Richard Nixon campaigned for the U.S. presidency on a platform of strident anti-Communism and renewed law and order. In the wake of devastating urban riots all across the nation, cresting anti-war activism, a vibrant countercultural network of poets and musicians and other provocateurs, and the dual successes of the Civil Rights Movement and Women’s Liberation, Nixon and his crowd had had enough. And so, to reclaim the nation from those they saw as tradition-trashing hooligans, they filled the nation’s airwaves with “war on crime” rhetoric, influenced national and state budgets to reflect Nixon’s priorities, and urged legislatures around the nation to extend sentences and build new prisons. Before long, the children of Martin Luther King Jr.’s America would be described by conservative leaders not as the nation’s redeemers—as its brave inventors of a new democracy shorn of centuries of racism, patriarchy, and war-mongering—but...

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