Is Trump ‘the opiate of the people,’ or their crack?

Is Trump ‘the opiate of the people,’ or their crack?

Friday, December 18, 2015 

This is not primarily an article about Donald Trump. He is not that special!

As a psychiatrist who has practiced in Greenwich for 40 years, I’ve seen many iterations of “The Donald.” Usually they have a bit more polish and a lot more nuance, but they are equally arrogant. To use a tiresome psychiatric term now much abused in the popular press, such men are often just as malignantly narcissistic as Trump.

These men are usually “dragged” into my office. I rapidly discover that they like themselves just the way they are, have no desire to change and are very poor candidates for psychotherapy.

Marital therapy is generally a waste of time. These marriages usually end in protracted and very expensive divorces, since these men prefer spending a fortune on legal fees rather than settling, which they perceive as “losing.” As “The Donald” regularly reminds us, there are winners and losers. He and men like him are clearly the “winners,” who must always emerge on top regardless of the consequences.

However, this essay is intended to focus less on Donald Trump than on his apparent popularity, and my perspective on this phenomenon having spent years dealing with the psychological underpinnings of addiction.

Karl Marx famously said “religion is the opiate of the people.” He was perhaps equally cynical when he said “History repeats itself, first as a tragedy, second as a farce.”

“The Donald” is first a farce, but as our president could easily and quickly become a tragedy. America could soon become the laughingstock of the world for having selected Trump as our leader. Trump has clearly become the “opiate” of the “oppressed,” embittered and disenfranchised Americans, not to mention those who prefer sarcasm, arrogance and hyperbole to compassion, humility and truth.

If religion is an opiate, it has far more redeeming qualities than anything Mr. Trump is offering. We are all aware of the excesses and harm caused by religion throughout history. But it has also played a huge role in civilizing man’s brutish nature, to which Trump prefers to pander.

It takes effort to investigate the substance of a presidential candidate and his or her positions, and whether that person has walked the talk or is merely talking it. But so much is on the line as we select our leader — someone we wish to admire, respect and emulate; someone who ideally should be a role model of our virtues and values. We still need heroes like Abraham Lincoln, who was committed to healing the nation rather than dividing our currently fractured country even further, as Trump consistently advocates.

It is useful to recall Lincoln’s Second Inaugural address, when he famously said:

“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan — to do all which may achieve and cherish, a just and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”

What a contrast to Donald Trump, who says things like: “Boy, am I good at solving debt problems. Nobody can solve it like me . . . Hundreds of companies I’ve opened have thrived.

I’ve used the laws of the country to my benefit.” Or: “When someone crosses you, my advice is ‘get even!’ If you do not get even, you are just a schmuck! When people wrong you, go after those people because it is a good feeling, and because other people will see you doing it. I love getting even.”

We clearly need to heal and inspire our nation. But not with an unpleasant “opiate” to dull our senses and our sensibilities, or a human version of crack cocaine that briefly leaves many of Trump’s supporters feeling excited, elated and euphoric.

Trump is an addiction we don’t need, and the impact of his rhetoric is inflammatory and dangerous. For example: According to The Boston Globe, one of two assailants told the police it was “OK” to assault the victim because he was Hispanic and homeless, citing Trump’s message on immigration as a motivation for their attack. The two assailants allegedly beat the 58-year-old homeless man with a metal pole, breaking his nose and causing other injuries, and then urinated on him.

Is this the America we want? Is this the land of Lincoln? Trump’s comment about the incident in Boston was “the people that are following me are very passionate.” So are the followers of ISIS.

Compassion, charity and sacrifice for the sake of principle are simply not part of the equation in Trump’s calculus. Instead of giving, caring or truly protecting it is all about ego and the illusion of power.

I was curious how much money Donald Trump, the self-proclaimed multibillionaire, has donated to any charity. An article in “Smoking Gun” said “Trump may be the least charitable billionaire in America.” Trump’s miniscule donations have been dwarfed by the charitable contributions of every other billionaire. According to the article, Mr. Trump donated only one-tenth of 1 percent of his assets to charity in a 20-year period.

Having worked in the field of substance abuse for decades, I have learned that behind the need for drugs invariably lies anger, anxiety and depression. Clearly many in our country are angry, anxious and depressed, but the solution for individuals and for our nation is not a quick fix, and not a “drug.” Instead we need wisdom, balance, decency, compassion, healing and a willingness to see the humanity in others, rather than to demonize them. Perhaps learning and living by the golden rule (i.e. “love thy neighbor as thyself”) is a preferable antidote to pain than hatred, demonization, and the tendency to turn to drugs, whether literally or figuratively.

Dr. John S. Tamerin lives and practices psychiatry in Greenwich. He is a Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the Cornell/Weill School of Medicine.