Friendly fire vs. fas­cism

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I’m reg­u­larly baf­fled by some of the con­ser­va­tive crit­i­cism that’s di­rected to­ward Michelle Obama. I mean, how could any­one be mad that the First Lady is try­ing to get Amer­ica’s chil­dren to eat health­ier lunches?

But then Nancy Rea­gan died, and in my first thoughts, I could hear con­ser­va­tives ask­ing me a sim­i­lar ques­tion: How could any­one be mad that the First Lady tried to get Amer­ica’s chil­dren to not smoke crack?

More than the AIDS epi­demic, which I con­sider to be pri­mar­ily her hus­band’s dere­lic­tion, Nancy Rea­gan’s legacy is how her govern­ment pro­pa­ganda be­came a pop cul­ture catch­phrase. She pro­vided grand­moth­erly cover for the en­act­ment of openly racist drug laws (such as manda­tory min­i­mum sen­tenc­ing) that led to the United States be­com­ing the most in­car­cer­at­ing coun­try in hu­man his­tory.

There were less than half a mil­lion peo­ple im­pris­oned when Nancy Rea­gan first urged chil­dren to “Just Say No” in 1982. That fig­ure has in­creased five-fold since then, with an es­ti­mated 2.4 mil­lion Amer­i­cans lockedup in 2015, and drug-re­lated of­fenses ac­count­ing for a ma­jor­ity of ar­rests.

As right­eous as I feel in my con­dem­na­tion of the Rea­gans’ drug legacy (I haven’t even men­tioned the crack pipe­line Rea­gan’s CIA es­tab­lished from South Amer­ica to South Cen­tral Los An­ge­les), I take no com­fort in what her death con­firmed for me: Peo­ple see and un­der­stand the world dif­fer­ently.

Where I see ben­e­fits in schools sub­sti­tut­ing fruit cups for french fries, oth­ers see to­tal­i­tar­i­an­ism. Where they cheer the ef­forts to keep just one child drug-free, I weep for the gen­er­a­tions of fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties who were desta­bi­lized by drug Pro­hi­bi­tion and the hope­less caul­dron it brews in in­ner cities across Amer­ica.

With this much sep­a­ra­tion be­tween world­views on child­hood obe­sity and drug ad­dic­tion, it’s over­whelm­ing to won­der how we will find com­mon ground on such things as “religious lib­erty” vs. LGBT equal­ity, or wel­com­ing im­mi­grants vs. build­ing a wall. I seek com­fort know­ing that Amer­i­cans have lived with dif­fer­ing views for cen­turies with­out killing each other, but at no other time has Don­ald Trump been run­ning for pres­i­dent.

His ral­lies have be­come train­ing grounds for white supremacy, at­tended by peo­ple who are des­per­ate to learn how they can “speak their mind” the way Trump does, how they can shield them­selves from “political cor­rect­ness” and treat those who are dif­fer­ent from them how they would have been treated “back in the old days.” There are Amer­i­cans who have been wait­ing their en­tire lives, ei­ther 18 or 74 years, to punch a black man in the face or spit on a Latino, to sex­u­ally ha­rass a Mus­lim woman or smear a queer, and Trump has con­vinced them that do­ing so is their pa­tri­otic duty, the only way to “Make Amer­ica Great Again.”

As much as I op­pose re­spond­ing to vi­o­lence with vi­o­lence, I was in­cred­i­bly proud of my home­town for be­ing the first to shut down a Trump rally. We may al­ready be in an era that fu­ture gen­er­a­tions will look back on and ask, “Did no one re­sist?” – and it is im­por­tant for us, now and in the fu­ture, to re­mem­ber Chicago.

Per­haps it was the clouds of doom blan­ket­ing this elec­tion cy­cle that made me more for­giv­ing of Hil­lary Clin­ton’s re­vi­sion­ist’s praise of Nancy Rea­gan’s legacy on HIV/ AIDS. Clin­ton’s er­ror was in­sult­ing and un­sur­pris­ing, but it’s harder to pull the trig­ger for friendly fire when it’s be­com­ing ever more clear who re­ally has their sights set on you.

“There are Amer­i­cans who have been wait­ing their en­tire lives, ei­ther 18 or 74 years, to punch a black man in the face or spit on a Latino, to sex­u­ally ha­rass a Mus­lim woman or smear a queer, and Trump has con­vinced them that do­ing so is their pa­tri­otic duty…”

Ryan Lee is an At­lanta writer.

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