Recently Donald J. Trump declared opioid addiction a national public health emergency. Never mind that he didn’t promise any new money to address the problem; for once he’s right.
After all, even broken watches tell the correct time twice a day.
Although the roots of addiction are complex, the use of illegal narcotics and the overuse of prescription medications can be seen as efforts to deal with pain without addressing the underlying causes of that pain.
Sort of like treating the symptoms without getting at their roots.
Without in any way minimizing the problem of opioid addiction, I’d like to suggest a political context.
In many ways, the 2016 presidential election was about the pain felt by the working class because of the economic upheaval of recent decades.
The loss of well-paying manufacturing jobs as a result of technology and the growth of the global marketplace is but one element in that upheaval.
Another is the loss of mining jobs because of lower cost alternative energy sources as well as more efficient extraction methods, again due to new technologies.
These job losses and those in other sectors have had perhaps their greatest impact on workers in the middle of their careers.
Taken together with the government’s failure to develop and fund adequate retraining programs, they have left a large segment of the working class unemployed or underemployed.
Given all this, anyone who promises to bring back the good old days of manufacturing and mining jobs that gave workers a nice middle class lifestyle can have a superficial appeal.
Enter Donald Trump.
Mr. Trump paints a rosy picture of a time when manufacturing and mining jobs fueled the American economy, a time to which he says we can return.
Never mind that the advances of technology and global competition cannot be erased. We cannot turn back.
Just like opioids, Mr. Trump’s promises momentarily ease the pain of the unemployed and underemployed, but do nothing to relieve the underlying symptoms.
Even if manufacturing and mining jobs return, they won’t employ anywhere near the number of workers who have been displaced.
The trillion dollar infrastructure program that Mr. Trump promised remains just another campaign promise, sacrificed to the need for tax cuts for the wealthy.
Under the Trump administration, no progress has been made on retraining programs.
Indeed, as I pointed out last week, the Trump administration has eliminated protections that directly benefit the working class: rules permitting class actions against banks and other financial institutions; environmental protections; workplace safety provisions; and for-profit college disclosure requirements.
Instead of better and cheaper health insurance, Mr. Trump is endeavoring to impede sign-ups for next year and to destabilize the health insurance marketplace.
And don’t look for tax savings for the working class in the Trump tax “reform” plan introduced last week. They’re targeted for the wealthy.
Despite the fact that the Trump agenda does not address the needs of the working class, the tweeter-in-chief’s appeal to the working class remains.
Like an opioid, Mr. Trump’s reality show performances relieve the pain felt by his base while doing nothing to treat the symptoms.
In the 19th century, Karl Marx wrote that “religion is the opiate of the masses.”
Today, Donald Trump is the opiate of the masses. His administration has brought us to the brink of a national crisis.
Trump’s prescription: Take two tweets and call me in the morning.
Jay N. Feldman