The Prescription President
In May of 2016 Donald Trump tweeted a photo of himself eating a taco bowl at his office at Trump tower, in a naked attempt to improve his poor standing with Hispanic Americans. The photo showed Trump grinning and giving his trademark thumbs-up as he dug into the tasty dish. ‘I Love Hispanics!’ he wrote, unconvincingly.
In the background of the shot was the standard stuff you might expect from Donald Trump – photos of himself, golfing trophies, two (apparently) fake Oscars. A picture of his ex-wife in a bikini.
But to Trump’s left was an open drawer. Its curious contents have, for the most part, gone unnoticed.
The drawer was stuffed with packets of Sudafed, including a version of the drug only sold in the UK. Sudafed is primarily used as a decongestant for people with a cold or the flu. However, when abused pseudoephedrine (the active ingredient in Sudafed) can give users a stimulant high and aid wakefulness. Side effects of abuse of the drug can include hallucinations and psychosis.
Drug users sometimes set up home laboratories to turn Sudafed into methamphetamine. Pseudoephedrine is a key active ingredient in meth. Because of this, Sudafed is a restricted drug, with regulations limiting how often you can buy it.
Donald Trump clearly had well in excess of any normal requirement for Sudafed in that one drawer alone. Presuming that Trump had not had a series of flu incidents and accidentally accumulated so many packets (kept literally by his side), it seems reasonable to ask whether Donald Trump abuses prescription drugs.
Trump says he doesn’t drink or smoke, and for once his story – his brother drank himself to death – seems plausible. But there has been anecdotal evidence that other drugs have been abused by the President.
In June last year, comedian Noel Casler digressed from his usual stand-up routine and told the audience that Trump was a ‘speed freak’. Casler, who worked for six seasons on the Celebrity Apprentice, said Trump would snort crushed Adderall pills and invite Hells Angels to after-parties to give him cocaine and methamphetamine. Trump, Casler said, was ‘always high’, adding that the president is also functionally illiterate and wears Depends (adult diapers).
In March 2019, author Kurt Eichenwald published details of previously undisclosed medical records suggesting that a doctor had prescribed Trump diethylpropion throughout the 1980’s. Diethylpropion is an amphetamine derivative, designed for short-term use, yet Trump was prescribed the drug for years. As with pseudoephedrine, chronic abuse of diethylpropion can cause issues such as paranoia and delusions.
Trump’s prescription drug issues have become something of an open secret and a punchline for acerbic jokes, with Saturday Night Live recently branding him ‘President Adderall’.
The implications of anyone with great power abusing drugs need not be spelled out, but it would not be a first for the Oval office. JFK suffered from Addison’s disease and was treated with such a number of questionable medicines that he has been described as a ‘pharmaceutical miracle’. Nixon used to get so drunk his staff would ignore orders and wait for him to sober up in the morning, including on one occasion when he drunkenly ordered a nuclear strike on North Korea.
But Trump’s drug abuse habits combine with another unusual characteristic, which together paint a very frightening picture of America’s president.
We all lie, or at least bend the truth to suit our needs on occasion, but Trump lies every single time he opens his mouth. Trump lies about little things, pointless things. Obvious, easily refutable things like his height and weight. Trump often lies when the truth would be easier to tell, and when Trump is caught lying he doubles down on his lies, no matter how ludicrous it makes him look.
The scope of Trump’s lies is often breathtaking. During a 2016 campaign speech, Trump said that if Hillary Clinton was elected she would let 650-million immigrants into the US in the first week. This was an almost unbelievably ridiculous lie, but it was lost amid a torrent of Trumpian insanity, like saying that Ted Cruz’s father killed JFK or that thousands of Muslims cheered when the twin towers collapsed. Trump has lied and lied about the insignificant slip of calling Tim Cook (CEO of Apple) ‘Tim Apple’, when it would be so very much easier to have said ‘I mis-spoke’. Trump has claimed that his father was born in Germany at least three times (he was born in New York). What possible benefit could that lie have offered the President? He just seems unable to stop himself.
Why Trump lies so very much has always been an interesting question. It appears to be a mixture of insecurity, a craving for legitimacy or perhaps total disdain for any consequence in the future. Trump’s position on any issue or matter of fact is momentary, liquid. He can love something one day and the next day disown it. People are ‘great’ for a little while, then become ‘a total loser’ if things go wrong. Trump’s beliefs seem entirely bound to utility, to how something benefits him in the moment.
The most interesting question about Trump’s lies has always been how much he believes what he says. Does Trump actually believe the lies he tells as he’s telling them, or is he aware that he is lying and just using dishonesty for political gain?
The Ukrainian extortion scandal (that forms the basis of the current impeachment hearings) has exposed a profoundly worrying answer to this question. Most of the news coverage of Trump’s phone call to President Zelensky in July 2019 has focused on his ‘I would like you to do us a favour though’ attempt to leverage American military aid in order to get dirt on Joe Biden, but this is what Trump said just before that…
“I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike… I guess you have one of your wealthy people… The server, they say Ukraine has it. There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation. I think you’re surrounding yourself with some of the same people.”
Poor Zelensky, having to deal with this verbal fruit salad, must have wondered what on earth the President was talking about. Here’s an explanation.
When the Democratic National Committee’s computers were hacked by Russian intelligence in 2016, the DNC hired a cyber security firm called Crowdstrike, which concluded with a high certainty that it was Russia who had been behind the attacks.
This direct link between Russia and interference in the 2016 election is something that can’t be countenanced by Trump, so he has invented a bizarre, ridiculous conspiracy theory that Crowdstrike is owned by a Ukranian (it isn’t), based in Ukraine (it isn’t), that the compromised DNC server is now hidden in Ukraine (it isn’t) and that all this proves that the hack came from Ukraine and not Russia (it doesn’t).
Trump’s theory is nuclear-grade bonkers, unsupported by any evidence whatsoever and refuted by almost every other known fact in the story. But propagating it allows Trump an alternative narrative to something which he hates – the idea that Russian interference was a factor in his being elected president.
Trump’s pursuit of this lie during his phone call to Zelensky appears to answer our earlier question, because Trump brought up his insane Crowdstrike theory in private, with the expectation that his words would never be published. In short, Trump appears to genuinely believe his own lies, and in the make-believe world he constructs to assuage his psychological weaknesses. Trump seems to think that when he says things, they become a version of the subjective truth.
This is an extraordinarily dangerous combination. A man who cannot (even within his own head) distinguish truth from fiction, appears to actually believe the lies he tells, and likely abuses prescription drugs in a way that can induce paranoia, psychosis and hallucinations. Oh, and has access to the launch codes for around 3,800 nuclear missiles, enough to wipe humanity from the face of the earth.
As the impeachment net closes in, these terrifying aspects of Trump’s character should, in any rational world, invoke use of the 25th Amendment and the immediate removal of this most dangerous man from power. Without that, we could be on a collision course between Trump’s tenuous grip on reality, his belief that there is a deep state conspiracy out to destroy him, and a presidency that is coming to an end.