WASHINGTON, DC — President Trump has been making some disturbing authoritarian and bloodthirsty private remarks about what he’d like to do to drug dealers, according to a new report from Axios.
Worse yet, his dark fulminations may foreshadow some repressive policy prescriptions not too far down the road.
The president is apparently a big fan of the Singapore approach, where there is a mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking offenses. According to the report, he’s been telling acquaintances for months that that’s the reason the country’s drug use rate is so low.
“He says that a lot, said one source close to the Trump. “He says, ‘When I ask the prime minister of Singapore do they have a drug problem [the prime minister replies,] ‘No. Death penalty’.”
It’s not just Singapore that has caught the president’s eye. He also reportedly has a soft spot for other hardline countries, such as China, the world’s leading executioner, and the Philippines, where the bloody drug war led by President Rodrigo Duterte has left at least 12,000 dead and resulted in an ongoing investigation by the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity.
According to “a senior administration official,” Trump envies their approaches: “He often jokes about killing drug dealers… He’ll say, ‘You know the Chinese and Filipinos don’t have a drug problem. They just kill them.’”
As is so often the case, the president is misinformed about the success of harshly repressive drug policies. The Chinese government itself qualified its illicit drug situation as “severe and growing” last May, and an unusual public trial and execution of drug offenders in Lufeng, southern China, last December, was described by analysts as showing that “authorities are frustrated and desperate in their fight against illegal drugs.”
Similarly, while the Philippines had a methamphetamine problem before Duterte unleashed his drug war, it still has a meth problem. And despite all the arrests and killings, the price of meth on the street is cheaper than ever.
Trump seems obsessed with fighting drugs, according to the Axios report. It cites five sources who’ve spoken with Trump on the subject who say “he often leaps into a passionate speech about how drug dealers are as bad as serial killers and should all get the death penalty” and that softer approaches to drug reform will never work.
Instead, “Trump has said he would love to have a law to execute all drug dealers here in America, though he’s privately admitted it would probably be impossible to get a law this harsh passed under the American system.”
Trump’s opioid policy point person, Kellyanne Conway, who spoke on the record with Axios, said his position is actually more nuanced, with the president talking about “high-volume dealers who are killing thousands of people.”
But the legislation Conway said he may back would increase mandatory minimum sentences for people dealing in as little as two grams of fentanyl. Under current federal law, it takes 40 grams of the drug to trigger a five-year mandatory minimum.
“There is an appetite among many law enforcement, health professionals and grieving families that we must toughen up our criminal and sentencing statutes to match the new reality of drugs like fentanyl, which are so lethal in such small doses,” Conway said. “The president makes a distinction between those that are languishing in prison for low-level drug offenses and the kingpins hauling thousands of lethal doses of fentanyl into communities, that are responsible for many casualties in a single weekend.”
Conway may claim the president has a nuanced approach, but the Axios reporting on his diatribes suggest otherwise. Trump doesn’t really do nuance, and his natural tendency is toward the billy club. This doesn’t bode well for progressive drug polices as long as his administration is around, although Democrats taking control of at least one house of Congress could seriously hinder his ability to do damage on this — and many other — fronts.