Trump & Hillbilly Heroin

Donald Trump’s presidency has had a rocky start, but at least, the narrative goes, he is delivering for his supporters. Matthew Continetti over at the Washington Free Beacon sure seems to think so. Mr. Continetti assures us that he’s making sure his supporters “win” either by canceling TPP, ramping up immigration crackdowns, or bringing back jobs, though he functionally admits that last one is basically going off gut feeling rather than any hard data.

While one can quibble over whether or not making trade more difficult or spiting Mexican laborers really helps his core supporters, a major issue that Continetti ignores is the fact that President Trump’s FDA nominee is morally complicit in the deaths of thousands of Americans, disproportionately the sort of folks who voted for Trump in the first place.

Dr. Scott Gottlieb is a physician who worked for the Food & Drug Administration during the second Bush administration. He also is a resident fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. Unlike some other appointees, Dr. Gottlieb will almost certainly sail through his confirmation hearings in the U.S. Senate.

But the fact that Dr. Gottlieb has been nominated and will be confirmed is nothing short of a national scandal, and one that remains totally uncovered by the conservative media outlets, whether they are generally critical or supportive of the president. At the date of this writing, I could find nothing about this at National Review, The American Conservative, The Weekly Standard, The Daily Caller, Breitbart, or Mr. Continetti’s Washington Free Beacon. Typing in “Gottlieb opioids” either produces generic results about opioids or literally nothing at all. By contrast, if you search for “white working class” you get endless scrolling with hundreds of articles to choose from.

This lack of reporting is disgraceful because we are in the middle of a drug overdose crisis of epidemic proportions. Drug overdoses are now deadlier than car crashes and firearm homicides. As of 2015 they are now deadlier than HIV/AIDS was in the 1990s. Prescription opioids such as OxyContin, Percocet and the like, are responsible for 63% of these deaths.  Over 560,000 Americans have died of drug overdoses from 1999 to 2015, with another 50,000 in 2016 alone. To put this into context this is the roughly the number of Americans killed in action in both World Wars. The agony of Owens’ war poetry could be equally descriptive of either a young man dying in France or a middle-aged woman ebbing away with a handful of pills in Corbin, Kentucky.

How do Trump’s supporters figure into this disaster? The opioid crisis has not hit all sectors of America equally. It is most harshly felt in places like Kentucky, West Virginia and Ohio, and especially among white, working class Americans. Prescription opioid abuse is so common it’s been nicknamed “hillbilly heroin.” One former West Virginia addict, Sam Cox, remembers opioids as “…straight from the devil. The devil comes to steal your soul. That’s his job. The drug is [a] demon.”

And while this demon is sharpening his scythe for those addicted to it, hillbilly heroin fuels a wider spree of crime and violence across Appalachia and the Rust Belt. Car wrecks, petty theft, aggravated assault, domestic violence, murder and racketeering. In some Appalachian towns, sheriffs are now estimating that in some places as much as 80% of crimes are related in some way to opioids. The chain of events is simple. Pharmaceutical companies produce opioids en masse. The narcotics find their way onto the illegal market either through theft or by pumping fake prescriptions through pill mills. It’s gotten so brazen that criminals literally bus hillbilly heroin from Florida to West Virginia by the truckload. The “OxyContin Express” fuels Appalachian organized crime the same way liquor smuggling used to finance the Mafia.

The old folk song “O Death” asks, “What is this that I can’t see | with ice cold hands takin’ hold of me?” No worries, sir. That’s just a legal prescription The Weekly Standard assures me is “safe and effective” as well as a “home run.”

So how does Dr. Gottlieb fit into all this? A new investigation from the Intercept found that Gottlieb is deep in the pockets of the opioid industry. Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals paid Gottlieb over $22,000 for one speech alone in 2016. That’s more than double the average annual income in Jackson County, Kentucky. And Mallinckrodt is infamous for willfully ignoring obvious red flags and pumping over half a billion prescriptions from Florida in a four-year period. Pollyannaishly assuming each prescription was just 10 pills, that’s more than enough generic Oxy to kill every man, woman and child in Appalachia several times over.

Gottlieb has also done paid speaking gigs for the Healthcare Distributors Alliance, a trade conglomerate for companies like Cardinal Health. Cardinal Health made its bones in the Oxy game by pouring over 780 million opioid pills into West Virginia alone from its Florida warehouse (seeing a connection here?). They were so irresponsible they got on the DEA’s radar and lost their license to distribute. Gottlieb’s response? He condemned the move and said the DEA shouldn’t have the right to regulate the opioid market. “Cardinal isn’t a Colombian drug ring,” he whined. “Its CEO isn’t Pablo Escobar.”

That’s certainly an interesting comparison. While Gottlieb gets paid more than the average annual Appalachian income from public speaking alone, his friends over at Cardinal and Mallinckrodt flood Appalachia with hillbilly heroin. They rake in billions. Over 600,000 Americans have died. By contrast, fewer people have died in the Colombian civil war and the Mexican drug war combined. While he and his pals may not be Pablo Escobar, they are functional drug pushers who shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near the levers of American medical policy.

Conservatives should ask ourselves; Will Gottlieb’s tenure really promote order and tranquility? Can a defender of hillbilly heroin really promote the dignity of the person and the common good?

(Similarly, will Trump really deliver for his voters? I don’t know. Maybe. Those left alive, anyway.)

Featured image: “Empty Pill Bottles” by Flickr user Chris Yarzab (CC-BY-2.0)

Stalin vs. Hitler

There’s a school of thought (if it can be called that) which insists that voters tomorrow have only two real choices: to support the Republican candidate against the Democratic candidate, or vice versa.

The problem, of course, is that for many people, neither one is a desirable candidate. Both are objectionable on multiple levels and have the potential to cause great harm in various ways. Whether they would do any good is questionable.

The leaders of the free world faced a similar dilemma in the last century. Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia were two great predatory powers intent on swallowing up  smaller European states. But from British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s perspective in 1941, it seemed necessary to make common cause with Soviet Marshal Joseph Stalin in order to defeat Adolf Hitler. And Churchill ultimately succeeded in convincing the United States under President Franklin D. Roosevelt to do the same.

It was not known until shortly after Hitler’s defeat, that Hitler and Stalin had agreed in the secret 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Accord not to oppose one another in war, and to divide Poland and other eastern European states between themselves. This agreement only became void in June of 1941, when Hitler launched a surprise invasion of Russia. Churchill had actually secretly warned Stalin in April that Germany was preparing an invasion, but Stalin, trusting the secret pact and probably giving Hitler too much credit for rational strategy, had ignored the forwarded intelligence.

It should go without saying that Donald Trump is no Hitler, and of course Hillary Clinton is no Stalin. Trump at the moment passes for a right-wing demagogue, just as Hitler is often mistaken for one, while Clinton passes for a tribune of the Left — although more consistent minds on both the right and the left recognize that these designations are not particularly accurate. Nevertheless, the left is being asked to swallow their disagreements with Clinton in order to defeat Trump, and the right is expected to throw in their lot with Trump in order to defeat Clinton.

Hindsight is clear. We can now see that Stalin played the West like a fiddle until 1946, gaining aid and concessions from Churchill and Roosevelt which enabled him to bring eastern Europe under Soviet tyranny. We can play the historical ‘what if’ game and imagine a scenario in which Communism and Nazism exhaust one another in mutual warfare until both totalitarian regimes totter and fall, clearing the way for the return of free nations and traditional governments. Instead, the latter part of the 20th century was overshadowed by Communism. We are also now aware of the Communist infiltration within Roosevelt’s circle, particularly at the State Department (Alger Hiss, who was deeply involved in shaping the Yalta accords, and a number of others).

But even without this knowledge, or even without full knowledge of Stalin’s own geopolitical predations and genocide, shouldn’t Churchill and Roosevelt have been able to recognize that Stalin was not the avuncular ally they depicted him? Shouldn’t they have already known enough of the treachery of Bolshevism to reject its alliance?

We now know that Communism, aided greatly by Stalin’s regime, killed more people than died in the Holocaust and the Second World War put together. Stalin is responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of his own people, and a strong postwar Russia contributed greatly to the formation of Communist regimes in China and east Asia which killed over 60 million people.

Don’t get me wrong. Neither Trump nor Clinton is anything like Hitler or Stalin. But although fortunately the stakes are much lower, the moral duty remains not to lend aid or support to unscrupulous, untrustworthy leaders.

We do not yet know what will happen under a Clinton or Trump presidency, or what unknown secrets will be revealed in the next four years. For instance, we do not presently have documentation of a secret cabal between the two candidates, although some have speculated that Trump is in some way a Democratic spoiler in the Republican party. If this were the case, he’s certainly given them a closer race than they expected. But there is enough on the part of both candidates to show them unfit to lead. We need not resort to conspiracy theories to see how either Clinton or Trump is likely to do ill in the presidential office. Why strengthen their power by making strategic alliances that will be all to their benefit and do very little for us?

Now you may happen to support Trump or Clinton because you agree with their politics and admire them as people. If so, God help you. However, if you believe as I do that both candidates are morally unfit to lead the nation, why lend either of them political power with your vote?

Is there a pro-life case for Hillary Clinton?

While many conservatives are unwilling to back Donald Trump, few conservatives of any stripe are willing to openly support Hillary Clinton.

Enter Rachel Held Evans, a pro-life Christian, ex-evangelical and current Episcopalian. (As are a number of us here at The Hipster Conservative.) As a popular blogger, Ms. Held Evans made a name for herself as an in-house cultural critic of evangelical Christianity. Now she takes up the unenviable task of making a pro-life case for Hillary Clinton.

Her case is simple and clever, if ultimately unconvincing. She argues that to be pro-life is to have a consistent life ethic. Therefore, she says, we must not simply outlaw abortion but also, “. . . create a culture with fewer unwanted pregnancies to begin with.”  So far, so good. She argues progressive policies are more likely to create this culture. Ms. Clinton is more progressive than Mr. Trump, ergo Clinton is the more pro-life of the two candidates. Lastly, she claims that outlawing abortion would simply be a Pyrrhic victory, the GOP is really just being cynical in its attempts at abolition, and that Democrats are actually the better choice if your goal is fewer abortions.

Whew. That’s a heady brew. Where to start?

Do Progressive Policies Help?

A big part of the essay is based on the assumption that progressive policies exclusively help the poor. While neither Ms. Held Evans nor I are economists, I’m far less willing to pretend that the economic debate is closed. For starters there is decent evidence that progressive taxation and welfare policies have a negative,  not positive, impact on economic inequality and poverty. Even in Scandinavia, long honored by American progressives as a social democratic paradise, has a persistent inequality problem.

Further it’s extremely arguable that Democratic education policies hold back the education of poor children in the inner city, arguably one of the most direct causes of urban poverty  and misery. The most direct is probably our government’s disastrous war on drugs, in which Ms. Clinton was a fervent soldier.

Ms. Held Evans’ strongest case probably comes from the expansion of birth control and how it reduces the overall abortion rate. However in this she assumes too much. While it is true that abortion rates have decreased during the Obama administration, her piece leads you to assume that this decline began during Mr. Obama’s years in office. It did not. The abortion rate has dropped consistently since its peak in 1980. Lastly, she forgets that Republicans are the ones who propose making contraception available over the counter, which would probably be the single largest barrier reduction to contraception since the 1960s.  Bizarrely, it’s largely been the left who opposes OTC contraception.

Ms. Held Evans believes the GOP is foolish to pursue an end to abortion (she even implies that this is a merely cynical position). She provides studies on how abolition can increase abortion-related deaths but fails to mention on how all of these studies are of developing countries without widespread access to quality healthcare, not a nation like the U.S.

Ms. Held Evans is a progressive Christian, both politically and theologically. That’s fine, but too often her piece seems to assume that a panel of experts in white coats somewhere has ruled that progressivism just works and the intellectual debate is over. It’s not over, and Ms. Clinton’s policies are not some kind of pro-life panacea.

Can a Pro-Life Person Vote for Clinton?

Ms. Held Evans spends a lot of time arguing that Donald Trump isn’t pro-life, either respecting abortion or, really, anything else. This is almost certainly true, but it doesn’t exculpate Clinton either.

Which takes us to the crux of the matter. I take Ms. Held Evans at her word that she’s pro-life (though she engages in some ridiculous, “Who am I to force my beliefs on someone?” sophistry). Let’s really back it up and ask, “What is abortion to a person who is pro-life?” That’s very simple.

On a medical, scientific level abortion is the process of ending the life of a living individual, genetically distinct, member of the species homo sapiens. We end these lives by killing them with chemicals, dismemberment, and lethal injection.

To the pro-life person, whether secular or devout, this practice is infanticide. To put it simply we kill the most physically vulnerable class of human beings by poisoning them and cutting them to pieces. To the pro-life person like myself or Ms. Held Evans this is a monstrous injustice. For this to happen to just one child would be grossly wrong. In the United States, where it is firmly legal, it occurs more than a million times, each and every year.

The legality of this practice is one that Ms. Clinton strongly defends, though she claims to takes umbrage at the occasional exculpatory circumstances such as some late-term or sex-selective abortions in the People’s Republic of China (no word on the American girls who find themselves so unneeded).

Ms. Held Evans’ chosen candidate not only backs the legality of this practice, but openly calls for the use of Medicaid funding to directly subsidize it. Her candidate’s party’s platform functionally opposes any limits on the practice.

Let’s sum this up. In the United States, every year, over a million human beings are eliminated, usually by physically traumatic and violent methods, the vast majority of whom are Latino or black. Ms. Clinton not only wishes to allow this practice to continue legally, but perversely defends using funds designated for the poor to subsidize the death of their children.

Much of Ms. Held Evans’ essay rightfully highlights her passionate concern for social justice, a concept too often reserved to the secular left.  She spends a good deal of time discussing her concerns that Donald Trump’s candidacy reflects a threat to marginalized populations. No doubt, if Mr. Trump openly called for the violent liquidation of Muslims, Hispanics, immigrants, and the disabled, she would recoil in horror. She would extend this horror if Trump floated the idea that, while he himself wouldn’t pursue such a policy, he would be loathe to use the power of the government to keep others from murdering them. Even if Trump simply winked at such a future, no doubt she would find a Trump vote to be morally unthinkable.

Yet she has no such qualms about using her voice to endorse Ms. Clinton.

To the pro-life there can’t be a difference. A pro-life person, opposed to the practice of killing human beings in utero, can’t distinguish between human beings in or out of the womb.

I think part of Ms. Held Evans’ disconnect is due to the banality of evil. Hillary Clinton isn’t some grotesque. She isn’t even a crass, demagogic buffoon. She looks like a respectable, boring, American politician. In another life, she looks like she would’ve made a typical PTA president. This doesn’t make her policies any less unjust. One  wonders if Held Evans’ belief in Clinton’s pro-life life ethic extends to those killed at wedding parties struck by American drones, dead Libyans, or Syrians. Another part of her disconnect likely comes from the ease with which our mind can gloss over mass violence. A good (though imperfect) comparison can be made to the judgement in the Einsatzgruppen trial.

That verdict is asobering reminder of evil and our limitations;

[O]ne million is but an abstract number. One cannot grasp the full cumulative terror of murder one million times repeated. It is only when this grotesque total is broken down into units capable of mental assimilation that one can understand the monstrousness of the things we are in this trial contemplating. One must visualize not one million people but only ten persons falling before the executioner . . . . If one million is divided by ten, this scene must happen one hundred thousand times, and as one visualizes the repetitious horror, one begins to understand the meaning of the prosecution’s words, ‘It is with sorrow and with hope that we here disclose the deliberate slaughter of more than a million innocent and defenseless . . . children.’

If one describes oneself as pro-life, if one believes that the poisoning and dismembering of human beings in utero is unjust, then we cannot give our votes to those on the Right or Left who wink at those who engage in such practices and at those who wish to use public funds to directly subsidize them. To do so it to be complicit in a great evil, no matter how banal and boring it appears. I’ll let C.H. Spurgeon, a more eloquent Christian than either Ms. Held Evans or myself, play us out:

This is one of the most specious of those arguments by which good men are held in the bonds of evil. As an argument, it is rotten to the core. We have no right to do wrong, from any motive whatever. To do evil that good may come is no doctrine of Christ, but of the devil.

The Wreck of the Abraham Lincoln

“All in a shipwrack shift their severall way”
— George Herbert

Apprentice to the bigger bully,
Christie licks his master’s hand,
as will the rest, eventually.
Lapdogs are not bred to stand.

Every person in the crowd
should have a voice. But all one tone.
Giuliani shouts so loud
he doesn’t need the microphone.

Melania’s dressed to the nines
for this commedia del arte,
but has to speak in borrowed lines
left over from another party.

Lepers and thieves they might embrace,
but someone who refused to crawl?
A man has got to know his place;
Cruz, you stand outside the wall.

Toeing the line, the acrobatic
Ryan performs with death-defying
balance — still smiling, diplomatic —
trying to sell what he’s not buying.

Trump tells us things are getting scary,
and he’s got reason, having made
a demon of his adversary.
We get the message: be afraid.