Sure, let's drug-test the debates: Is that what Donald Trump really wants?

MAGA's disinformation machine keeps coming up with excuses — because Trump's a total mess, with or without drugs

By Kirk Swearingen

Contributing Writer

Published June 26, 2024 1:30PM (EDT)

Former U.S. President Donald Trump gestures to the crowd before delivering the keynote address at the Faith & Freedom Coalition's Road to Majority Policy Conference at the Washington Hilton on June 22, 2024 in Washington, DC. (Samuel Corum/Getty Images)
Former U.S. President Donald Trump gestures to the crowd before delivering the keynote address at the Faith & Freedom Coalition's Road to Majority Policy Conference at the Washington Hilton on June 22, 2024 in Washington, DC. (Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

Donald Trump, snuffling and sounding even less coherent than usual, keeps demanding that Joe Biden take a drug test before their first debate on Thursday night. He has claimed Biden was "high as a kite" during his State of the Union address in February and seemed to suggest that Biden might have been using cocaine found at the White House “last month.” (In the real world, a small packet of coke was found in a visitor’s locker nearly a year ago.)

Trump has constantly tried to manage expectations for the debate, but keeps shifting his approach. He started out by praising Biden’s debating skills, describing the president as a “worthy” opponent. Two days before Thursday’s debate, he returned to form, demanding that Biden be tested (for unspecified drugs and unspecified reasons). His minions in Congress, including Rep. Ronny Jackson of Texas, the former White House doctor whose name Trump cannot remember, jumped on board. You might remember that Jackson — a former Navy admiral who was demoted and reprimanded for his erratic conduct as presidential physician — said back in 2018 that Trump’s physical and mental health were excellent and that he had “incredible genes.” Somehow, he then got elected to Congress.

When Trump says that someone else is on drugs, it's only natural to wonder about projection. Compare the Father’s Day greetings that he and Biden sent to the world and ask yourself which of them sounds hyped-up and deranged.

In a recent interview with Terry Gross on NPR’s “Fresh Air,” comedian Hannah Einbinder talked about taking Adderall, the well-known stimulant medication often used to treat ADHD, when she was a teenager. The drug may have helped her pay more attention in math class, Einbinder said, but it made her “feel cut off from my soul," disconnected from her emotions and “quick to anger.” As she noted, in chemical terms Adderall and related ADHD medications are basically speed, only slightly different from street drugs such as methamphetamine.

Allegations that Trump uses Adderall or something similar, with or without a medical prescription, have followed him throughout his career in public life. They aren't helped by his sniffling, perspiring, highly digressive rapid-fire speech patterns or his accordion-playing mime act during public speeches and previous debates. Listen to him lose the thread of his thoughts during a long string of semi-coherent sentences and you might well wonder, “Is that guy on something?”

To be clear, I have no idea whether those rumors are true, and no inside information. Some years back, Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir wrote that asking whether Trump was on drugs wasn't the right question. His point was that if we focus on unsubstantiated claims about Trump’s drug abuse, we're avoiding the harder questions about how and why America had put a con man and grifter in our nation's highest office:

Essentially, the question of whether Donald J. Trump is an unregenerate speed freak, or is pounding controlled substances of some other kind, is a plaintive protest against the fact that things are not normal in the United States of America. We once lived in a normal country where the president wasn't a delusional racist or a would-be tyrant who constantly "jokes" about serving more than two terms. Maybe this can be explained away, or mitigated, or made to be less painful, if we conclude that he's wired to the gills on psychiatric amphetamines 24/7.

Point taken — and honestly, I'd rather not be writing about this. And yet, in the context of MAGA-world's accusations that Joe Biden must resort to speed or cocaine simply to remain upright, it seems just plain weird not at least to point to Trump’s frequently addled behavior. Thinking of what Einbinder said about the way taking Adderall had affected her, I wonder if it could explain the least appealing aspects of Trump’s personality: Why does this guy feel such a relentless need to lie, cheat and seek vengeance? Why does he, along with many of his fellow authoritarian-type personalities, seem to lack ordinary empathy or, for want of a better word, a soul?

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There might be other plausible explanations, of course. Trump's diet is atrocious, and reportedly includes a steady stream of Diet Cokes. The effects of ingesting a highly processed McDiet are potentially dire, and not all that well understood, but I'm not aware of any evidence it's likely to cause unfocused whining and anger, or lead someone to dehumanize others and encourage violence

Mary Trump, who is the ex-president's niece as well as a clinical psychologist, wrote in her bestselling book “Too Much and Never Enough” that her uncle's diet, lack of exercise, a possible sleep disorder and a “long-undiagnosed learning disability” may all be factors that have overlapped, intersected with and exacerbated other possible medical or psychiatric issues, making no straightforward explanation possible:

The fact is, Donald’s pathologies are so complex and his behaviors are so often inexplicable that coming up with an accurate and comprehensive diagnosis would require a full battery of psychological and neuropsychological tests that he’ll never sit for.

If Trump is indeed using stimulant medication, as has repeatedly been alleged over the past two decades or so, it might merely amplify the soul-destroying demand from his father that he be a “king” and a “killer,” along with the mobster-style counsel of mentor Roy Cohn, who taught Trump always to exact revenge for any slights.

Trump, his MAGA followers in Congress and the right-wing media seem curiously focused on the claim that Biden was “juiced” for his vigorous State of the Union address, which seemed to quiet concerns about the president’s mental coherence and vibrancy.

Under Trump, the White House medical unit had exceptionally loose standards when it came to handing out stimulants and anti-anxiety medications. One former staffer told Rolling Stone the place was “awash in speed” as well as other drugs.

Meanwhile, Trump, his MAGA followers in Congress and the right-wing media seem curiously focused on the claim that Biden was “juiced” for his vigorous and wide-ranging State of the Union address, which at least for the moment seemed to quiet  concerns about the president’s mental coherence and vibrancy. As Salon's Heather Digby Parton wrote, it was a "barn burner of a speech," which meant that Team Trump had to make excuses and explain it all away. So they engaged in their customary exercise of psychological projection and accused Biden of doing the same thing Trump has been accused of doing for years.

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As I wrote last fall, I couldn’t do half of what Biden does — and I’m quite a bit younger than he is. This month alone, he flew to Europe twice in a week, first for the D-Day commemoration in Paris and then for the G7 summit meeting in Italy. Could you imagine Trump having anything useful, or even coherent, to say about the numerous agreements made between the U.S. and its global partners during those meetings? We already know he can't be trusted with a classified document.

Trump began his first campaign, nine long years ago, by claiming that Mexican immigrants were “bringing” drugs, crime and rape into our country. To borrow the con man’s favorite bit of flimflam, we didn't all know back then what we should certainly know now: Whenever Trump accuses people of something, he’s invariably projecting his own malign desires and aberrant behavior. Trump is the cheater who thinks everyone else is cheating, the unfaithful husband who suspects his wife of having an affair. His naturally authoritarian makeup may or may not be chemically augmented, which would be nothing new for a would-be despot, and it may or may not matter. 

Here's one thing I'm sure of: Trump has been “demanding” drug testing at every debate since he stalked Hillary Clinton around the stage in 2016, and he’ll submit to one himself right after he testifies under oath at one of his criminal trials.

Furthermore, Trump has managed expectations effectively enough: He's expected to sound like an angry blowhard who spouts lies about anything and everything and is proud of his ignorance and bigotry. Joe Biden is expected to be calm, reasonable and well-informed — or to put it another way, presidential. The question is which of those things Americans really want.

By Kirk Swearingen

Kirk Swearingen is a poet and independent journalist. He is a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism, and his work has appeared in Delmar, MARGIE, Bloom, the American Journal of Poetry, Riverfront Times, Medium and Salon.

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Adderall Adhd Amphetamines Commentary Debate Donald Trump Drugs Elections Joe Biden