President Trump’s campaign-style rallies are always entertaining things, if just because you never know quite what’s going to happen. Trump isn’t known for sticking to the script or to convention — and when the attention of the entire news brigade is trained upon him, the president is known to stir the pot a bit.
And this time, he not only stirred the pot, he stirred pot dealers as well.
During his speech at the campaign-style rally in Moon Township, Pennsylvania, the president praised countries with “zero-tolerance” policies on drug dealing and floated the idea of using an Asian-style model to deal with drug trafficking in the legal system.
That may sound uncontroversial enough, until you realize that the Asian-style model of dealing with drug trafficking usually includes summarily executing drug traffickers.
“When I was in China and other places, by the way, I said, Mr. President, do you have a drug problem? ‘No, no, no, we do not,'” Trump told the audience of his visit to Southeast Asia, according to The Hill.
“Big country. 1.4 billion people, right. Not much of a drug problem,” he continued. “I said what do you attribute that to? ‘Well, the death penalty.’
“Hey, if you are a drug dealer and you know you are going to get caught and you know that you are going to kill people,” Trump continued. “You’re killing our kids.”
Trump also singled out Singapore for praise, noting that they don’t “play games” with drug traffickers.
“But if you go to Singapore, I said, Mr. President, what happens with your drugs? ‘We don’t have a problem. We have a zero tolerance. We have a different type of people.'”
“They don’t play games. I said, how are you doing on drugs? ‘No problem.’ I said what do you mean no problem? ‘We have a zero tolerance policy.’ What does that mean? ‘That means if we catch a drug dealer, death penalty,'” Trump told the audience, garnering applause.
Trump told the audience that because of the deaths and misery drug dealers cause, they should be treated as if they had killed people. He went on to compare them to garden-variety murderers.
“They shoot one person, kill some person, knife one person, the person dies, they get maybe the death penalty or maybe life in prison, no parole, right? OK? A drug dealer will kill 2,000, 3,000, 5,000 people during the course of his or her life,” the president said. “You can kill thousands of people and go to jail for 30 days.
“They catch a drug dealer. They don’t even put him in jail. Think of it. You kill one person, you get the death penalty in many states or you get life in prison. Think of it. You kill 5,000 people with drugs because you’re smuggling them in and you’re making a lot of money and people are dying and they don’t even put you in jail. They don’t do anything.”
Now, it’s worth noting that Trump’s idea almost certainly isn’t implementable and that Trump (and his speechwriters) almost certainly know this fact. In the 2008 case of Kennedy v. Louisiana, the Supreme Court ruled by a 5-4 decision that a child rapist could not be put to death by the state of Louisiana, essentially limiting capital punishment in the United States solely to crimes involving murder.
And while Kennedy was decided by a single vote, other Supreme Court precedents would prevent such a move. In the 1977 case of Coker v. Georgia, the court ruled by a 7-2 margin that the death penalty couldn’t be applied to a rapist. Perhaps most important here is the 1980 case of Godfrey v. Georgia, in which the court ruled 6-3 that in most cases, capital punishment requires an aggravating factor in the crime; it would be difficult to prove an aggravating factor in a situation where a drug dealer doesn’t actually intend for his victims to die.
With all that fun stuff out of the way, it’s worth pointing out that the legality of the the death penalty for drug dealers (or even the very idea of implementing it) was likely the furthest thing from the president’s mind. Since day one, the president has tried to focus our national political conversation on the ravages of the opioid crisis, an epidemic that has cost thousands of lives and cost us billions of dollars. It’s strengthened organized crime in Central and South America, and the violence has bled over into our country. Money from the raw materials of opium have helped fund the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. Yet, in spite of the outrageous numbers regarding the opioid issue we see buried in the back pages of the newspaper, that’s where they remain — buried in the back pages.
Have no doubt, the president will be mocked and vilified for what he said during the Pennsylvania rally. His critics will call him dangerous and a living, breathing threat to the Constitution.
One thing no one will be able to ignore, however, is that we have a massive drugs problem in this country. And that’s exactly what Trump wanted to refocus our intention on. You can argue with his methodology. You can’t argue with the fact that he’s put the drugs crisis back on the front burner — and made a lot of drug-dealing thugs very nervous.
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