Last weekend, Axios had a report that Donald Trump has privately expressed admiration for how Singapore deals with drug-trafficking offenses: the government executes those found guilty. The American president, the report said, has been “telling friends for months” that Singapore’s model is effective.
Trump “doesn’t just joke about it,” Axios added. “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…. Trump has said he would love to have a law to execute all drug dealers here in America.”
It’s one thing to see an article like this, which quoted unnamed sources close to the president. It’s something else when Trump effectively confirms the reporting.
President Trump suggested that executing drug dealers could help solve the opioid crisis during a White House summit Thursday, an event the administration billed as a way to measure its progress in combating the nation’s drug problem.
“Some countries have a very tough penalty, the ultimate penalty, and they have much less of a drug problem than we do,” Trump said.
“You know, if you shoot one person, they give you life, they give you the death penalty,” Trump added. “These people can kill 2,000, 3,000 people and nothing happens to them.”
This comes months after the Republican praised Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte for his approach to dealing with drugs in his own country – an approach that involves relying on death squads to kill drug dealers.
For those concerned about Trump’s authoritarian tendencies, this won’t help.
But the problem isn’t just the president’s fondness for solving problems by killing people. While the White House tries to craft some kind of policy agenda to deal with the nation’s opioid crisis, the fact that Trump seems to prefer “very tough penalties” tells us something important about what we can expect from the administration. Politico reported:
“It makes us all very nervous” that the U.S. could move back to a “penal-first approach,” said Andrew Kessler, who leads Slingshot Solutions, a consulting firm specializing in behavioral health policy that advocates for substance abuse treatment and prevention. “I have no love for high-level traffickers or cartels, but a very high percentage of people who sell drugs do it to support their own habit.”
He and others said the government would be better offer treating people for addiction than imprisoning them.
“We have done the experiment with extreme mass incarceration to shrink the drug market and it failed,” said Mark Kleiman, who leads the crime and justice program at New York University’s Marron Institute of Urban Management. “Between 1980 and today, the number of drug dealers behind bars has gone up by a factor of 30 and the prices of heroin and cocaine have fallen more than 90 percent. So the problem with putting drug dealers in prison is there is another drug dealer in there to take his place.”
Trump believes the best solution is a solution he can characterize as “tough.” For those interested in addressing a major challenge in effective and constructive ways, this isn’t at all encouraging.