RED, WHITE & BLUES: When in doubt, blame the middle-aged white guys. As fall guys go, they are always reliable. How, for example, to explain the sustained popularity of Fiesta? Back in the ’80s, sociologists succinctly summed it up as “a bunch of middle-aged white guys dressing up as Mexicans to dance on the graves of dead Indians.” That, no doubt, is a gross oversimplification. But what’s the explanation for Donald Trump? Round up the Middle-Aged White Guys, a k a MAWGs. Even more specifically, lock up all the gray white guys who never went to college.
Easily dismissed as heterosexists, homophobes, and haters, these MAWGs are the ultimate political patsies. As they transition from their midlife crises to the howling winters of toxic discontentment, these guys seized upon Trump — the ultimate male hysteric — as their final “Big Waaah!” (It’s worth noting that Santa Barbara’s very own News-Press is one of only four newspapers nationwide to endorse the guy.) Certainly the numbers bear this out; Trump’s most loyal die-hard true believers are middle-aged white guys who didn’t go to college, and they make up 37 percent of the middle-aged white guy demographic. It’s a tidy explanation. But as they say in detective novels, maybe too tidy.
When the elites and effetes get through blaming the victims, they’d be well advised to check out the research just compiled by Princeton economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton, detailing how life expectancies for MAWGs — ages 45-55 — are actually dropping. American MAWGs are the only ones for which that’s true in eight so-called advanced affluent industrialized nations, including the U.S.A.
The numbers are dramatic. From 1978-1998, death rates for the 45-55 white male set were dropping by 2 percent a year. But after 1998, the death rate for this group started to increase by half a percent a year. The culprits here are the obvious ones: opioid abuse, alcohol addiction, and suicide. Had the life expectancies for MAWGs followed the trends set by every other slice of the American pie, 488,500 deaths — over 15 years — would have been avoided. To put that in context, AIDS killed 650,000 people over 35 years.
Terrorists? We don’t need no stinking terrorists. We’re killing ourselves just fine.
In actual numbers, 34 more MAWGs a year are dying per 100,000 than they were 15 years ago. Drug overdoses overtook lung cancer — the old lethal stand-by — as a cause of death, with suicide not far behind. In medical quality-of-life questionnaires, MAWGs reported four times as many days where their mental health was “not good,” a five-fold increase in heavy drinking, and a 350 percent increase in difficulty socializing.
But if you focus on those who never went to college, the numbers are even scarier — 134 more deaths per 100,000 compared to 34. For this group, drug overdoses increased five-fold and cirrhosis by 50 percent. In stark contrast, death rates for those who got a few years of college remained steady, and for those who graduated, death rates declined by 57 per 100,000.
The big question, of course, is why? The easy and obvious answers are rooted in economic despair. Real wages for college-free MAWGS tanked, full-time employment dropped, divorce rates doubled. For all MAWGs, the reported level of chronic physical pain tripled, which in turn further fueled addiction problems.
The response of the American pharmaceutical industry? To “discover” a new medical syndrome — opioid-induced constipation — for which they’ve devised newer drugs to push on TV (who can forget the stark images of toilet paper stuck to the shoe of the much relieved constipate?) and sell throughout the CVSs of America to counter the gut-binding effect of the painkillers they’ve been overprescribing. Congress, however, has been even worse. With 40 people a day dying from prescription opioid overdoses — that’s 194,000 since 1999 — Congress passed the insidiously named Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act of 2014. This is a bill to make even a cynic weep.
As reported in the L.A. Times, the legislation strips the Drug Enforcement Agency of its administrative ability to suspend or terminate licenses to companies that make or sell controlled substances that are found to be overselling highly addictive medications. Under the terms of the new law, pharmacy chains and drug manufacturers must now be given the opportunity to submit a corrective action plan before any enforcement actions can be initiated. Only after the DEA makes a finding declaring such action plans defective can traditional enforcement actions proceed.
The L.A. Times reported that one of the bill’s sponsors — California Democrat Judy Chu of Monterey Park — received $31,000 from the pharmaceutical industry in political donations. But a quick stroll through the OpenSecrets website reveals the legal corruption to be more dramatic. Marsha Blackburn, a Republican from Tennessee and a major proponent of the bill, got $166,000 in such donations in the past year. And Tom Marino, a Republican from Pennsylvania, got $66,500.
Terrorists? We don’t need no stinking terrorists.
If Donald Trump isn’t the answer these MAWGs are looking for, then what is? In the past, the medically prescribed treatment for male menopause and attendant midlife crises was a red Corvette, which are bought disproportionately by 59-year-old males. With new Corvettes listing at $55,000, this is no longer an option. In the meantime, time to start rounding up all the usual suspects.