J.D. Vance, the recent ex-Marine graduate of Yale Law School whose new book, Hillbilly Elegy, was discussed here not long ago, understands the social and economic pain that is causing his hometown friends and neighbors to look for quick relief, but he also recognizes that Trumpism is really the political equivalent of meth or heroin.
During this election season, it appears that many Americans have reached for a new pain reliever. It too, promises a quick escape from lifeâ€™s cares, an easy solution to the mounting social problems of U.S. communities and culture. It demands nothing and requires little more than a modest presence and maybe a few enablers. It enters minds, not through lungs or veins, but through eyes and ears, and its name is Donald Trump.
Last Sunday, the day before Memorial Day, I met a Marine veteran of the Vietnam War at a local coffee shop. â€œI was lucky,â€ he told me. â€œAt least I came home. A lot of my buddies didnâ€™t. The thing is, the media still talks about us like we lost that war! I like to think my dead friends accomplished something.â€ Imagine, for that man, the vengeful joy of a Trump rally. That brief feeling of power, of defiance, of sending a message to the very political and media establishment that, for 45 years, has refused to listen. Trump brings power to those who hate their lack of it, and his message is tonic to communities that have felt nothing but decline for decades.
In some ways, Trumpâ€™s large, national coalition defies easy characterization. He draws from a broad base of good people: kind folks who open their homes and hearts to people of all colors and creeds, married couples with happy homes and families who live nearby, public servants who put their lives on the line to fight fires in their communities. Not all Trump voters spend their days searching for an analgesic.
Yet a common thread among Trumpâ€™s faithful, even among those whose individual circumstances remain unspoiled, is that they hail from broken communities. These are places where good jobs are impossible to come by. Where people have lost their faith and abandoned the churches of their parents and grandparents. Where the death rates of poor white people go up even as the death rates of all other groups go down. Where too many young people spend their days stoned instead of working and learning.
Many years ago, our neighbor (and my grandmaâ€™s old friend) in Middletown moved out and rented his house on a Section 8 voucherâ€”a federal program that offers housing subsidies to low-income people. One of the first folks to move in called her landlord to report a leaky roof. By the time the landlord arrived, he discovered the woman naked on her couch. After calling him, she had started the water for a bath, gotten high, and passed out. Forget about the original leak, now much of the upstairsâ€”including her and her childrenâ€™s possessionsâ€”was completely destroyed. Not every Trump voter lives like this woman, but nearly every Trump voter knows someone who does.
Though the details differ, men and women like my neighbor represent, in the aggregate, a social crisis of historic proportions. There is no group of people hurtling more quickly to social decay. No group of people fears the future more, dies with such frequency from heroin, and exposes its children to such significant domestic chaos. Not long ago, a teacher who works with at-risk youth in my hometown told me, â€œWeâ€™re expected to be shepherds to these children, but theyâ€™re all raised by wolves.â€ And those wolves are hereâ€”not coming in from Mexico, not prowling the halls of power in Washington or Wall Streetâ€”but here in ordinary American communities and families and homes.
What Trump offers is an easy escape from the pain. To every complex problem, he promises a simple solution. He can bring jobs back simply by punishing offshoring companies into submission. As he told a New Hampshire crowdâ€”folks all too familiar with the opioid scourgeâ€”he can cure the addiction epidemic by building a Mexican wall and keeping the cartels out. He will spare the United States from humiliation and military defeat with indiscriminate bombing. It doesnâ€™t matter that no credible military leader has endorsed his plan. He never offers details for how these plans will work, because he canâ€™t. Trumpâ€™s promises are the needle in Americaâ€™s collective vein.
The great tragedy is that many of the problems Trump identifies are real, and so many of the hurts he exploits demand serious thought and measured actionâ€”from governments, yes, but also from community leaders and individuals. Yet so long as people rely on that quick high, so long as wolves point their fingers at everyone but themselves, the nation delays a necessary reckoning. There is no self-reflection in the midst of a false euphoria. Trump is cultural heroin. He makes some feel better for a bit. But he cannot fix what ails them, and one day theyâ€™ll realize it.
Read the whole thing.
Hat tip to Bird Dog.