It took almost no time at all for President Donald Trump to go straight to "Let's lock people up" when speaking about the opioid overdose crisis Tuesday.
Somewhat lost in the wake of the president's threatening comments about North Korea, Trump spoke at a briefing at the Trump National Golf Club in Bridgewater, New Jersey, about fighting opioid addiction. America, he insisted, can arrest its way out the problem. He wants more federal prosecutions, and he blames President Barack Obama for scaling back both arrests and sentences:
Meanwhile, federal drug prosecutions have gone down in recent years. We're going to be bringing them up and bringing them up rapidly. At the end of 2016, there were 23 percent fewer than in 2011. So they looked at this scourge and they let it go by, and we're not letting it go by. The average sentence length for a convicted federal drug offender decreased 20 percent from 2009 to 2016.
With those early comments, Trump is more in line with Attorney General Jeff Sessions' attitude toward ramping up the drug war and much less with the very commission whose preliminary report on the opioid crisis prompted this meeting in the first place.
The report wasn't focused on putting Americans in prison so much as it was on trying to get Trump to declare opioids a "national emergency," the aim being more government spending to fight addiction and more federal regulation of drug treatment and prescriptions.
Trump has resisted declaring a national emergency thus far. Do not mistake this for resisting a panic-based response. It's very clear from his comments that Trump (like Sessions) is stuck in the 1980s-1990s mindset that drug addiction is caused by creepy urban thugs on street corners luring children into trying some pills. So naturally, he's going to conclude that bad people need to be punished.
Here's how stuck in the past he is:
The best way to prevent drug addiction and overdose is to prevent people from abusing drugs in the first place. If they don't start, they won't have a problem. If they do start, it's awfully tough to get off. So we can keep them from going on, and maybe by talking to youth and telling them, "No good; really bad for you" in every way. But if they don't start, it will never be a problem.
Just say no, kids! That quote above got plenty of mockery due to the pure paucity of actual thinking taking place. But that's because Trump is already sure he has all the answers. He needs a border wall. He needs more money for Department of Homeland Security and police. He wants the drug war to be even meaner. He wants police to be even meaner. His solution to the drug crisis is to punish people until they stop taking drugs. So he's not going to be terribly engaged in any subtleties of addiction management or what role the government should or should not be playing. He thinks the drug problem is because of bad people.