He is stupid and lazy. He has the attention span of a child. He caters to racism and he does not respect women. His patriotism is juvenile and belligerent. He claims to have the common touch, but he truly cares only for the rich. Is this the standard bill of indictment against Donald J. Trump, circa 2016—or against Ronald Reagan, circa 1980? Of course, these charges were made by liberal opponents of each.
Today’s carceral state has its roots in the “war on crime” that took hold in America in the 1980s. That “war” was led by the political forces that I associate with Reaganism, a conservative political formation that generally favored a rollback of state power. A notable exception to this rule was policing and imprisonment. Both Reaganism and the “war on crime” had a racial politics embedded in them, so that these three phenomena—Reaganism as a movement, the “war on crime,” and the resulting carceral state, and the racial politics of the 1980s—strengthened and reinforced the others.