Almost four years ago I was tagging along with medical workers from the Night Ministry. We found ourselves standing before three people sprawled in a nest of blankets and sleeping bags off Lower Wacker Drive.
At first I held back. Then, I gingerly nudged forward, afraid they’d clam up as soon as I took out my notebook. But they didn’t. They answered whatever question I asked — their names, what drugs they were taking. I could take pictures. They weren’t embarrassed. They didn’t care about anything except getting those drugs inside themselves.
Addiction does that. You are locked into feeling that pleasure, or relief, or passing sense of normality. End of the story. You don’t care about the damage you’re inflicting upon yourself or others. You don’t care that the addiction is killing you. You could shake this emaciated woman and ask what her younger self would think of what she’s become. She’d stare back at you, hollow-eyed and uncomprehending. She doesn’t bother to eat food; what does she care about lost dreams?
That’s why I have to laugh when my somehow still idealistic friends wonder when Donald Trump’s base will abandon him. When they will finally see the ruin his presidency has caused this country and regret their role in supporting it. That’s easy: never. They’ll never give him up, just as many addicts never quit their substances, except by dying.
The concept of addiction is the best way to make sense of our country today. Trump makes his followers feel good. He soothes the ache in their broken parts. Like heroin, he makes them feel safe and secure even while doing the exact opposite. They’re not safe and secure, but on the street, endangered, living in a country wracked by a pandemic that their drug of choice trivializes and ignores. They’re teetering on an economic cliff, while shivering in fear at pipe-dream fears about socialized medicine.
What do they care of deterioration of American democratic institutions? They’re in denial. That’s like asking a drunk driver whether his tires are properly inflated. All he cares about is how much is left in the half pint.
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