B.J. Bethel

A view of the world from Ohio

Tag Archives: heroin

Highway 2016 Revisited: Why Trump won, and why neither party will respond

The day after Nov. 3, the sun rose from the east, as it has every day since God pulled the trigger on his galactic shotgun and put this mess together. It shocked many, but wasn’t nearly as shocking as Donald Trump becoming president-elect the night before.

Stock futures plummeted, before rallying. It’s continued since, with the market hitting 19,000 for the first time, most likely because Trump was considering staff friendly to finance. The Democrats – those who actually run for office and are on ballots – clawed through the wreckage with their fingernails, wondering why they lost, while the base already made up their minds, and were more concerned with protecting their corner of the turf instead of winning elections.

And since the ‘day-after’ article has already been written 20-plus times by every media site since the election, I waited. Some had it right, others wrong, but clearly a large part of working and middle-class America drove to the curb in front of the establishment and tossed a brick through its plate glass window. Trump won, Hillary lost – this is why:

Jobs: The Trump election was a rejection of the U.S. economic system. For too many it doesn’t work even if it doesn’t exclude you. Talking to Trump voters, those who may be apolitical or might not like him as a person, the words often heard were, ‘Nothing to lose.’ Forty years of Republican and Democratic presidents, and the working class gets worse by the year. It’s now suffering a social and cultural collapse that’s the real story of the election, one no one wrote about, unless as some tip of the hat flyover piece in a coastal magazine. The type where some Ivy League kid comes through a town with trees for the first time, and writes about its inhabitants the way Morgan Freeman talks about critters on a nature documentary.

Trump was the first candidate in 40 years to say he would bring back jobs that have gone overseas. It was a lightning bolt to the ears. Those jobs began leaving in the 1970s. Cities like Youngstown and Cleveland were already feeling the burn. Dayton hung on until the mid-2000s. The promise of NAFTA, CAFTA and the WTO was Ross Perot’s ‘giant sucking sound’ would be painful for 15-20 years, but emerging markets would gain enough purchasing power where The U.S. could re-balance trade and begin blue collar manufacturing anew, and better, with the countries having already caught up to the post-war boom.

That was a lie, it continues to be a lie. Our trade policy has been conducted with one hand behind our national backs. China, Japan, Thailand, South Korea – they negotiate in the best interest of their country, the U.S’s ideas on trade is in the best interest of a handful on Wall Street. It’s a wonder there hasn’t been rioting, burning, all of the lot. We can thank our culture, our standard of living and our social safety net for that, but that began crumbling a decade ago, and is collapsing as the election approached, leading to:

Heroin Epidemic: Rural America is being devastated by the heroin epidemic. For those not in the know, this is the tale: Doctor’s prescribed pain medication in large amounts, medication that was tested and believed to be non-addictive. In actuality it was highly addictive. When prescriptions ran out, people were left out to dry. Drug and alcohol addictions are bad, what makes pain killer and opiate addiction the worst one could suffer, you aren’t taking the drug for a high, you take it to feel normal. The desire to feel normal, painless and without injury becomes an addiction. There is no sadder state in which to live. Injuries are prevalent in service industry jobs and in other areas, including recreation, especially in the Midwest. With the prevalence of heroin overseas, over prescribing of pain killers and the loss of medical benefits and low wage jobs or no jobs, it was a Molotov cocktail of social breakdown.

The last two years has seen an exponential rise in the number of heroin overdoses and deaths in Ohio and other Midwest states. This has gone virtually unreported in national media until recently (few places have done good journalism here, such as the EPIX series America Divided).

Myself, I know two people who have died of heroin overdoses, some relatives, and another who died in his house, was revived in the hospital, and took off out the door before nurses could get his name and give it to the police.

Hillary Clinton avoided these rural areas completely during her campaign, instead focusing on trying to recreate the success of the Obama coalition and sticking to city centers like Cleveland and Columbus. She never came to Dayton once, the first for a major party candidate in memory. These mistakes were based on flawed strategy and flawed demographics. Exit polls from 2012 and 2008 were wrong, some to the extent of six percent for some demographic groups, according to surveys and reports from Nate Cohn of the New York Times.

Trump and his surrogates spent weeks in these areas. Trump, despite his hyperbole and his Twitter rants, used most of his time on the stump to talk jobs, offshoring, blue collar life and the heroin crisis. Many of his stops were in the areas at the heart of the epidemic. When voting results were finalized, some counties in Western Ohio had turnout averaging around 70 percent of registered voters. One county that has been plagued by crime, lack of jobs and heroin had 89 percent of registered voters vote. Those are numbers one usually sees in dictatorships, but this was real.

Clinton, already the epitome of an establishment politician, spent no time with the voters that would ultimately vote her out.

Desperation: Eight-Nine percent of people found their way to the ballot box on a cold day, in a small county where a precinct isn’t down the road, but a few miles a way, where you have to find to go between the two jobs you work, or picking up kids at school. This number is amazing. While Ohio and cities like Dayton have shown signs of turn around and rebirth, there’s an inordinate despair among many in the white working class, especially baby boomers. They worked the same factories their fathers did, who received pensions and retirement plans, and managed to retire at a decent age and enjoy, by world standards, a luxurious life. This was the defacto expectation for the baby boomer that came head on with the generation reaching retirement age right when The Great Recession struck.

This led to companies shedding their most experienced workers because they were the most expensive. As technology changed, companies went to the millennial for answers because they understood tech and social media, and were also cheap and plentiful.

The millennial grew up with guidance counselors in their ear, telling them not to worry about student loans, pick what you want to do the rest of your life as a major, pick something you enjoy, career prospects aren’t a major concern when choosing a field of study. An anecdote I was always told, it didn’t matter what college degree you had, if you had one you would have a job. You may major in meteorology, but some company would hire you as a supervisor if need be.

This turned into six-figure debt, much of which is beyond the understanding of 30 year olds, let alone high school juniors who are signing their lives on the line, and for dollar amounts that make most mortgages look small.

The articles flowed endlessly the last decade – the millennial isn’t interested in buying a house, or having kids, or having a car, or life as Gen X or the boomers carried, and then followed with a list of answers that sound familiar to any 18-30 year old that came before. Slackers, lazy, taking it easy, more interested in social life. Truth was they’d love to have kids, cars, homes, vacations and to be pumping their income into an economy if they had an income, and weren’t burdened with student loans.

This last year 37 percent of student loan holders either missed a payment or were late on one, the default rate is rising, and these loans aren’t ones you can bankrupt, thanks to changes in law 20 years ago, which means defaulting is akin to financial suicide. Some have committed suicide under the pressure, others haven’t.

When you have your master’s, and you are working the late shift at Denny’s, and someone says they can bring good incomes back and make that loan disappear, you listen. Millennials voted for Hillary, but not by the numbers she should have received. What was Clinton’s position on student loans? If you listened hard at the debates you would know, or if you looked at her website, it was available, but it wasn’t something she talked about, which brings us to another reason she lost:

What was Clinton’s message?: Hillary Clinton was called the most qualified person to ever run for president. I would have to say I don’t believe she holds that title herself, but I believe she’s in teh upper tier. If she had a governorship on her curriculum vitae, it would have been no doubt. And with the experience as a governor, she would have overcame the weaknesses she had in her campaign, if not as a candidate. Still, asking someone what Clinton’s core message was, you’d still be waiting for an answer. She had many proposals and positions, but she didn’t run on a central theme. Most commercials focused on her work for children and children’s insurance (she put together the CHIP program, or was at least a part of its design), but most of her ads focused on Trump’s controversial and idiotic statements on social media or at the podium, they weren’t about her. You never got to know Hillary Clinton. You never knew why she was running, other than it was the next job in line. It’s a shame we’ll never find out.

 

 

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Crime may be at historical lows, but Trump’s law and order appeal is based on reality for rural areas

Tragedy in West Virginia. Twenty-seven overdoses in four hours –  one death. The overdoses occurred in the same area, within a couple miles of each other.

All of the overdoses happened within a mile and a half radius, which leads officials to believe they are from the same batch of heroin. The overdose victims ranged from 20 years old to 50, according to Merry.

This story is familiar in Dayton and its exurbs and the rural areas surrounding it. The drug was likely bought by all 27 victims from the same dealer, and laced with fentanyl, a narcotic more powerful than heroin. Fentanyl is what killed musician and star Prince. Where I work, a metro newspaper and major local news affiliate, this is news we report every weekend.

When dealers are running low on heroin (which is in epidemical demand), they cut heroin with fentanyl, and dealers seldom let customers know the product has been cut and could be fatal. Overdoses occur regularly, many causing death. Police departments, such as the Dayton Police Department in Ohio, have officers carrying NARCAN, a drug used to revive and save heroin ODs. This is standard equipment for officers, like a flashlight, handcuffs or a sidearm.

This is recent news to most, but this surge is far from a recent happening. Over a decade ago, law enforcement and hospitals in rural areas began seeing a switch from meth to heroin. Meth imported from Mexico was cheaper than meth produced by local dealers. At the same time new legislation made it more difficult to acquire opioids and other prescription pain medication. Heroin acts in the bloodstream like morphine. For those addicted to pain medication (many through bad practice by their own doctors), it was a natural switch that politicians and law enforcement didn’t anticipate. Now the United States is in the midst of the worst drug epidemic in at least 20 years, maybe ever.

Mike Burkholder of The Evening Leader and Wapakoneta Daily News wrote extensively about this problem nine years ago, but like many small town reports, it fell on deaf ears to others outside rural areas. It’s news to Washington DC, but almost everything from rural America is.

When Donald Trump speaks of law and order, he isn’t only speaking about immigration, inner city violence, he’s hitting a chord with rural working class and poor whites who have watched crime skyrocket due to the exploding epidemic in small towns. One exburb of Dayton had 80 heroin ODs through three months. They’ve occurred locally in Walmart and McDonalds bathrooms, in a Walgreens, and it’s eaten into the middle and upper middle class families.

Trump will probably not be president. But this problem will remain if Hillary Clinton doesn’t push aside the normal fight among progressive identity groups and take on the white working class and poor as the most serious part of her agenda. The Obama administration this week announced $17 million in funding to fight the heroin epidemic – it’s not nearly enough. It wouldn’t be nearly enough in Ohio. Promising more would outrage other groups that make up the Democratic voting base (poor and working class whites tend to vote Republican), who use academic language and old arguments about white privilege, which automatically fall apart when discussing the heroin epidemic. When a study was released early this year saying the mortality rate is only rising worldwide among one group of people – working class and poor American whites – progressive journalists were standing in line to either discount the findings as a whole or to twist them to fit their own gender or race politics, the same aggrandizement contest that has become a breeding ground on Twitter, and was the focus of garbage sites such as Gawker.

Hillary Clinton has long needed her Sister Souljah moment. To explain, Sister Souljah was a female rapper in the early 90s. She appeared at an MTV event with then candidate Bill Clinton, who loudly denounced her lyrics as violent against police and something he didn’t support. Hillary needs to make an honest reach to the rural white and working class, and do so in a loud fashion. Until this bloc is brought back into play for both parties, the vast disintegration of the political center will never get fixed. The GOP will continue to be at the beck and call of the Breitbart faction and the danger that runs from extremism continues.

Trump is probably losing the election – I say probably, because nothing is a certainty. But his candidacy hasn’t caused divisions and rank and furor in the country – it has revealed issues that have been long standing to those outside the corridor. Until the Democrats put aside the pecking order of their coalition, and start to work to truly unify the country, these problems will only get worse, and extremist fringes will continue to have a large voice.

The Democratic convention was a great start, with Ronald Reagan invoked (given the changes in the GOP, I’m sure the former Democrat and President would not have minded), and there are Republicans who would be more comfortable working with Democrats from the center than their own party on he right (John Kasich is the example). But invoking it, preaching optimism and unity, and focusing the country as one is one thing on the stump, and another thing in government.

This will be Hillary Clinton’s toughest challenge if she’s president.