The Opioid Crisis and GOP Abandonment - by Greer Clem

The GOP tax bill that just passed and made Paul Ryan's slappable face light up with glee is a betrayal to the Republican party’s constituents. Unfortunately for those constituents, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and Donald Trump could not care less. But for those Americans who care about more than their trust funds, we have a responsibility to address this issue. The opioid crisis has lowered the average American lifespan for the second year in a row. It has claimed more lives this year than the HIV/AIDs epidemic did during its first year. Despite finally being pressured to declare this a state of emergency back in October, Trump’s office has done nothing to alleviate this crisis. On the contrary, their recent legislation shows us that they are willing to let Americans die every day across this country to provide the wealthy with a tax cut.

Paul Ryan last week said that in 2018 he would be targeting the reduction of spending in Medicare, Medicaid, and anti-poverty programs. He claims these cuts are necessary to reduce the deficit, despite just having passed a bill that would increase the deficit by $1 trillion over the next decade. Ryan wants to cut government services to provide millionaires and corporations with a greater tax cut, moving more jobs overseas and endangering the health of millions of Americans. Orrin Hatch offered his support by saying, “You don’t help the poor by pushing more liberal programs through.” Reducing the corporate tax break consequentially will require in increase in taxes for the lower sectors of the economy, the poor. Cutting medicaid will mean that treatment centers will be financially out of reach for most people battling opioid addiction. Addiction will continue to rise, treatment will become more difficult, and people will continue to die. But Paul Ryan and Orrin Hatch don’t care because they're getting huge tax breaks and pats on the back from Trump, who recently told his guests at a Mar-a-Lago dinner, "You all just got a lot richer." 

The irony is, many of the people dying from opioid addiction agree with Mr. Ryan and Mr. Hatch's approach to taxes. Though they may disparage that their Medicare and Medicaid are being cut, they blame liberal politicians and advocate for a tax cut that actually won’t benefit them. This has been a mountain of miscommunication that has plagued the democratic party and emboldened republicans to carry out a self-serving agenda, and this is something we need to work towards fixing. Let me make this clear: this isn’t a fix for the sake of politics, but because the democratic party inherently supports and creates the programs we need to save American lives. The same people dying can vote against us; that’s not why we believe in these programs. We believe in them because, in this country, your beliefs should not prevent you from getting the care and assistance you need.

We can start by addressing the opioid crisis in the context of the recent tax bill. Trump ran for president under the promise of not reducing funding for Medicare, Medicaid or social security. Social security has senate laws in place that make it harder to touch, but Paul Ryan just told us cuts to all three were coming, so Trump’s word means nothing (as if we didn’t know this already). Let’s add Jeff Sessions to the mix, our nation’s most forgetful lawyer and a crowd favorite at the Senate Judiciary Committee. Sessions wants to re-instate the war on drugs, a movement known to be a failure and a threat to civil rights. He wants to impose more mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenders, increasing mass incarceration (which, incidentally, makes the government a sh*t ton of money), and contributing to civil rights breaches. Thill will neither solve the opioid crisis nor prevent it from worsening.

To get our message across, to convey the fact that the GOP is letting this crisis fester, Dems may need to change the way we communicate. People in rural Kentucky may not read a Washington Post op-ed about opioids in their state, but they will listen to people who have grown up with them, people who they relate to. This isn’t condescension: it’s not coastal elites versus the every man. This is just tailoring communication to fit people’s lives. Impact only happens when people see how they can apply something to their own circumstances. Democrats have not found a way to make their message relatable, mostly because in states most threatened by drug abuse, the political price isn't worth the effort. Consequentially, these same citizens, those affected most by this crisis, relate to republicans more than democrats. The GOP hammers home the message that everyone wants lower taxes, an obvious selling point, and sweeps the human cost under the rug. We can't change the way they lie, but we can change the way we tell the truth. We can change the way our party is perceived by actually communicating in a way that creates active engagement. We just saw in Alabama and Louisiana and Virginia that people are willing to listen, that they are ready for our message so long as it's brought by those who understand them.  Our party is more far-reaching than we realize, and this cause is calling enough to seize upon that fact. 

Greer Clem