Understanding Trump Voters Through The Lens Of My Own Addiction

The highs of crystal meth and Donald Trump have two crucial elements in common.
05/02/2017 06:09 pm ET Updated May 03, 2017
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Watching clips of Trump’s Pennsylvania rally over the weekend, I once again failed to comprehend how anybody could find this man anything but a hopelessly obnoxious, blatantly transparent liar. But the reporters who questioned the attendees might as well have been interviewing fawning admirers lining the streets of Nuremberg in 1935 as the Fuhrer’s motorcade passed. For the umpteenth time, I strained to find a “way in” to understand their enthusiasm for Trump, and I finally realized I had to abandon all attempts to view it through the prism of policy or logic. I decided to try to understand it instead by relating it to something in my own experience that was equally irrational. Only one thing in my past qualified as an appropriate analogy — an addiction to meth that consumed me over a decade ago.

In particular, I was reminded of the early phase of my using, when I was genuinely convinced the drug actually improved my life. That wasn’t entirely delusional, either. Meth drenched my brain with dopamine, producing a very potent euphoria. It gave me energy, motivation, and a turbocharged sex drive that frankly felt like a reward for having survived the preceding dark decade-and-a-half of living with AIDS. That said, I hadn’t entirely fooled myself, either. Every binge brought with it a crash, and that’s when the truth bubbled up inside of me — an inner voice that told me I was taking the express lane to Crazytown. I reacted by using daily instead of just on weekends, as I didn’t have those thoughts if I never crashed. Maintaining meant the highs were much less intense, but that was worth avoiding the pits of weekly post-party depression.

Likewise, I suspect those who still flock to Trump rallies may have inklings that their Great White Hope might not be able to deliver on all those promises he made during the campaign. So, like good little addicts, they up their dosage of DJT by blaming the usual suspects even more for the country’s woes — Muslims, Hillary Clinton, and over and above all, the dastardly liberal media. Once they’re ginned up again, the Yam wheels out the same ridiculous promises he can’t conceivably fulfill, but by this point they’re mainlining the ritual of Trump-liebe far more than reacting to any specific windbaggery frothing from his mouth.

Those of us who find each day of Trump’s Reign of Error more appalling than the day before can’t really be surprised that most of his base remain fiercely loyal. It’s only been three months, after all — there’s still a lot of kick left in that buzz — plenty enough to fuel renewed belief that he’s going to make America great again any minute now.

Part of the high derived from supporting Trump is borrowed from an anticipated future with very specific contours.

I actually went back to work in 1998 because I’d impulsively sent out my resume one night when I was high as a kite — further evidence, to me, that meth was just my personal version of a life coach. That job acted as a brake on my using for a year or so, but when it ended, there was painfully little to stop me from making the leap from recreational to occupational using. All of that fast cash unsurprisingly reinforced the narrative that meth truly did enhance my existence. With money came an entourage of barnacles creating considerable risk and drama, but I didn’t get that my life was unmanageable until prison guards were managing every aspect of it.

The highs of crystal meth and Donald Trump have two crucial elements in common. They both induce in the user a belief that effect can be detached from cause, and that the most important factor in what determines the future is the intensity of your desire for a certain outcome. This conviction distorts perception so profoundly that the addict sees possibilities that are completely divorced from reality. But master illusionist Trump believes his own lies, so his junkies believe them too. Health care will be cheaper and better, yet cover more people. Mexico will pay for that wall. Foreign threats will evaporate in the face of a few mean tweets. We should have grasped how potent this attraction to magical thinking was back when Trump pushed the birther conspiracy. Talk about a gateway drug.

Meth fueled my willingness to take extraordinary risks — up to and including forging my own death certificate. (It worked too — for six months. But I, er, forgot to move. Oops.) Blessedly, by the time everything came crashing down, I was finally ready. My brain was like a wet and dirty sponge that would absorb no more water. And if I couldn’t actually get high anymore, what was the point of using at all? Similarly, the retrievable Trump voters (some are not) will eventually return to sanity when they realize the drug isn’t getting them high anymore. This will begin to occur as evidence mounts that the President has done nothing to improve their lot — even made it worse. Because there will be large-scale infrastructure failures that kill people. There will be a badly managed natural disaster and a military adventure that turns into a nightmare. And there won’t be other things — a return of high-paid manufacturing jobs, the implementation of real tax reform, or construction of a border wall. Part of the high derived from supporting Trump is borrowed from an anticipated future with very specific contours. Eventually, there has to be some evidence that his accession to the Presidency wasn’t just one big Ponzi scheme.

The biggest lesson from my own train wreck was that consequences are spiritual principles. A lot of Americans are likewise about to learn that if you elect a President who keeps his hands on the rear-view mirror instead of the steering wheel, (or, as I like to call it, “Driving While Narcississing”) the country will keep getting into increasingly severe accidents.

And as unsatisfying as it is to wait for for the Trump-tweeked to be ready to get clean, we don’t really have much choice. As citizens of the same country, we are in the same family, like it or not. We have to find ways to love them, even when we hate their incomprehensible addiction.

My book, Ink from the Pen: A Prison Memoir, will be coming out later this Spring.

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