Support for President Trump is Not Sober

By John Teufel 11/15/18

We would not accept from our sponsees things that President Trump does, without remorse, on a daily basis.

Donald Trump behind podium
Trump is the human antithesis of the spirituality that AA is supposed to foster. PC: © Joe Tabb |

If you go to 12-step meetings and you’re a MAGA person, here’s something fun to try. Pick a public statement of President Trump’s — one that isn’t explicitly political, as we wouldn’t want politics to sully the rooms — and share it with the group. Don’t cheat by picking something bland, choose a real Trumpian one. Call a woman “horseface,” maybe, or say of Mexicans, “They’re rapists.” Or if you want to bring up rape, raise your hand and tell your fellow addicts that women who don’t report rapes to the police are lying.

Yes, yes, Alcoholics Anonymous is a non-partisan, non-political organization that, to quote the famous preamble, “does not wish to engage in any controversy, [and] neither endorses nor opposes any causes.” That’s great, for what it is — AA as an organization isn’t about to make grand proclamations about the issues. But nothing you shared with the group, hopefully not your home group, was really “political.” You just put forth your point of view, like the President does on Twitter every day. How do you feel? How is the room looking at you? Are you ashamed?

it’s a cop-out to believe that the AA program has nothing to say about anything deemed “political.” Whatever your feelings on taxes or immigration, there’s no question that Trump doesn’t represent sober (in the 12-step sense) values. And it’s actually far worse: Trump, in his embrace and encouragement of resentment and ego, has made himself into a symbol of self-centeredness, a totem of negativity. His morals are about as far removed from sobriety as morals get, and he’s actively bringing down his followers with him. You cannot support this man and call yourself sober. Dry, maybe. Not sober.

Calm down. This is not as limiting as it first sounds. Because Trump is unique, and support for his presidency is also a unique kind of support, there’s not much overlap with pure partisan issues when it comes to what is and isn’t “sober” as we 12-step adherents understand the word. I’m not here to tell people how to advocate for low taxes, reduce regulations, build a wall on the southern border, or that they need to repent and get right with the spirit of Bill W. I’m of the libertarian/anarchist bent, so if AA is a program for leftists, I better go check out LifeRing. I’m talking about Donald Trump as a man, what he stands for, and what emotional reactions he encourages (and in turn benefits from) in those who support him.

If you get past the simplistic idea that AA is “non-partisan,” none of this should be too surprising. Trump’s whole life has been about his own gratification at the expense of the world, like mine was when I would guzzle vodka for days on end. In his 2005 book How to Get Rich, he explained: “Show me someone with no ego and I’ll show you a big loser.” (I can’t imagine he would think too highly of the idea that “Twelve Steps deflate ego.”) His supporters like this about Trump — that he is unabashedly self-seeking, proudly vain, constantly boastful, and in a way, I get that. It’s fun, and forbidden, but it certainly isn’t how we hope to model ourselves, or for that matter guide our sponsees; but as entertainment? There’s a certain magnetism.

The bigger problem with President (no longer entertainer) Trump, for those of us who wish to live sober lives, is that he has embraced the role of playing on and promoting resentment, the thing the Big Book says “destroys more alcoholics than anything else.” His public persona, tweets, and political strategy have all become inseparable from his desire to inflame the ugliest sides of human emotion, the sides that we recovering alcoholics try to manage with grace and magnanimity. He tells his followers, both implicitly and outright: allow yourselves to be bitter; indulge your righteous anger; lash out and never apologize. If anything can conclusively be called “un-sober,” it is the celebration of resentment, and that is what the #MAGA movement stands for.

Trump’s infamous and above-quoted take on Mexicans — “They’re rapists” — is nothing more or less than a naked appeal to the very sort of shit we sober folks try to avoid rolling around in — and this was in his campaign announcement speech! Since then, Trump has expanded this resentment narrative, directing the bitterness of his followers laser-like toward Muslims, immigrants, and women. He dubbed the midterms the “caravan election,” explicitly and unapologetically stoking fear and hate for a group of impoverished people who may or may not arrive at our border in 6 to 8 weeks.

Look, you can feel any way you want about the legalistic issue of who should and shouldn’t be allowed in America. But sober people who give in to the caravan fear-mongering, or who play into the resentment culture Trump fosters, are trashing whatever spiritual development the 12 steps have helped them achieve. Is one president worth that?

Maybe Trump does things like this for political expediency more than a desire to single out groups of people — I’m not the therapist he clearly needs — but the effect is to inflame and encourage resentment. This was certainly the result of his declaration that “very fine people” were part of the Charlottesville white supremacist march, and his prolonged foray into claiming that Barack Obama wasn’t born in America. Racism is resentment purified and focused. If we can’t call racist dog-whistling contrary to AA thinking, I’m not sure AA thinking is good for much of anything.

We would not accept from our sponsees things that President Trump does, without remorse, on a daily basis. “Progress, not perfection,” goes the sobriety cliché. Trump luxuriates in his lack of progress. He infamously refuses to apologize — or even express some contrition — for his worst comments. With two years of the presidency under his belt, he took great joy in mocking (in public, at a massive rally) a woman who at the very least sincerely believed herself to be a sexual assault survivor. The day after an election he claimed to be happy about, he mocked members of his own party who lost — it’s hard to think of a less gracious way of behaving. As addicts we make mistakes, but we recognize that to live an honest life we need to evaluate those mistakes and learn from them. Trump just doesn’t give a shit about this, and in his role as the most powerful person in the world, he’s uniquely able to beam this way of thinking directly into the psyches of his followers. He is kryptonite to sobriety.

There is a difference between making mistakes and acting selfishly and egotistically — something we all do, and something that George W. Bush and Barack Obama did often — and basing your entire public life around encouraging others to indulge in what Step Six calls “self-righteous anger,” of the sort that “brings a comfortable feeling of superiority.” The 12 steps take as a given that we have a higher nature that our addiction obscures. How can we then express admiration or support for someone who proudly parades his lack of that higher nature, and asks others to follow his lead?

Some readers might be puzzled as to how Trump’s rhetoric could appeal to allegedly spiritually aware people, and while it seems odd, it isn’t. All things considered, if Trump’s public persona is attractive to these AAs — or even if they fail to see the damage his verbal assaults inflict on the psyches of individuals and the nation as a whole — they are simply not sober. They have egocentrically taken back their will at a massive cost to those around them. They are dry, maybe, but they are not sober. And as we all know, the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous are filled with people of various levels of spiritual sobriety.

I don’t think so-called “normies” like Trump (and yes, it is weird to think of him as normal) should be held to the standards we hold ourselves to as recovering addicts. But at the same time, we recovering addicts are supposed to recognize the problems with a celebration of ego, selfishness, and most importantly, proud and unapologetic resentment. We wallowed in that for years, and it landed us in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous where we ostensibly hoped to redirect our energies to our better natures. Let’s practice what we preach in sobriety. Let’s earn the respect of our sober peers, our sponsors and sponsees, and the people who around us who remember us at our worst.

There are members of the groups Trump singles out in AA rooms across the country. There are transgender people — the administration’s recent target — in the LGBT meetings I attend here in New York. There are Mexicans recovering from alcohol addiction, including undocumented ones. They don’t have the option of leaving their “politics” at the church basement door. Under this administration, neither do we.

Trump himself has infamously never had a drink. Maybe that’s the biggest lesson here — we don’t need to be actively drunk to be spiritually wasted.

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John Teufel is a lawyer and writer based in New York. He likes to write and think about sobriety, philosophy, true crime, politics, and "jokes." He imagines himself to be witty. He is grateful to be sober as of whenever he wrote this bio and hopes to stay that way. He is new-ish to Twitter but figuring it out, follow him at @JohnTeufelNYC.