People close to President Donald Trump say he wants to import the Asian practice of executing drug dealers, reports Jonathan Swan of Axios.
"According to five sources who've spoken with Trump about the subject, he often leaps into a passionate speech about how drug dealers are as bad as serial killers and should all get the death penalty," Swan reports.
Trump got the idea, Swan says, from the president of Singapore, who told Trump his country does not have a drug problem because they execute people who traffic drugs above a certain quantity threshold. Though Swan doesn't mention it, this law extends to marijuana traffickers.
We should not be surprised Trump holds these views, given that he has encouraged law enforcement violence against people suspected of crimes, suggested that we don't torture enough, and openly praised Philippine President Rodrigue Duterte's extrajudicial murder crusade against drug users and dealers alike. As A. Barton Hinkle noted in 2016, Trump's authoritarianism extends to less horrifying issues, such as eminent domain, entry to the U.S., and tariffs. There are few policy arenas where the man feels government force would be uncalled for.
Swan's report gives Kellyanne Conway some space to run some interference for the president:
Conway, who leads the White House's anti-drug efforts, argues Trump's position is more nuanced, saying the president is talking about high-volume dealers who are killing thousands of people. The point he's making, she says, is that some states execute criminals for killing one person but a dealer who brings a tiny quantity of fentanyl into a community can cause mass death in just one weekend, often with impunity.
Trump reportedly won't demand a capital-punishment-for-dealing bill because he thinks it's too radical. But if "kill 'em all" is Trump's opening bid, then we shouldn't be surprised when he kiboshes drug-related sentencing reform (which Attorney General Jeff Sessions has already denounced) and instead endorses a new five-year mandatory minimum for trafficking fentanyl in excess of two grams. Swan says he may back a bill along those lines.
Unfortunately, America seems particularly susceptible right now to this kind of idea. In 2015, an Ohio judge sentenced Edwin Sobony to two years' probation after he beat his wife's drug dealer with a baseball bat. "Vigilante justice is not supported by the court. But the people in this community have just had it," Judge Charles Schneider said at Sobony's sentencing. Assault with a baseball bat normally gets you prison time in Ohio, and the victim, a cousin of Sobony's wife, was hospitalized with a fractured skull. But Schneider said he was inundated with letters in Sobony's defense and noticed in the comments section of local news articles that people wanted to pay for Sobony's legal fees. The mob was feeling it, and Schneider listened.
The Florida legislature and Gov. Rick Scott, meanwhile, recently decided that selling a lethal dose of fentanyl should bring a charge of first-degree murder. The penalties for first-degree murder in Florida are life without parole and death.
We have seen this kind of response before. Back in 1995, then–Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich called for the U.S. to begin executing people who smuggled drugs from overseas:
Mr. Gingrich, speaking to about 400 people at a money-raising event here for Representative Charlie Norwood, Republican of Georgia, said, "The first time we execute 27 or 30 or 35 people at one time, and they go around Colombia and France and Thailand and Mexico, and they say, 'Hi, would you like to carry some drugs into the U.S.?' the price of carrying drugs will have gone up dramatically."
Mr. Gingrich said his proposal, which he said he would make in a bill to be filed next month, would impose a mandatory death penalty on people convicted of bringing illegal drugs into the United States.
"If you import a commercial quantity of illegal drugs," he said, "it is because you have made the personal decision that you are prepared to get rich by destroying our children. I have made the decision that I love our children enough that we will kill you if you do this."
Gingrich now supports drug sentencing reform, and he recently co-authored an op-ed titled "Opioid Addictions Won't be Cured by Tough Sentences." If he really is the Trump whisperer he claims to be, maybe Gingrich can talk some sense into the president. But I expect the mob instinct on this issue is far stronger.