By By William C. Anderson for Truthout. In institutions, states and nations there is often a mechanical need for a villain. Like almost nothing else, the scapegoated villain or alleged threat can be used to mobilize people around a common cause. Over time, the denigration of such apparitions – who are usually too distant, foreign or alienated to defend themselves – becomes the repetitive waltz of an empire on the edge. This repeatedly staged fiasco has played out in an array of policy debacles both foreign and domestic. The “war on terror” and the “war on drugs” are two examples of this phenomenon. Most recently, the arrest of Sinaloa cartel boss Joaquín Guzmán Loera, known as “El Chapo,” illustrated how the early stages of this cycle unfold and foreshadow what will happen next.

From the time President Richard Nixon declared the war on drugs in 1971 up to now, the effects of drug-related laws, policies and law enforcement practices across the United States have been utterly devastating. This regressive era elevated punishment as the primary solution to an ongoing problem. By the time Ronald Reagan took office through the 1980s and into the 1990s prison populations soared. Thanks to nonviolent drug offenses and racially coded conservative crackdowns, the communities most affected by drugs were also the most devastated by the so-called efforts to alleviate the problem.

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