Best columns: The U.S.
The invisible plague of rural America
“The opioid epidemic is this generation’s AIDS crisis,” said Andrew Sullivan. In the 1980s and ’90s, those of us in the gay male subculture lived in “a medieval landscape of constant disease and death,” largely invisible to the larger society. The same is true of the working-class communities in rural and small-town America now ravaged by the opioid/heroin/ fentanyl epidemic. The scope of the carnage is staggering: 52,000 people died of drug overdoses in 2015, even more than the peak year for AIDS, which took 51,000 lives in 1995. One tragic difference between the two crises is that while “AIDS was eventually overcome by innovation by pharmaceutical companies,” the opioid epidemic was created by the very same companies. Their aggressive and deceptive marketing of opioid painkillers set up millions for a terrible addiction. Effective AIDS treatments were developed only because of intense political pressure by advocacy groups such as ACT UP, which forced the rest of America to see our suffering. But today, the Trump administration is embracing a health-care plan that would severely cut Medicaid funding for ad diction treatment. “Where, one wonders, is the ACT UP of the red states?”
How Trump’s policies are succeeding
“Perceptions matter,” said Michael Barone, and in much of the country, the perception is that “President Trump’s policies are working.” During Trump’s first full month in office, in February, the economy added 235,000 jobs—more than expected. More importantly, most of the jobs were in the private sector, with construction jobs up 58,000 and manufacturing jobs up 28,000. At the same time, the stock market has broken records, with the Dow near 21,000. It sure looks as if job creators are feeling optimistic because of the president’s plan to eliminate regulations and cut taxes. At the southern border, meanwhile, apprehensions of people crossing illegally in February dropped 36 percent from the previous year. Why? The northward flood from Central American nations of children and some adults seeking asylum has slowed dramatically, because people from these countries know that “things are different now.” Under President Obama, people caught at the border were usually released, pending further legal action. But Trump has told immigration officials to send people caught at the border back quickly. It’s still very early, but so far, the “wisdom of crowds” suggests that Trump is a far more effective president than his critics would insist.
Steve King, mainstream Republican
Racists like Steve King used to be “pushed to the fringes” of the Republican Party, said Max Boot. But in the Trump era, “they’re in charge.” King, an Iowa congressman, recently praised far-right Dutch leader Geert Wilders and echoed his statement that “we can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” In the past, King stated that “no ‘subgroup’ other than ‘white people’ has done more for civilization,” and smeared Mexican immigrants as “drug mules” with “calves the size of cantaloupes.” House Speaker Paul Ryan waved off King’s latest outrage as unimportant, saying he probably “misspoke”; at the White House, key presidential adviser Steve Bannon actually shares King’s hateful worldview. In 2015, Bannon praised King “as a great mentor to all of us” and “a true warrior.” Both Bannon and King recently recommended an astonishingly racist 1973 French novel, The Camp of the Saints, which depicts France’s white Christians being overrun by hordes of impoverished Indians. “This is ugly stuff,” but under Bannon and President Trump, white nationalism has gone mainstream. The GOP is no longer the party of Ronald Reagan, who once described the U.S. as a “brotherhood of man” whose citizens came from “every corner of the Earth.”