Home > Uncategorized > Trump’s Criticism of Hunter Biden’s Addiction and Recovery Should Appall Everyone Touched by the Disease

Trump’s Criticism of Hunter Biden’s Addiction and Recovery Should Appall Everyone Touched by the Disease

October 1, 2020

I intentionally missed the debate on Tuesday knowing that it would not be informative and would be unsettling… and having read descriptions of the debate and watched “highlights” I clearly made the right decision. The President’s lies and invitations to fringe White Supremacy groups to arm themselves in support of his continued leadership garnered much of the post-debate coverage.. but Scott Bixby’s Daily Beast coverage of a particularly appalling attack by the President did not find its way into the headlines of the major media the day after the debate. Here’s Bixby’s recounting of the exchange, beginning with the President’s interruption of Mr. Biden:

“Are you talking about Hunter?” Trump said late into the debate, interrupting Biden as he reflected on his late son, Beau Biden, who died of brain cancer in 2015. “Hunter got thrown out of the military. He was thrown out, dishonorably discharged for cocaine use—he didn’t have a job until you became vice president, and once you became vice president, he made a fortune.”

Trump’s callous and incorrect comments—Hunter Biden was not dishonorably discharged— about his opponent’s lone surviving son’s past drug use were clearly wielded to leave a mark, but Biden responded with defiance.

“My son, like a lot of people, like a lot of people we know at home, had a drug problem,” Biden said. “He’s overtaken it. He’s fixed it, he’s worked on it, and I’m proud of him. I’m proud of my son.”

Joe Biden is deservedly proud of his son’s conquering of addiction… as I am certain George H.W. Bush was proud of HIS son’s overcoming addiction and many voters are proud of their own conquest of substance abuse disorder. But, as Bixby notes, the President’s insinuation that addiction is a moral failing was a setback for many:

The moment horrified advocates for addiction treatment and substance who told The Daily Beast that they fear Trump’s comments, and comments like them, could seriously harm the millions of Americans affected by substance abuse nationwide.

Addiction is a medical condition that affects millions of Americans each year, irrespective of any demographic. It is a disease, not a moral or character failing,” Marvin Ventrell, CEO of the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers, told The Daily Beast. “It is inappropriate, harmful, hurtful, and irresponsible when a public figure or person of influence disparages people suffering from addiction.”

The attempt during the presidential debate to shame a father whose son may have struggled in the past with a substance use disorder is wholly unconstructive and serves to perpetuate misconceived perceptions of addiction,” said Dr. Paul H. Earley, president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine. “Our nation must respond with compassion and evidence-based treatments if we want to treat addiction and save lives.

Trump’s comments, which characterized substance use as a character failure, also undercut the hard-fought understanding in the medical community that addiction is a disease, said Dr. Lawrence Weinstein, chief medical director of American Addiction Centers, which provides treatment for substance use disorders.

“The stigma surrounding mental health and addiction has been shown to be a significant barrier to treatment and prevents many people from seeking the help that they need,” said Weinstein, who called addiction “an indiscriminate, chronic, complex and relapsing brain disease.

This disease is not the result of a moral failing, poor judgment, or weakness—it is a chronic condition that requires lifelong maintenance,” Weinstein said.

But characterizing addiction as a moral failing buttresses the need for militarization of police to fight the “war on drugs”… After all, if the best response to a disease is to respond with compassion and evidence-based treatments there would be no need to spend millions of dollars for police departments to acquire training to use military grade equipment and to seek no-knock warrants. There would be no need to spend billions to incarcerate people who’s major offense was, at root, suffering from “an indiscriminate, chronic, complex and relapsing brain disease.” But here’s the political reality: you can’t be a “law and order” President if you characterize addiction as a disease that requires compassion… especially when most of the voters in your base view it as a moral failing, a “bad choice” that someone made. And so another disease is politicized… and like the disease of COVID 19 dealing with addiction will require a national understanding of it’s spread, a national willingness to find and/or redirect money, and— perhaps most difficult of all— a national willingness to rethink a fundamental understanding about addiction itself. Those who are afflicted with the “indiscriminate, chronic, complex and relapsing brain disease” at one point DID make a bad choice… but that choice was no more a moral failing than the decision a college student who becomes an alcoholic makes to join his friends at the bar to have a drink. As a nation we seem to have concluded that alcoholism— or addiction to alcohol IS a disorder… but we persist in believing that DRUG addiction is a moral failing and so we are mis-directing billions of dollars of resources and wasting the lives of tens of thousands of our citizens. MAYBE one outgrowth of the President’s appalling misrepresentation of Hunter Biden’s affliction will be a greater understanding of the disease of addiction… or maybe it will just turbocharge the militarization of the War on Drugs and the proliferation of prisons to deal with it. 

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