Trump’s wall is just the latest in a long history of cultural artifacts designed with racist intentions. The Daily Devil’s Dictionary explains.
Having taken the US government hostage with his shutdown in an attempt to blackmail the Democrats into accepting his budget for a border wall, US President Donald Trump, true to his huckster personality, compares what he identifies as alternative costs. “The cost of illegal drugs exceeds $500 billion a year, vastly more than the $5.7 billion we have requested from Congress,” he said on January 8.
Here is today’s 3D definition:
The amount of either money, energy or mental effort that must be devoted to obtaining an object or achieving a goal, expressed in monetary terms, providing disingenuous politicians with an argument that persuades a public apt to believe that precise figures make any claim credible while comparative figures make it convincing
The Washington Post pointed to the most obvious nonsense in Trump’s claim: “[T]he wall would do little to stop drugs from entering the United States, since they primarily come in through legal points of entry, making the cost of illegal drugs irrelevant to this issue.” But there are two even more fundamental problems with Trump’s assertion. The first concerns the figure of $500 billion, which appears to be the overall cost to society of the drug problem in the US, including costs associated with health care, the criminal justice system and lost productivity. For Trump’s statement to be meaningful, we would have to assume that building a wall would suddenly prevent people from taking drugs.
If, however, Trump is talking about the purchase price of drugs and assuming the wall will make it more difficult to import drugs from Mexico, the price of drugs will automatically rise but the rate of consumption would probably be only marginally affected. As an article in The New York Times Sunday Review from 2017 reminded us: “Strengthening defenses does not stop smuggling. It only makes it more expensive, which inadvertently gives more money to criminal networks.”
President Trump mistakenly assumes that the existence of a wall will reduce the supply of drugs. This reveals his refusal to acknowledge the source of the problem: the level of demand inside the United States. Even without the wall, according to Rehab Center (a national network supporting drug rehabilitation), “the average cost of drugs [is] rising as the demand and potency grows.”
Establishment politicians from both the Republicans and Democrats appear to be either incapable or simply unwilling to address the real issue: That a majority of Americans, and especially the upper middle class, believe — without admitting it in public — that drug consumption is one of the essential rights of a free people, members of a consumer society.
The unstated consensus of the white, upper middle class and a good portion of the middle class is that repressive laws play a positive role in keeping drugs away from children, but that respectable adult citizens (i.e., not minorities living in ghettoes) should not be persecuted, incarcerated or ostracized for drug use. Managing your private drug habit has become one of the arts of modern living for people of a certain income level. It’s similar to the military’s former policy with regard to homosexuals: “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” Be discreet and no one will bother you. The racist component — the fact that the same level of tolerance doesn’t apply to poor minorities — has never seemed to bother the better-off and mostly white consumers.
Over the past century, the US government has consistently crafted its policy concerning drugs along racist lines. Harry Anslinger, the commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, rode a wave of racist propaganda, focused first on Mexicans and then increasingly on the black community, and in 1937, he implemented the Marijuana Tax Act, which made the use of cannabis a criminal act.
Among its accusations designed to incite fear in the heart of middle-class whites was the claim that “jazz was evil music created under the influence of marijuana.” In the era of swing, when disciplined orchestras led by respectable white musicians, such as Paul Whiteman and Benny Goodman, enticed Americans onto the dance floor with a civilized version of popular music derived from jazz, that same public was aware that jazz in its essence was a cultural emanation of the black community. In other words, jazz that you could dance to conducted by a white bandleader was good, but the jazz of the blacks was “evil music.” Duke Ellington, a black man who spanned both worlds, performed what the whites who came in mass to see him at the Cotton Club in Harlem called “jungle music.”
In 1971, President Richard Nixon launched the “war on drugs,” a fundamentally negative and repressive initiative designed, from a political marketing point of view, to supersede President Lyndon B. Johnson’s effort in 1965 at a socially positive “war on poverty,” which its opponents branded as misdirected and “a wasteful boondoggle.” The Ronald Reagan years in the 1980s “marked the start of a long period of skyrocketing rates of incarceration.”
The racist effect of these policies is evident even today. Statistics tell the tale, such as this: “In 2011, Blacks were incarcerated at a dramatically higher rate than Whites (5–7 times) and accounted for almost half of all prisoners incarcerated with a sentence of more than one year for a drug-related offense.” Or this: “Between 6.6% and 7.5% of all black males ages 25 to 39 were imprisoned in 2011.”
The war on drugs is still with us. It serves a political purpose by permanently marginalizing the black community in the interest of maintaining the supremacy of a white privileged class that is far from ready to reduce its own impressive rate of consumption of illegal drugs… with or without a wall.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
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