An interview on Morning Joe last week of former Fox News anchor Eric Bolling inadvertently gave another startling glimpse into Trump’s (in)capacity to run the country and deal with its crises. By design, the segment wasn’t about Bolling’s departure from the network over sexual misconduct allegations but something more tragic—the death of his son from opioids later on the very day he packed up his office and left. What Bolling kept returning to in the segment was how many times Trump had called to comfort him, even having him to the White House for a visit.
That’s all to the good. Bolling deserves whatever help he can get in coping with his terrible loss. For the rest of us, it’s one more reminder of how Trump substitutes gestures for action in solving an opioid crisis that addicts more than 2.5 million each year with deaths rising 28 percent in the past year. Nearly 175 Americans die from opioids every day.
In fact, Trump hasn’t just neglected the effort, he’s diminished it. Opioids, like school shootings, are the moral failing of our time. We know what would work in that studies show it’s not primarily economic despair driving the increase in addiction, as those who want to relieve drug makers of responsibility would have it. It’s increased supply.
With both drugs and guns, a solution takes standing up to powerful corporate interests, which Trump will not do. Despite promises all during the campaign and a declaration that opioids were a national health emergency a year ago, the Office of National Drug Control Policy, popularly known as the drug czar’s office, has hardly been an office; nor has it had a drug czar.
In fact, after Trump’s dramatic pronouncement, last year he floated cutting the drug czar’s office by 95 percent with the goal of eventually eliminating it altogether. That didn’t fly. At least Capitol Hill believes the crisis deserves the fig leaf of having the White House behind it. That didn’t stop Trump from quietly gutting it. The office’s most important duties have been handed over to the Justice Department, where drugs are a matter of law enforcement, not regulating the pharmaceutical companies or helping ravaged communities in their efforts to rescue the addicted.
This Monday, Trump continued his effort to remove his White House from the drug control effort with his proposal to slice the drug czar’s budget from $385 million to $29 million by 2019. This proposal came two days after Trump finally got around to nominating a drug czar. It’s Jim Carroll, a fine lawyer, but how he ended up being nominated tells you a lot about Trump’s interest in solving a problem.
Carroll currently serves as White House deputy chief of staff, a job that now-disgraced secretary Rob Porter was going to be promoted to before his alleged wife-beating was exposed. If you think the moribund drug czar’s office is anything but a place for Carroll to land with dignity, you’ll believe Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen’s recent assertion that he personally paid a porn film star $130,000 out of the goodness of his heart.
The drug czar position under Trump began in infamy. The first nominee, former Rep. Tom Marino, was chosen by Trump for his successful effort to gut the law designed to punish pharmaceutical companies that flood drug mills with pills. 60 Minutes exposed the scandal, and Marino had no choice but to withdraw his nomination. Although it defies belief, the gutted law still stands, despite Senators Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Joe Manchin from hard-hit West Virginia proposing legislation to restore the government’s power.
Until a few weeks ago, the drug czar’s office, into year two without a permanent director, was largely being run by Taylor Weyeneth, a 24-year old campaign volunteer put into the office’s number-two slot by the White House with no relevant experience other than being moved by a relative’s death from a heroin overdose and having organized a golf tournament.
According to an investigation by The Washington Post, he picked up the duties of eight departed administration appointees including the general counsel and chief of staff. In actuality, as described by a former staffer, Weyeneth, who inflated his resume to include a master’s degree from Fordham, did little but cook up reasons to visit the West Wing, schedule meetings in attractive destinations, and, for all we know, take long walks on the beach.
Coming to grips with drugs and guns aren’t like the moon shot or conquering Mars, speculative and massively costly. With attention, an experienced director, and full budget, it could be done. Instead, as with so much else, Trump is empty promises and phone calls. Whether his neglect is benign or malignant, doesn’t matter. In the time it took to research and write this column, 175 people died.