During Tuesday night’s presidential debate, President Trump said that Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, was dishonorably discharged from the military for cocaine use. Though The Washington Post reports that his discharge was administrative, not dishonorable, Hunter Biden’s struggle with alcohol addiction and drug abuse has been well documented by the media.
The day after the debate, President Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., referred to Hunter Biden as “Crackhead Hunter” during an interview with radio personality Glenn Beck, raising the question of whether putting the spotlight on Hunter Biden’s past drug problem is part of President Trump’s reelection strategy.
The attack on Joe Biden’s son left many Americans stunned, since political candidates’ children are typically viewed as off limits during nasty election season debates. But many people directly affected by substance abuse found hope in Joe Biden’s response to President Trump during the debate: “My son, like a lot of people, like a lot of people you know at home, had a drug problem. He’s overtaken it. He’s fixed it. He’s worked on it, and I’m proud of him. I’m proud of my son.”
Social media users used the exchange between the two presidential candidates to speak about how their lives have been affected by substance abuse. The day after the debate, one Twitter user wrote: “Today would have been my Dad’s 55th birthday. When Tr*mp attacked Joe Biden for his son’s addiction on stage, I knew exactly what he was doing. He attacked people like my Dad, who had similar struggles in his life. I’m proud of Joe for holding his own against a bully.”
Nebraska senator Adam Morfeld wrote on Twitter: “As someone with close family members who have suffered from severe addiction, Joe Biden looking straight into the camera last night and saying he was proud of his son for overcoming it, demonstrated his decency and humanity, and why I was so proud to cast my vote for him today.”
But the response didn’t just come from those who know someone who has suffered from substance abuse. Individuals who themselves are in recovery spoke out on social media, acknowledging the importance of the interaction between President Trump and Joe Biden.
Writer Guy Hamilton-Smith shared his experience on Twitter: “I’ve had addictions of various kinds throughout most of my life and Joe Biden saying he was proud of his son for overcoming drug addiction was one of the few humanizing moments of this entire election season and I just want to express my gratitude for it.” Another Twitter user, who’s currently in recovery, wrote: “All of us addicts in recovery felt that when Joe Biden said MY son overcame and I am proud of him. This. This matters.”
Author and motivational speaker Gabrielle Bernstein took to Instagram to share what the conversation meant to her, writing: “On Friday I will celebrate fifteen years of sobriety. I don’t feel ashamed of my addictions, instead I’m deeply proud of my recovery. Thank you Joe Biden for bringing light to this topic when your sons addiction was under attack. No addict should be judged for their addiction.”
One user spoke about how difficult it is for so many to understand addiction and recovery, writing: “My son has the disease of addiction. I too share the same malady. We are both in recovery and are proud of each other. No one can understand unless you have lived it. #JoeBiden understands and it shows.”
Many others—some who didn't reveal whether they had been touched personally by addiction—celebrated the importance of the moment, when substance abuse wasn’t spoken about in hushed tones, but, rather, recovery from it was celebrated.
“When Joe Biden acknowledged his son’s addiction and said he’s proud of him, my heart grew so many sizes,” one Twitter user wrote, while another shared: “I appreciate the level of genuineness and vulnerability that Joe Biden displayed as he spoke about his son Hunter and how he was ‘proud of him’ for overcoming his struggle with drug addiction.”
While most people viewed the debate as whole as, in Jake Tapper's words, "a hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a train wreck"—with The Commission on Presidential Debates itself acknowledging that the next debates need to be more productive—the recovery community, and those who know someone in it, agreed that Biden's fatherly words were a step in the right direction for everyone who's been stigmatized by a substance abuse disorder.
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