News & Politics

Trump's Policy of Executing Drug Dealers Is Straight From the Authoritarian Handbook

At one point, Trump seemed to suggest the death penalty should be used against drug "abusers."

Photo Credit: PBS Newshour

President Donald Trump is proposing to fight the opioid epidemic using the death penalty, a vicious and counterproductive policy that would do little to make the country safer and echoes the policies of authoritarians like Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte. 

"These are terrible people, and we have to get tough on those people because we can have all the Blue Ribbon committees we want, but if we don’t get tough on the drug dealers, we're wasting our time," Trump said at a speech Monday in Manchester, New Hampshire. "Just remember that. We're wasting our time. And that toughness includes the death penalty."

He insisted, "We have got to get tough. This isn’t about nice anymore."

Trump has previously praised Duterte, who famously promoted a brutal campaign of extrajudicial killings against drug dealers and users in the Philippines that killed thousands. Trump's suggestion that the U.S. adopt any kind of similar policy is frightening.

The White House has said that the plan is to use existing laws to go after drug dealers. However, federal law does supposedly allow the death penalty as a punishment for large-scale drug crimes, though the law has never been used or tested in the courts.

At one point, Trump seemed to suggest the death penalty might be appropriate for people who abuse drugs, not just the dealers.

"Unless you have really, really powerful penalties, led by the death penalty for the really bad pushers and abusers, we are going to get nowhere," he said.

Most observers seem to have interpreted this as a slip, which it likely was. But it demonstrates that Trump has little interest in the complexity of drug policy or actual understanding of drug abuse.

Smart policies like expanding Medicaid in all 50 states could do a great deal to reduce opioid deaths, yet Trump won't even mention that idea.

Instead, he likes the death penalty, not because it would actually help address the opioid crisis, which it wouldn't, but because it makes him sound like a tough guy. 

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Cody Fenwick is a reporter and editor. Follow him on Twitter @codytfenwick.