In addition to a recitation of the 12 Steps of Recovery, nearly all meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous commence with the organization’s preamble. Appropriately, AA’s preamble proclaims the fellowship’s main goal of achieving and maintaining member sobriety, and firmly states that the organization is unaffiliated with other institutions and neutral in matters of politics and partisanship:
AA is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution; does not wish to engage in any controversy; neither endorses nor opposes any causes.
That notion has always been to the benefit of AA members, like myself. We’re here to get sober, not have a political debate or support pet causes. This singleness of purpose has led to AA being by far the most effective and endorsed means of getting, and staying, sober.
True to its preamble, throughout its 80-year history Alcoholics Anonymous has wisely stayed out of politics while adopting society’s incremental social progress; for example, AA meetings in Alabama in 2016 are far more welcoming to African-American alcoholics than in 1966. Like any major organization, AA is a subset of our society. And in a free society, the arc of history bends toward progress.
Civil Rights in the 1960s; the boom of women in the workforce in the 1970-80s; marriage equality in the new millennium… AA has reflected America’s positive changes by appealing to an increasingly broad array of alcoholics. Published in 2001, the fourth edition of AA’s main text, lovingly called the “Big Book,” incorporates personal stories from an exceedingly diverse set of recovering members.
Indeed, the decades-long directions of AA as an organization and America as a nation have both trended toward gradual yet significant improvement. Against this backdrop, AA’s neutral stance on outside issues has been not only practical but practicable: The tenets of the 12 Steps were, by and large, workable within the moral fabric of society – a society to which AA newcomers hoped to resume contributing upon their restoration to sanity and usefulness.
It is both simple and sensible for an apolitical organization to stay neutral when no position need be taken.
Enter Donald J. Trump.
Unchecked Ego, Uncharted Territory
Never in AA’s history has there been a major-party presidential nominee (let alone president) whose positions were not, at least partly, compatible with the concepts espoused in the Twelve Steps. Given his still-comfortable lead in the Republican primary, Donald Trump seems likely to end that 80-year run of respectability.
Amid our enlightened modern environs – again this is 2016, not 1966 – Donald Trump’s racism, sexism and xenophobia make him the most disgusting person ever to get this close to the White House. His tactics of race-baiting, scapegoating and instigating violence at rallies have gone from national news to national disgrace. In the process, he has hoodwinked tens of millions of angry, overwhelmingly white male voters into thinking their diminished fortune in a changing country can be reversed with the wave of a demagogue’s magic wand.
For members of Alcoholics Anonymous, all this mandates a question essential to continued sobriety:
Are the values espoused by Donald Trump compatible with the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous?
The answer is a resounding no.
Consider some of the AA Principles and Virtues that correspond with the 12 Steps: Honesty. Hope. Integrity. Humility. Brotherly Love. Justice. Service. Not only does Donald Trump not represent these values, he is in open rebellion against them.
In all fairness to Trump, part of this is the modern day Republican Party itself. Take honesty and hope, for example: In the modern GOP’s Fantasyland, what remains the world’s greatest country is in hopeless disrepair. An economy with 5% unemployment is in the tank, illegal immigrants are flooding across the border despite all evidence to the contrary, and the Second Amendment is facing imminent repeal. Obamacare is ruining both the healthcare systems and employment prospects, despite a precipitous drop in uninsured Americans and a robust five-year period of private sector job growth. Climate change doesn’t exist, while income inequality, equal pay for women and escalating college tuition are non-factors. Threats like ISIS can be unilaterally destroyed by military might despite glaring examples of recent history.
But true to his outsized persona, nobody is more disingenuous, and less inclined to appeal to our better angels, than Trump. Perhaps most notably, he balked at renouncing the endorsement of a former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. A lengthy list of similarly shameless lies places Trump in a classless class by himself.
Regarding the remaining AA principles, is there anyone in mainstream politics –or planet Earth – less humble than Donald Trump? Does anything say Brotherly Love less than vowing to deport 11 million immigrants – including ripping native-born children from the arms of their foreign-born parents? Or generalizing Mexicans as rapists and murderers? Or promoting violence against peaceful protesters?
Justice? Poll the hundreds of people bilked out of thousands of dollars by the phony Trump University. As for Service… well, self-service doesn’t count.
Out of Step with True Sobriety
It is tempting to cynically dismiss all this as a sign of the times. After all, political polarization in the U.S. has been deepening for decades, provoking ugliness from both sides of the aisle.
But this is different. This is worse. We’re at a point where, as far as AA goes, the organization’s primary purpose is at risk. This is because members ascribing to Trump’s tenets aren’t really sober – not in the comprehensive, sound-mind-and-body sense of the word. Rather, they are merely dry drunks – who at worst may ultimately relapse, and at best are poor examples of sobriety for fellow members, particularly newcomers.
Politically active recovering alcoholics have always toed a line between policy positions, which may serve their own interests, and the 12 Steps, which teach us to serve others. Until now, both major parties have stayed at least arguably in line with working an honest, humble and helpful program of recovery. In this framework, progress in sobriety fostered integration into a worthwhile citizenry.
Donald Trump threatens to obliterate that paradigm. In siding with Trump, supporters find themselves on the wrong side of issues that are not only political but moral. And in recovery, you don’t stay clean by living dirty.
You can’t claim that an entire ethnic group consists largely of rapists and murderers and claim sobriety, which the 12 Steps provide.
And you can’t think it’s a good idea to threaten nuclear war and claim to have been restored to sanity, which the 12 Steps does.
Steeped in tradition, AA’s guidelines and regular readings won’t change due to the emergence of one Donald J. Trump. But perhaps they should, because we’ve devolved to the point where Americans – including, assumedly, a significant portion of AA members – now need to have common sense notions against bigotry, vulgarity and violence put into writing. We should know better; apparently we don’t.
Meanwhile, to those Trump supporters claiming sobriety: Reassess, reset, and restart your recovery day count at zero.