Donald Trump drew cheers at a rally in western Pennsylvania Saturday when he suggested that drug dealers should be executed and praised east Asian autocrats for their tough-on-crime policies.
The US president was talking to the crowd near Pittsburgh about a conversation on illegal drugs he recently had with Singapore’s leader Hamilah Yacob.
“We [the authorities in Singapore] have a zero tolerance policy … that means if we catch a drug dealer, death penalty,” Trump explained to the crowd, which roared in approval. “A drug dealer will kill 2,000, 3,000, 5,000 people during the course of his or her life … So you can kill thousands of people and go to jail for 30 days.”
“That’s why we have a problem, folks,” Trump continued. “I don’t think we should play games … We can’t just keep setting up blue ribbon committees.”
President Trump discusses the death penalty for drug dealers: "I don't think we should play games … These people are killing our kids and they're killing our families and we have to do something" https://t.co/1xGAt31yBz
— CNN (@CNN) March 11, 2018
Trump said that he originally got the idea from China’s President, Xi Jinping, who this week was approved de facto president-for-life, as the Chinese Congress voted to remove term limits from its president. At the rally he said that seeking the death penalty for drug dealers “is a discussion we have to start thinking about. I don’t know if the country’s ready for it.”
The president’s call for a return of the death penalty was immediately criticized, including by some former Trump acolytes. “If you’re smart and you can lawyer up, you don’t get the death penalty,” former press secretary Anthony Scaramucci told CNN. “If you have a low I.Q. and you’re in a rural place and frankly, if you’re African-American… you end up getting the death penalty. I think it’s completely unfair.”
Throughout his first year in office, Trump has consistently shown admiration for the hardline law enforcement of autocratic leaders. In April last year, Trump called Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to congratulate him on his “unbelievable job on the drug problem” — despite the International Criminal Court opening an investigation into Duterte’s war on drugs. Trump also celebrated Xi Jinping’s consolidation of power, saying that “maybe we’ll give that a shot someday.”
But despite the cheers of the crowd in Pennsylvania, the reality is that support for the death penalty is rapidly ebbing away. In 2016, The Pew Research Center found that less than half of Americans currently support the death penalty, its lowest number in four decades and down from 80 percent support in the mid-1990s.