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Trump as an addiction



I’ve never been addicted to anything…I mean, there’s stuff I love, and wouldn’t want to do without, like wine and beer. But I don’t believe I’m “addicted” to them. But I admit the line is blurry between a hankering for something that’s so strong, you couldn’t imagine life without it, as opposed to something that’s become habit-forming and compulsive.

Smoking is a good example. Nowadays we tend to say that smokers are “addicted” to nicotine, and that implies a negative judgment—they’re doing something that even they know is bad. They want to quit, but they can’t…they’re engaged in self-destructive behavior, and it makes them feel guilty and ashamed, even as it’s hurting their physical health. So we conclude that smokers are “addicts,” whereas my everyday desire for alcohol is just that—a desire for alcohol, not an addiction.

Psychology attempts to clarify where the line is by adding qualifications to that desire to do something. The thing or activity which the person can’t do without “can be pleasurable but the continuation of [it] becomes compulsive and interferes with ordinary responsibilities and concerns, such as work, relationships, or health. People who have developed an addiction may not be aware that their behavior is out of control and causing problems for themselves and others.”

 In this sense, I’m not addicted to wine and beer, because my drinking doesn’t “interfere with ordinary responsibilities,” nor is it “causing problems for myself and others”—or so I tell myself, legitimately, I think. Which brings us now to the question of Donald Trump supporters.

CNN had a story yesterday reporting that Trump’s support among people who voted for him has barely slipped, even after all the scandals, faux pas and lies he’s told. For me, as well as millions of others, this poses a profound question. We see Trump as he really is—a person Tom Steyer, in his now-famous T.V. ad, calls “dangerous, a clear and present danger, mentally unstable,” who has “obstructed justice, taken money from foreign governments, and threatened to shut down news organizations.” To us, it is a mystery beyond understanding that not all Americans see Trump that way. As I struggle to comprehend this, the only conclusion I can come to is that the people who continue to support Trump are suffering from an addiction.

Why is their ardor for Trump an “addiction” and not simply a desire or preference for him? Admittedly, again, the line is thin, the difference blurry; but that psychological qualification I cited above makes analyzing the phenomenon easier. Trump is “causing problems” for his supporters, probably in ways they cannot understand: his denial of climate change, his homophobia and trans-phobia, his misogynistic alliance with women bashers, his endangering of national security by alienating our allies and (to quote Steyer) “bringing us to the brink of nuclear war,” his contempt for minorities and fondness for white nationalists, his coarsening of the culture, his constant, pathological lying, his sexual predations upon women, his irrational opposition to any form of gun control, his assaults upon religions other than Christianity—these, among other things, are the “clear and present” dangers Trump poses to every American, including his supporters. These things do “cause problems” for our country and its citizens. The issue is whether or not those citizens recognize the extent of the problems he causes.

Which brings us back to addiction. No clear-minded person can deny the threats of a Trump presidency. The logical consequence of this statement, therefore, is that Trump supporters are not clear-minded. They think with their reptilian brain, not their cerebral cortex. This is an ancient, limbic area in which primitive, Darwinian emotions of fear and anger dictate behaviors and attitudes, not rational, logical thinking. This is not to say that Trump supporters are incapable of rational thinking, only to say that, in their addiction to the drug of Trump, they choose not to think logically. I believe that, somewhere deep down inside, they know how deranged Trump is, and how deranged their own thoughts are. But this is the sadness of addiction: even though they know the behavior is self-destructive, they can’t change it.

These Trump supporters need an intervention. In a perfect world, they would have loving family members who could force them into reflective treatment, in order to clear their minds and perceive reality. But we don’t live in a perfect world, and for many of these Trump supporters, their family members are as addicted as they are. Normally, we could turn our backs on such people as befuddled losers, and let them sort out their own mess; but in this case, the mess is what they’ve done to our country, America. We don’t have the luxury of sitting back and letting them run amok. They really have to be stopped before the damage is irreversible.

It isn’t, yet; but it might soon be. The ultimate intervention will be the 2018 election. If Democrats can’t take back the Senate, the House and a good many governorships (not to mention impeaching Trump by then), there may no longer be any hope for America. The inmates really will be running the asylum. I don’t actually think we’ll get there–America has too much sense, and Mueller is going to take Trump down–but, if we do, we will be getting what we deserve.

P.S. THANK YOU people of Virginia! You have decidedly rejected trumpism, bannonism, white supremacy and sickness! Bless you.


  1. Have you read the Politico article on Trump voters in Johnstown?

    On the one hand, it’s yet another installment in the “Trump supporter still like Trump” genre that got tired a long time ago. And there’s plenty of the usual ignorance — one man praised Trump for being the hardest-working president of his lifetime, who isn’t out there playing golf like Obama. Seriously. The guy was surprised when the reporter corrected him.

    But I think there are a few insights in there that are telling. The voters interviewed know that Trump hasn’t kept his promises. They know that some of them (bringing back coal jobs) were impossible to begin with. They don’t really care. He irritates the right people, he gives a voice to their hatred and resentment, and that’s good enough for them. (One question I wished the reporter had asked: if you care more about what Trump SAYS than what he does, then do you really need him as President? He can fulminate on Twitter just as well as Citizen Trump, and the media will probably cover him just as much since he’s so good for their ratings.)

    And the last anecdote of the article is sadly telling.

  2. Dear Jim B: I’ve more or less given up on those trump supporters. Let someone else try to convince them; personally, I think they’re too ignorant and hateful to waste time arguing with. My job (and joy) is to blog about what a horrible person Trump is, what a horrible political party the Republicans have become, how toxic and stubborn these diehard Republican voters are. I believe in America. This country sometimes does incredibly stupid things (like electing Trump) but we usually and eventually self-correct. Yesterday’s election cycle gives me great hope that independents and, especially, young people are coming around. We’ll never get rid of the white supremacist morons, but we can marginalize them.

  3. Steve,

    I agree. Voters like the ones interviewed are pretty much a lost cause. Anyone who thinks that Trump’s been working hard to fulfill his campaign promises is just not making an effort to be informed, and I don’t know how you reach those people in a campaign. That’s true twice over for people who don’t even CARE about Trump’s lack of policy achievements, but who just like his rage, because if that’s what they care about, then Trump really is the candidate for them — you’re not going to out-angry Trump.

    And that’s where a lot of the thinkpieces about how Democrats need to cut out “identity politics” and win back white working class voters go wrong, in my opinion. Sure, there are some white working class voters who voted Trump could be reachable, but a lot of them simply aren’t. Someone who actually thinks that it’s important for the president to put “uppity” black athletes in their place isn’t going to be lured into voting for a Democrat no matter how much he or she talks about jobs and wages.

    As you say, these things tend to be cyclical. You can explain a heck of a lot of U.S. election results with basic fundamentals. Americans as a whole tend to re-elect incumbent Presidents, but vote against them in midterms and off-year elections, and tend to switch parties after two terms. That pattern explains every presidential election since 1992 — the Dems almost broke the pattern in 2000 and 2016 because the economy was reasonably strong, but the Electoral College math didn’t work out. It also explains the 1994, 2006, and 2010 midterms — there were exceptions in 1998 (Republican overreach on impeachment) and 2002 (post-9/11 reaction).

    So when pundits insist that Trump changed all the rules, broke all the patterns, the Dems are in the wilderness and need to change dramatically, there’s good reason to be skeptical. That doesn’t mean people should be complacent — victories like last night came about because a lot of folks put in time, effort, and money — but reports of the death of the Democratic Party have been greatly exaggerated.

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