In the midst of last Tuesday’s presidential debate as the war of words between candidates oscillated from brutal to unintelligible, President Donald Trump took aim at Biden. Not former Vice President Joe Biden, but his son, Hunter Biden.
“I know Hunter. Hunter got thrown out of the military. He was thrown out, dishonorably discharged … For cocaine use,” Trump said, as Vice President Biden tried to interject.
Trump was partially right. Hunter Biden was discharged from the Navy Reserve in 2014 after he tested positive for cocaine on a drug test. However, it was not a dishonorable discharge.
It also wasn’t something Vice President Biden seemed desperate to hide. Instead, he defended his son’s character on the debate stage.
“My son, like a lot of people at home, had a drug problem,” Vice President Biden said. “He’s overtaking it. He’s fixed it. He’s worked on it. And I’m proud of him.”
Biden’s response was about the only moment of genuine positivity all night, and it made Trump’s attack look even nastier by comparison. Trump has built his political image on attacking anyone and everyone he sees as an opponent, but this was still a low blow.
According to a 2016 report from the U.S. Surgeon General, about 21 million Americans deal with substance use disorders, roughly the same amount that have diabetes.
It’s a common misconception that addiction is a “moral failing” or “character flaw.” This is not the case. While an individual may make the initial choice to use a substance, addiction is a genuine “chronic neurological disorder.” This is something Trump should know well after declaring the opioid epidemic a national emergency in 2017.
The stigma surrounding substance use disorders can be a major roadblock to treatment. Many people who struggle are afraid to even admit they have a problem, and recovery is a tremendous accomplishment. Using a person’s history with addiction to try to score political points is distasteful in the most relevant of circumstances.
Additionally, Hunter Biden is a grown adult fully capable of making his own life choices — both good and bad. Age 44 at the time of his discharge, the Navy never contacted the Vice President’s office about Hunter Biden just as they would not contact parents regarding the administrative discharge of any other adult. Implying the former vice president is responsible for the actions of his middle-aged son is wildly off-base.
America’s political climate incentivizes striking at any perceived weakness like a shark that’s smelled blood. But this contest — as ruthless as it has become — must still have boundaries, and family members’ personal health struggles should be off-limits for political attacks.