JS: This week, I’m in Wisconsin. It’s my home state. I’m giving some talks here. And I decided since I was in town, to check in with one of the most interesting historians of our time: Alford McCoy. He is the Harrington professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is the author of the now-classic book: “The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade.”
Al McCoy’s latest book is “In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power.”
Last summer, Al McCoy joined us on Intercepted for a wide-ranging discussion on Trump and Russia, the history of CIA interference in elections around the world, the Iran-Contra Scandal, CIA crack-cocaine epidemic, U.S. proxy wars, narco-trafficking in Afghanistan, and much more. In that interview, Al McCoy predicted that China is set to surpass the influence of the U.S. globally, both militarily and economically and he says it’s going to happen by the year 2030. At that point, Al McCoy asserts, the United States empire as we know it will be no more. He also told us that the Trump presidency is a byproduct of the erosion of U.S. global dominance but not its root cause.
Al McCoy joins me now. Al, welcome back to Intercepted.
Al McCoy: Jeremy, wonderful to be back.
AM: Trump is also dealing with a Republican form of politics that was invented by Ronald Reagan. Reagan picked up Nixon’s drug war, and he gave it two distinct dimensions: One, attacking coca in the Andes, and two, increasing domestic penalties so that the U.S. prison population doubled under Ronald Reagan.
Look, from 1930 to 1980, for 50 years, one figure didn’t change in American public life, from Depression through the boom years of Eisenhower, we had 100 prisoners per 100,000. Today we have 700 prisoners per 100,000. And there is a political logic that Reagan, in his genius, never articulated but practiced.
So, you sweep the inner cities, round up the African Americans, fill the prisons, 53 percent of the federal prisoners of the United States are in for nonviolent drug offenses.
When they’re incarcerated, they’re off the voter rolls. When they come out, in 17 states, I believe it is — it changes — they are disenfranchised for life. Where do you put your prisons? Upstate New York. Northern Wisconsin. Areas with dying populations, you pack thousands of inner-city people who are enumerated in the census. You count those prisoners in that electoral district, but they don’t get to vote.
So who gets the voting power? The prison guards who are very conservative. So, it’s a genius strategy of disenfranchisement of African-Americans. That’s the Republican electoral strategy. It’s a couple of percentage points but you play out of that margin district after district, and before you know it you’ve got majority control of most of the state legislatures in the United States, the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Senate. It works.