Part II, Creating an internal enemy
Ronald Reagan is known as a populist president, a champion of the people. Here are some if the things this well liked president did to the American people. In 1981 he broke the back of the Air Traffic Controllers union “one of the most important events in late twentieth century US labor history.” (McCartin, Joseph A (2006), “Professional Air Traffic Controllers Strike (1981)”, in Eric Arnesen, Encyclopedia of U.S. Labor and Working-class History, CRC Press, pp. 1123-1126, ISBN 0415968267) His action against the air traffic controllers signaled other companies that union busting was ok.
But that was just the beginning of his personal war against unions. Reagan believed they were socialist organizations and in Reagan’s mind there was little if any difference between communism and socialism. In 1982 he appointed three anti union management representatives to the five-member National Labor Relations Board. After that the NLRB did little to protect the rights of the American Worker.
This ‘president of the people’ didn’t seem to like people very much. He had little sympathy for young workers, several times attempting to lower their minimum wage. Reagan also wanted less restrictive child labor and anti-sweatshop laws. Which could come in handy because if Dad lost his job or was fired for lawful union activity the kids could go to work because Reagan had severely curtailed training programs for the unemployed, decreasing their chance at finding work.
But Reagan was to create or at least popularize an internal enemy much worse than socialist unions. And much harder to define. The evil menace of drugs.
President Richard Nixon spoke out against marijuana and attempted to enact harsher penalties for it’s use but Reagan really kick started the drug war. A ‘war’ which encourages citizens to spy on each other (which is more than a little Orwellian) and rewards children for turning in their parents (the DARE program).
In a 1988 report The federal Bureau of Justice Assistance stated that through DARE “students have an opportunity to become acquainted with their local police officer as a trusted friend”. Apparently they haven’t read this article.
The Dare program was and is especially insidious. Founded by former Los Angeles police chief Daryl Gates, who testified in 1989 before the Senate Judiciary Committee saying even casual drug users “ought to be taken out and shot”. His reasoning? Because “we’re in a war” and even casual drug use is “treason.”
And so the war against this internal enemy began and prisoners had to be taken. A lot of prisoners. In 1985 56,000 Americans were arrested for drug use, in 1989 94,000. In 1992 there were more American citizens in jail on drug charges than there were people in jail in 1980. The insanity may have reached a peak with the tucker family
And then there are the ‘spoils of war’. The police can confiscate your money, your car, your house, even your land on just the suspicion of drug use. And then use the money to fund their drug war. From NPR:
As a tactic in the war on drugs, law enforcement pursues that drug money and is then allowed to keep a portion as an incentive to fight crime.
As a result, the amount of drug dollars flowing into local police budgets is staggering. Justice Department figures show that in the past four years alone, the amount of assets seized by local law enforcement agencies across the nation enrolled in the federal program—the vast majority of it cash—has tripled, from $567 million to $1.6 billion. And that doesn’t include tens of millions more the agencies got from state asset forfeiture programs.
Believing the police will stop drug abuse is paramount to thinking drug companies are interested in curing disease. Drug companies sell drugs to treat the symptoms of an illness, if they actually cured the disease they would be out of business. If the police were to curtail drug use they would cut most of their funding.
In the Bizarro world of the War on Drugs even the CIA has gotten involved. Ronald Reagan in a 1986 White House speech said, “Despite our best efforts, illegal cocaine is coming into our country at alarming levels and 4 to 5 million people regularly use it.” Turns out the CIA was actively supporting the Contras who were importing much of the cocaine.
It wasn’t the first time the CIA has been involved in drugs and it probably won’t be the last. Transporting opium on Air America across the Golden Triangle in the fifties to assist the Nationalist Chinese army, the Nugan Hand Bank in Australia, allegedly building a heroin refining lab in Northern Laos during the Vietnam War, supporting notorious drug trafficker Manuel Noriega (until he was caught assisting Cuba); the list of offenses committed by the CIA is constantly growing.
Which brings up the question; if drug usage was such a pervasive threat why does the government need to help perpetuate it? The answer is simple, if they were to enact a sensible drug policy, one based upon education and rehabilitation instead of incarceration, where the drug dealers and wholesalers would be targeted instead of the casual user then drug abuse in this country would become less of a problem than alcoholism or nicotine addiction.
The ruling body of this country, especially over the last 30 years, needs divisive issues among the populace. Despite being a melting pot America has always had different groups of citizens it could look down on. In the early eighteen hundreds Chinese and Irish immigrants were used as virtual slave labor to build the railroads. African Americans were not just virtual slaves, until the Emancipation Proclamation they were owned by wealthy white Americans. Since then African Americans have been subjected to ridicule and abuse.
Today we have a new stereotype to hate – Muslim people. In the minds of many Americans and subtly preached on the news, any person of Middle Eastern descent could be a terrorist. It reached the height of absurdity when on a Fox news broadcast a young man was asked if he would board a plane if he saw another passenger in line wearing a turban. The person being interviewed, an African American, said, “of course not, you never know what those people are going to do”.
It was inevitable the two would be linked, terrorism and drugs. Connecting the external threat, terrorism (and by association Islam) with the internal threat – drugs – gives the police almost carte blanche to stop and detain any citizen of this country. In the movies dissidents are almost always shot but in real life such drastic measures are not necessary. An arrest for suspicion of drugs or terrorism is enough to marginalize many opponents. A conviction of either crime can silence even the most vocal.