My Turn: Trump’s insult hides his failure to act on opioid crisis

For the Monitor
Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Ernest Hemingway opined, “Don’t confuse movement with action.” Or better yet, words for deeds. The brouhaha over President Donald Trump’s most recent, offensive sham that he won the New Hampshire primary because our state is a “drug-infested den” isn’t simply a childish rant – it’s dangerous language that vilifies those suffering with addiction and smears an entire state dealing with a serious public health and public safety crisis.

Trump’s outrageous comments shouldn’t be dismissed, as some of my Republican Senate colleagues have said, as “the president being the president” or that the president “got out a little bit further than he should have with his language.” Nor should they be downplayed as Gov. Chris Sununu did by calling Trump’s insults “hyperbole” or a “mischaracterization.”

As a teacher and writer in rural New Hampshire, I’ve had a front-row seat to the ravages of the opioid epidemic. My native Coos County has the distinction as the place with the highest combined death rate due to drugs, alcohol and suicide in all of New England. People are literally dying of despair, and I’ve seen too many promising students succumb to the effects of this terrible illness.

Remember, “the devil haunts a hungry man.” While substance abuse touches all people, the burden is far heavier when you’re poor and powerless.

Trump’s words aren’t just crass hyperbole – they’re symptomatic of an insidious, disturbing policy to belittle and abandon the most vulnerable among us. Ironically, the struggling, working-class communities whose faith propelled Trump to the White House now find themselves the target of the president and his Republican apologists.

This abandonment is seen not just in word, but in deed. Rather than deliver resources for our treatment providers and first responders to end this epidemic, Trump proposed drastic budget cuts that would only make the crisis worse. And instead of making bipartisan efforts to provide more coverage for opioid treatment, Trump and his Republican allies have instead prioritized repealing health care, which would devastate our efforts to expand treatment options.

We need to be more practical and less ideological, open our minds to smart policies and our wallets to sound investments. Yet the new Republican budget will spend more than 12 times the amount of money per year on tax breaks for the wealthy elite than on combating the opioid epidemic. To make matters worse, Republicans chose these corporate tax breaks rather than fully funding the alcohol fund, which provides needed resources in combating the opioid crisis.

Again and again, we’ve heard families crying out for treatment only to be told that the medical resources they need aren’t available. Renewing our bipartisan N.H. Health Protection Program is the single most effective way to increase access to treatment because the program offers substance abuse coverage. But Trump and his Granite State sympathizers have blocked attempts to stabilize our health care market, increase competition and reduce costs.

To be clear, what stands in the way of progress is the Republicans’ rigid, impractical ideology and plain-old “penny-wise, pound foolish” mentality. Our state’s famous frugality often serves us well. But neglecting necessary investments in our state’s health care system erodes our quality of life and the very essence of what draws people to New Hampshire.

Caring for the health and well-being of our citizens is one of our most sacred obligations. We don’t even need additional revenue to fulfill that responsibility. Instead of deep corporate tax cuts that the business community isn’t even asking for, we should be investing into strengthening and expanding the health care services that our most vulnerable Granite Staters need.

With most of the state’s incarcerated men being in my district, I’m a regular visitor to our prisons. I recall touring the hobby shop, where long-term inmates learn the skills to craft beautiful things. These inmates forge a better life from their past transgressions – avoiding drugs and crime because they live for their work. It gives them reason to live and propels them on a path to a stable, fulfilling life.

We need to focus on creating rewarding work and optimism for a better future. Any path to recovery must be woven together with hope and commitment to expand opportunity for all. By fanning the flames of despair, Trump and his defenders are hiding their cynical policy of no help or hope for those who need it the most.

We should rightfully be insulted by Trump’s repulsive comments, but it’s for the deeds of Trump and his Republican allies that Granite Staters truly deserve an apology.

(Sen. Jeff Woodburn of Whitefield is the Senate Democratic leader and represents the North Country in the New Hampshire Senate.)