Maybe Trump is on to something

The very idea of Donald Trump running for president may strike some as ridiculous. Count me among them. But I must say he did something on "Larry King Live" the other night that no other candidate, ever, has had the courage to do: He took on the liquor interests.

When asked about his stand on tobacco, Mr. Trump said he opposed those interests and added that he, himself, didn't smoke or drink. Then he looked out at the audience and asked the lawyers of America why they weren't initiating lawsuits for clients who had been damaged by drinking.

He said that an older brother had died because of drinking. "He made me swear that I would never take a drink," he said. "I have never used any drugs, and that includes coffee."

I'm quite aware of Trump's playboy image and his deep involvement in gaming at Atlantic City. So this is no effort to push him as the Mr. Clean candidate.

Yet Trump's attack on the liquor business, uttered on a number of TV programs with national scope after he appeared on the King show, must have been heard by millions and millions of Americans. He could have started something. And high time!

Trump's words could, indeed, turn the national focus onto the evils of liquor which, as Trump also said in his interviews, does more damage than tobacco. And if he does, we will notice, I think, that the liquor people have been preparing for it.

They're hoping that by producing nonalcoholic beer and "lite" beer and by counseling users not to drink when driving, they'll be able to defeat those who sue for the damage they will claim that liquor has done to their lives.

But Big Liquor knows it could be facing billions of dollars in suits should the anger of millions be turned in its direction - and that its carefully prepared defense may not work. After hearing Trump, the industry must be shaking a bit in its boots.

Nearly 50 years ago the Monitor assigned me to find out what liquor was doing to our society. More than anything else, my study - done from coast to coast and over a full summer - showed how much liquor had permeated our society.

The powerful temperance movement, which brought Prohibition about, had not only lost out - it seemed to be on the run. My specific findings sound "old hat" today: Heavy drinking among college students; widespread alcoholism among native Americans; expensive man-hours lost to industry due to drinking; high incidence of drinking in highway fatalities.

Looking back, I now can see I overlooked one significant finding simply because it was so commonplace. Wherever I went, I found myself the object of quiet amusement - and often something close to ridicule - when I would announce that I was writing the series. No place was this attitude more visible than in my interview of Lucius Beebe, editor of what was once Mark Twain's paper, The Territorial Enterprise, in Virginia City, Nev. After I left, he printed a front-page story about his visit with this "blue-nose prude" from Boston.

Indeed, those who didn't drink and were opposed to drinking often met with contempt back then. I ran into that attitude when I talked to whisky executives in Kentucky and beer people in Milwaukee. And when I told other newsmen what I was doing, they often laughed. This often sapped my enthusiasm for the project. But I slogged on.

Today I perceive that those attitudes are changing. More and more people are saying "I'll have water" at cocktail parties, and they aren't kidded about it. There is outrage at the slaughter on the highways caused by drunken drivers.

Yes, times are changing. And maybe Trump has found just the right moment to get something big started.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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