Donald Trump Victory Reaction: Nicholas Kristof Compares Surviving President Trump To Suffering From Mental Illness

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No, processing Donald Trump’s election victory is not like recovering from addiction

One of the more painful aspects of Donald Trump’s shock election victory, for me, has been having to watch journalists and commentators whom I have previously respected gradually lose all sense of perspective and become almost offensively hysterical in their overwrought catastrophisation of the election result.

This blog was also very much against a Trump victory, but much of the mainstream media commentary seems to have descended into a nationwide, mutually-reinforcing panic attack, like a group of young kids watching a scary movie at a sleepover and then seizing on every nighttime creak or rustle to convince one another that they are being haunted by the monster from the television.

Godwin’s Law is now being proved with such regularity – by supposedly serious journalists writing above the line, and not just the online commentators beneath it – that cataloguing individual instances of Donald Trump victory catastrophisation has become pointless.

And we are not just talking about the more sensationalist, web-based outlets here. One expects little better from the Huffington Post, Buzzfeed or the likes of Everyday Feminism. But now even the New York Times has fallen victim to the great national hysteria – star columnist Nicholas Kristof can presently be found comparing the forthcoming suffering of American leftists under the incoming Trump administration to the pain of people suffering from addiction and mental illness.

I’m not joking – Kristof has just published a column in which he outlines his own patented “twelve-step program” for coming to terms with a Donald Trump presidency.

Kristof begins:

Traumatized by the election results, many Americans are asking: What now? Here are steps that any of us can take that can make a difference at the margins. Onward!

Traumatised? Really? Isn’t that a word that might be better reserved for veterans who watched their friends killed in action or had their own limbs blown off by IEDs, or the victims of sexual assault and other violent crime? Do we really want to extend that term to encompass the tears and frustration of Hillary Clinton supporters as Donald Trump made a mockery of the opinion polls and won a four-year term as US president?

Some highlights from the Kristof 12-steps:

2. I WILL try to do small things in my own life, recognizing that they are inadequate but at least a start: I will sign up on the Council on American-Islamic Relations website, volunteering to fight Islamophobia. I’ll call a local mosque to offer support, or join an interfaith event. I will sign up for an “accompany my neighbor” list if one exists for my area, to be an escort for anyone who is now in fear.

Because in the blink of an eye and before Trump has even taken office, America has become such a seethingly dangerous place that minorities can no longer walk the streets unaccompanied? Has Nicholas Kristof given absolutely zero thought to how this alarmist, apocalyptic language might be contributing (or indeed be the largest contributor) to the fear which he describes?

3. I WILL avoid demonizing people who don’t agree with me about this election, recognizing that it’s as wrong to stereotype Trump supporters as anybody else. I will avoid Hitler metaphors, recognizing that they stop conversations and rarely persuade. I’ll remind myself that no side has a monopoly on truth and that many Trump supporters are good people who want the best for the country. The left already has gotten into trouble for condescending to working-class people, and insulting all Trump supporters as racists simply magnifies that problem.

Credit where it’s due. Kristof manages something close to magnanimity here, but his call for fellow progressives upset at the election to avoid demonising Donald Trump supporters would be all the more convincing if it didn’t come in the middle of a hysterical article comparing a Trump presidency to living with serious mental illness.

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5. I WILL support groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center that fight hate groups, and back the center’s petition calling on Donald Trump to disavow bigotry. Depending on my interests, I’ll support an immigration rights group, the A.C.L.U. or Planned Parenthood. And I’ll subscribe to a newspaper as one way of resisting efforts to squelch the news media or preside over a post-fact landscape — and also to encourage journalists to be watchdogs, not lap dogs.

That would be the same Southern Poverty Law Center which has utterly capitulated to ideological leftist Islamism-deniers, and which has the nerve to place tireless fighters against extremism such as Maajid Nawaz and Ayaan Hirsi Ali on a list of supposed anti-Muslim bigots, in a desperate bid to placate and appeal to goodness knows who.

The ACLU of course does some vital work defending civil liberties, but it too has started to crumble under pressure from the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics, and is now just as zealous about protecting non-existent positive “human rights” as defending genuine civil liberties and Constitutional protections. One can still make an argument for joining the ACLU in an attempt to change it from within (it is less far gone than, say, the UK’s Liberty) but somehow I don’t think that this is what Kristof has in mind.

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7. I WON’T let it slide if a friend makes degrading comments about a minority or women. Even if it’s over Thanksgiving dinner, I’ll push back and say something like: “Come on! You really think that?!” Similarly, I may not be able to prevent a sexual predator from reaching the White House, but at events I attend, I may be able to prevent a sexual predator from assaulting a drunken partygoer.

8. I WILL resist dwelling in an echo chamber. I will follow smart people on Twitter or Facebook with whom I disagree. I will also try to enlarge my social circle to include people with different views, recognizing that diversity is a wonderful thing — and that if I know only Clinton supporters, then I don’t have a clue about America.

Again, credit where credit is due. We should all have the courage to take a stand where we see overt racism or sexism occurring in front of us. Confronting these bad ideas and exposing them to the unforgiving light of public ridicule is one of the best means of defeating them. But Kristof has clearly attended one “rape culture” seminar too many, and would have us all patrol every party we attend with a pocket breathalyser, pouncing on amorous couples to ensure that no alcohol has been consumed and that the appropriate consent forms have been signed.

It is also laudable that Kristof encourages people to look beyond their own ideological echo chamber and acknowledge the legitimacy and fundamental decency of those Americans who hold sincere political differences. However, one gets the feeling that this “step” might be the stumbling block for many leftists, just as some recovering addicts pause when confronted with Steps 8 and 9 (making amends to those they have harmed). It does not come naturally to many people to expand their social circles to incorporate those with different viewpoints and values – indeed, many people assiduously prune their social circles to achieve the precise opposite in the quest for ideological homogeneity.

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11. I WILL take on sexism and misogyny, which in forms like domestic violence, sexual assault and sex trafficking affect women and girls across the country. Even today, Republicans and Democrats should be able to work together to get funding for women’s shelters or to prosecute pimps.

Even today? What is that supposed to mean? That however bad Donald Trump and Republicans may be, with the right outreach it may just still be possible to convince these heartless conservatives that sex slavery, rape and domestic violence are bad things? Well, I should hope so. This wouldn’t even need saying, were it not for the fact that many people who read Kristof’s column have been fed a steady diet of propaganda suggesting that Donald Trump is about to make his own unreconstructed attitude towards women compulsory for all men in the country.

And finally:

12. I WILL not lose hope. I will keep reminding myself that politics zigs and zags, and that I can do more than shout in the wind. I can fight for my values even between elections, and even at the micro level I can mitigate the damage to my neighbors and attempt to heal a social fabric that has been rent.

“A social fabric that has been rent” – a nicely passive way of describing the division in America, as though the Kristof-reading American Left had absolutely nothing to do with the rending of America’s social fabric.

Look: the offensive thing here is not necessarily the content of Kristof’s article or the sentiments he expresses. As I have acknowledged, many of the points are actually very laudable calls for all of us to be better, more engaged citizens – something that this blog heartily approves of, and has long called for. What is really offensive is the fact that Kristof felt it in any way appropriate to compare the disappointment of losing an election with the torment of addiction, that he packaged this collection of decent advice and condescension in the guise of a 12-step program.

Imagine for a moment that Nicholas Kristof had written an article encouraging disappointed Clinton supporters to view the next four years as a painful course of chemotherapy. Imagine the outrage which would rightly be prompted by comparing the pain of electoral defeat with the ravages of cancer. But when it comes to addiction and mental health, apparently everything is fair game. It is perfectly acceptable for wealthy, pampered Manhattanites to compare their suffering to that of people suffering from mental illness.

Or imagine that the positions were reversed and a right-wing columnist had compared the suffering of conservatives under a Clinton administration to people trying to recover from addiction. Again, that columnist would immediately be hauled over the coals by the perpetually outraged Left.

This is another one of those occasions where the decadent metro-left grants itself a waiver from the outrage and opprobrium it would rain down on anybody of more conservative persuasion who dared to do the same thing. It’s fine for Nicholas Kristof to talk about processing a Democratic electoral defeat as though it is in any way similar to working through mental health issues, because he does it for the Greater Good of the leftist cause, but heaven forfend that anybody else speak too casually about a “traditionally marginalised group”.

Do these people have any conception of how hysterical and arrogant they sound?

Go back to Step 3 and do it right this time. Because this is NOT how America will knit back together after the election. Nicholas Kristof should be heartily ashamed of himself.

 

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One To Watch: Addicts’ Symphony

Rachael Lander

 

Tonight at 11PM UK Time, Channel 4 will screen the documentary Addicts’ Symphony.

The documentary showcases a project that took place last year, a collaboration between Big Mountain Productions and the London Symphony Orchestra’s LSO Discovery programme, to explore ways that music could help recovering addicts with prior musical experience.

From the LSO Discovery blog:

The project, Addicts’ Symphony, was the brainchild of the composer and musician James McConnel, whose 18-year-old son Freddy, an aspiring and talented musician, died of a heroin overdose in 2011 at the age of 18. James, himself a recovering alcoholic, was inspired to create the project by a determination to save others like Freddy from a similar fate, and a firm belief in the transformative power of music.

After a summer of recruitment, the ten participants came together for the first time at the beginning of October 2013. Led by workshop leader and composer Paul Rissmann and supported by LSO members Bindi McFarlane (violin) and Matthew Gibson (double bass), the group were reunited with their instruments; some having not played for 20 years, and some just beginning. All they were told at this point was that they needed to put together a performance.

This topic is of particular interest to me for a number of reasons. For a number of years I was a Patron of the London Symphony Orchestra, making financial contributions to support the orchestra’s work and subsidise the price of tickets so that other people from poorer backgrounds such as myself could experience the transformative, life-changing power of classical music.

But what I didn’t realise then was that I was to have personal experience of the ravages of addiction. I remember hearing discussion of a certain musician, an accomplished professional instrumentalist who played with some of the UK’s most prestigious orchestras, who exhibited alcoholic behaviour and drank to manage and suppress terrible stage fright – a theme that is explored in the Addicts’ Symphony documentary. But I never for a moment thought that I would one day exhibit many of these same behaviours myself.

My experiences of addiction, treatment and recovery probably merit a blog post, if not a book, of their own. And I will leave that topic for another day, except to say that despite not being a professional musician, my career outside of journalism is similarly high-stress, and that music was a key part of my recovery as it has always been a fundamental part of my life. The healing, restorative power of music is well known, and music therapy was very much a part of my own personal treatment plan.

The Addicts’ Symphony documentary should be one to watch because it addresses an area that is often overlooked by pundits and policymakers when discussing our approach to addressing and treating addiction. Much of the current focus is on treatment among the economically disadvantaged, or the underclass – and after many years of denial, some progress is finally being made in this area. But little attention has been paid to the havoc that can be caused by addiction in people with high-stress and often high-profile careers, such as the world of top-flight classical music.

As I can now personally attest having been through the mill myself, and an official “service user” of some of the patchwork of addiction recovery services available in Britain, many of the treatments and options available are simply not calibrated to people from different backgrounds – say those with more advanced educational qualifications, professional careers, many of the middle class obligations (such as mortgage payments and other financial obligations) and a lack of offending behaviour.

That is not to say that all treatments on offer are inadequate – far from it. Indeed, I was personally brought back from the brink by taxpayer-funded services that were, for the most part, excellent. And yet there were many areas where my particular needs and circumstances diverged almost completely from those of my fellow service users, forcing me to improvise and strike out on my own without the safety net provided to others.

I will expand on these ideas following the screening of the documentary, but it is already clear that Addicts’ Symphony is an important contribution to the discussion about addiction in high-functioning people with high-stress careers.

From the testimony of Rachael Lander, one of the participants in Addicts’ Symphony and a recovering alcoholic herself:

To admit [my addiction] publicly may amount to professional suicide. However, I’m frustrated with the classical-music profession and the fact that stage fright is still a touchy subject, despite the huge pressures on musicians. My story is not unique. Many classical musicians struggle alone, masking their nerves with beta blockers and alcohol, ashamed, as I was. For some reason, it is more acceptable to admit frailty in the world of rock and pop.

All the way through filming, I was aware that my taking part might help someone like me feel less alone. I trusted the integrity of the documentary’s director, Dollan Cannell, from the moment I met him, and I knew I would have more strength to tackle my specific fear of orchestral playing in the company of the other addicts involved in the programme.

Together we composed our piece, Rhapsody of the Tamed, and performed it with pride with the London Symphony Orchestra last November. It was both heartbreaking and empowering to play a concert with the LSO and admit that I was full of fear. I didn’t have to deny or medicate my feelings. For once I could be honest and, in the process, the shame I’d had about myself began to lift. It hasn’t returned since the night of the concert.

It is wonderful to hear the story of someone who experienced the darkness of addiction and not only came out the other side, but was able – with help – to re-engage with the very profession that had been such a source of stress and a trigger for her personal issues. But outside the meeting rooms of twelve-step fellowships, such stories are currently too few and far between.

Not everyone recovering from addiction is able to take a permanent sabbatical from the sources of their stress and anxiety once they leave treatment – though this is always strongly recommended by many treatment providers as the best choice for a successful long-term recovery. Many have families and other obligations which demand that they re-engage with the world more or less on the world’s terms and at it’s pace rather than their own. And here, finally, is a documentary that – among other goals – points to a possible way forward, at least for one specific high-pressure career.

Never one to turn down an opportunity to listen to the London Symphony Orchestra in action, Semi-Partisan Sam will be watching Addicts’ Symphony tonight with great interest.

 

Cover Image: Cellist Rachael Lander, “Addiction in the orchestra: classical music’s drink and drugs problem“, The Guardian

Going On A Trip And Never Coming Back, Ctd

Andrew Sullivan’s readers continue an excellent discussion on the merits of 12-step based addiction recovery programs. The personal testimonies and archived debates, all accessible here, are also very much worth reading.

The Dish

Reacting to some criticism of 12-step programs, a reader writes movingly in support of AA and NA:

For both of my brothers and myself, 12-step recovery programs have literally been the difference between life and death. My younger brother had recently switched from heroin to crack cocaine by the time he entered the Fellowships of NA and AA; my entire family was quite sure that if a drug overdose didn’t kill him, some of the people to whom he owed money would see to it themselves. Eight years later, he has a wife, a lovely daughter, and a college degree, all thanks to working a 12-step program.

As for me, my drug of choice was alcohol.

I had chronic liver pains by age 26, and my hands shook so badly my mother thought I had Parkinson’s Disease. I needed at least 12 beers a day to feel normal, and a minimum…

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Going On A Trip And Never Coming Back

Andrew Sullivan, as always, has done a great job of curating the web and coming back with some of the most cogent reaction to the tragic death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. Not banal pronouncements from pundits and other celebrities, but a balanced look at the nature of addiction and relapse, from a variety of sources, many of them addicts themselves. Well worth a read.

The Dish

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s quick journey from long-term sobriety to relapse to death scares Seth Mnookin, who has struggled with alcohol and heroin addiction:

My first attempt at recovery came in 1991, when I was 19 years old. Almost exactly two years later, I decided to have a drink. Two years after that, I was addicted to heroin. There’s a lot we don’t know about alcoholism and drug addiction, but one thing is clear: Regardless of how much time clean you have, relapsing is always as easy as moving your hand to your mouth.

In response to Hoffman’s death, Sacha Scoblic highlights the shortcomings of twelve-step programs and wonders if another approach could have saved Hoffman:

A big part of the problem is rehab itself, which is almost universally based on twelve-step work, like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. But AA was developed in the 1930s, in the absence of brain…

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On Addiction, Ctd. – Philip Seymour Hoffman

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While the world reels from the news of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death by probable heroin overdose, Damian Thompson, writing in The Telegraph, pulls back the curtain on addiction and endeavours to explain how someone with multiple years of clean or sober time such as Hoffman can appear fine (particularly to those on the periphery or observing through the media) in the run-up to a serious or fatal relapse.

Surveying the immediate reaction from friends and colleagues of the actor, Thompson writes:

“But he/she was doing so well … clean and sober for X months/years … really looking forward to their next project.”

This baffled reaction to a drugs tragedy is familiar to anyone who works with addicts. We’re hearing it from friends and fans of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was clean for 23 years before apparently checking himself into rehab last year. To stay away from drink and drugs for nearly a quarter of a century – and then relapse? Some people will be puzzled by that.

They shouldn’t be.

Indeed they should not be puzzled. Many of the people expressing such surprise may have been friends or acquaintances of Hoffman, but very few would likely have seem him up close and observed his behaviour day-in and day-out to a sufficient degree that alarm bells would necessarily have been raised. Clearly all was not well with the actor, as he had undergone 10 days in a rehabilitation facility last year following a relapse.

Indeed, this raises another point – sometimes it is those who see an addict regularly but not continuously, at intervals well spaced apart, who are best placed to spot signs of impending trouble or emotional relapse (that stage where addictive thoughts and behaviours are creeping back in, but before the person has drunk or picked up). It will be interesting in the coming days to see whether friends and acquaintances of this type had seen a worsening or intensification of mood or using in Hoffman in these final weeks.

Even experts can sometimes be wrongfooted, as Thompson rightly observes:

In Narcotics Anonymous, however [as opposed to someone in Alcoholics Anonymous under the influence of alcohol], someone can address the room loaded up on heroin, or (if they’re careful) cocaine, or with 50mg of unprescribed Valium inside them, and they can get away with it. One or two people in the audience may guess, but they don’t want to point the finger. There are nearly always active users at meetings. Indeed, if you’re an addict looking to score in a strange city, the local NA chapter is often a good place to start.

Damian Thompson does not subscribe to the disease theory of addiction, but fully endorses the description of mind-altering substances and addiction as “cunning, baffling and powerful” – a reading from 12-step literature with which any fellowship member will quickly become familiar. And in closing, he points out the degree to which this was surely true of Hoffman:

Not only is addiction cunning, in that it hangs around for years whistling nonchalantly and leaps out just when you think you’ve turned into a “normal” person, but hiding a drug habit makes you cunning. Far too cunning for your own good.

Our prayers and sympathies must go to the family and friends of Philip Seymour Hoffman who survive him.

The following is a scene from the film 25th Hour, a favourite film of mine and one in which Hoffman plays a wonderful role in the ensemble cast:

 

May he rest in peace.