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 locked-up 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.