opportunity” (which, somewhat hilariously, is the title of Newt Gingrich’s book from 1984), the author notes on page 423 that
“[O]ne of the primary differences between alcoholics and nonalcoholics is that nonalcoholics change their behavior to meet their goals and alcoholics change their goals to meet their behavior.”
Read that quote again.
As an addict, my default programming encourages me to change my goals to support my behavior, and rationalizes that goal-shifting as necessary given the circumstances. That’s how I always went from “I’ll only drink on weekends” to drinking every day; I wanted to drink more than three days per week, so I made up excuses and used specific circumstances as a basis for altering my goals. That way I wasn’t failing — I was meeting the mark.
I was born during the Carter administration, so obviously I remember nothing of it. My first memories of political figures in the United States were formed during the Reagan administration, but I still didn’t grasp the impact of politics generally, much less the framing, messaging, posturing, and gamesmanship that occurs all day, every day. But about the time the Republican party began painting itself as the “family values” party, I was old enough to see the messages and cognize the arguments behind the rhetoric — understanding that the goals were not simply lowering taxes and keeping government out of the way.
Since then, I have watched the Republican party undergo an incredible metamorphosis from the “family values” party in the early to mid-1990s, to the Christian conservatives and religious right of the George W. Bush years, and then a steady descent through the Tea Party Conservatives into the party of Trump.
Despite largely disagreeing with my fellow citizens on the Right, from the Republicans’ self-proclamation as the party of family values (which, by the way, the Republican party still uses as a tagline) through the end of the second Bush presidency, it was my understanding that Republican supporters at least claimed a solid basis for their convictions. For many, that basis lies in religion — particularly Christianity, which clearly has a much longer history than that of the Republican party. “The Republican party,” their line generally went, “aligns with my religious values, so that is who I vote for and support.” While that seemed not to be totally aligned at times, it was at least a plausible basis for right-wing political stances.
But that religious basis for supporting the Republican party has steadily eroded, becoming blatantly obvious around the time that the United States’ first Black president was elected. The righteousness was replaced by anger, and the barbed words replaced by guns and open threats of violence. There was a sudden and unmistakable threat to the maintenance of White Supremacy Culture in the United States, and those who benefit the most from White Supremacy Culture would not let the source of their power dissipate.
To maintain that power, the old rules needed to be broken; they were no longer serving to maintain the White Supremacy Culture system sufficiently, and so the circumstances had changed sufficient to justify the Republican party changing its goals to justify its behavior.
So over the course of the Trump presidency, we have seen ever-increasing displays of disregard for human life: willful support of violent white supremacists, mockery of people who suffer from disabilities or sickness, disdain for BIPOC citizens, separation of immigrant parents from their children, and just recently the revelation that immigrants in custody have been undergoing forced hysterectomies. Not a single one of these acts aligns with the basic teachings of Jesus, yet they all in turn have been explained away — circumstantially accepted as being deserved by the victims…as though that in any way reflected the teachings of Christianity.
But we are well beyond religious teachings at this point, even if they are still hearkened to as the basis for political views. Rather, White Supremacy Culture addicts are now moving down a different path, the hallmarks of which were recently summarized by Ibram X. Kendi on Twitter:
“Fascist power doesn’t care about consistency, rules, fairness, precedents, truth. Fascist power does not respond to appeals to its hypocrisy, its lies, its unfairness, its destruction. Fascist power only responds to power. Fascist power only cares about power. #GOPfacism”
Ibram X. Kendi, Twitter post, Sept. 20, 2020, 9:11 a.m.
With this slide into moral putrescence comes the comparison now obvious to me: the benefactors of White Supremacy Culture are addicted to Trump (and what he represents) — they have been altering their goals to meet their leaders’ behavior, and are willing to let their standards slide as far as is necessary to maintain their dominance.
The cause of this downward slide is evident to those with experience in addiction: the perpetuation of an addict’s behavior is driven by fear and anxiety. While in typical substance addiction situations, the fear and anxiety regard living without the addict’s substance of choice to ease their emotional burdens, in Trump supporters the fear is of the loss of the benefits provided by White Supremacy Culture.
In the world of addiction, we talk about a person needing to hit bottom before they can start their recovery. Many times I’ve heard people recite some version of the AA saying, “You hit bottom when your life deteriorates faster than you can lower your standards.” We also say an addict can’t get sober until they’re ready, and that’s usually fine so long as the people they will hurt in the process are able to get out of harm’s way.
But when the addict is an entire class of people who have been hoarding power for centuries, the damage on their way to the bottom could be catastrophic for our marginalized populace. We are already seeing the substantially disproportionate effect of death from Covid-19 as it hurts our nation’s BIPOC communities far harder than the white communities. And those of us who choose to pay attention can see plainly that our law enforcement personnel has a long history of murdering Black Americans.
Just as we cannot force an active addict to change their behavior, we cannot force White Supremacy Culture addicts to change their minds about who they support or why. As it stands currently, there is a very real chance that White Supremacy Culture addicts will re-elect a man who is checking every box on the checklist of “How to Become a Dictator.”
But while we can’t force them to change, we can stage an intervention. Interventions only work for addicts when the non-addicts in their lives show up en masse with a message of solidarity, and a clear plan of action for how the addict can change the path they’re on. We can stage an intervention for White Supremacy Culture addicts, and we have 41 days to do it.
We need to show up, reach out to our like-minded community members, and commit to confronting the White Supremacy Culture addicts in our lives with the real consequences of their past and current choices. The point is simply to name those choices and explain their consequences, not to shame the addicts. Shame causes isolation, inward-focusing, and concentration of the problematic behavior. That’s not what non-addicts want for their loved ones, and it’s not what we want for our community members.
We need to show up, and vote for a president and elected representatives who do not support White Supremacy Culture, and who are committed to driving toward racial equity with unwavering focus and dedication.
We need to show up, and support our community members who are unable on their own to make their voices heard — whether that is by voting or by the privileged of us giving our platforms to our marginalized neighbors.
We need to show up, connect with each other, and present a united front of equity and justice to show the White Supremacy Culture addicts in our lives that there is another way, and we will not let their addiction continue to harm the rest of us.
We need to show up, for our communities large and small, for our loved ones who are afraid of stepping out of the shadows of White Supremacy Culture addiction, and for ourselves — who are exhausted and exasperated by the visible disintegration of the principles necessary for a truly democratic society and the promise of America.
Vote. Protest. Speak. Educate. Converse. Hope. Nurture. Elevate. Amplify. Resist.
We need to show up.