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Denying Racism

THE WAR ON DRUGS is one of the most ill-conceived, racist, and harmful government initiatives of the past half century. Yet it was also very effective—just not in the way its proponents claimed. The successes have been in politics, not in public health. By all indications, the health challenges presented by drug abuse today are as bad as they have ever been. But over this same period, the Republican Party has effectively reconfigured itself as a party of white racial backlash against the relatively progressive racial and economic policies of the Great Society and the New Deal. From Nixon’s Southern Strategy to Reagan’s states’ rights speech at the Neshoba County Fair and Donald Trump’s entire campaign and administration, Republicans have leveraged white racial resentment to shift political narratives and claim power at all levels of government.

Donna Murch convincingly connects Trump’s racist ramblings about the opioid crisis and immigration to a much broader field of racialized (and racist) rhetoric and policy that has informed the U.S. government’s approach to managing licit and illicit drugs in this country for over a century. But while that history has deep roots in our political institutions and in the capitalist structure of the drug market, it is important to highlight the distinctiveness of the current era.

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