President Donald Trump stumbled into a White House summit about the opioid epidemic on Thursday and unsurprisingly floated an aggressively stupid idea to end it.
“We have pushers and drugs dealers, they are killing hundreds and hundreds of people,” Trump said, as reported by Politico. “If you shoot one person, they give you life, they give you the death penalty. These people can kill 2,000, 3,000 people and nothing happens to them. Some countries have a very, very tough penalty — the ultimate penalty — and by the way, they have much less of a drug problem than we do.”
Apart from the fact that American presidents also routinely “kill 2,000, 3,000 people and nothing happens to them,” Trump’s comments are viscerally dumb, which is not surprising coming from a man who is fundamentally unprepared to deal with any problem more consequential than unmuting his TV.
Not only is the death penalty deeply immoral on a basic level, the version practiced in America is a form of torture that’s only getting worse as states turn to drug “cocktails” to carry out executions. As a result, most states are actively moving away from the death penalty; as the Washington Post wrote last year, seven states have either voluntarily abolished it or had it abolished for them by the courts since 2007.
Furthermore, punitive measures are already being tried to combat opioids. Vox reported last year that at least sixteen states across the country have either enacted drug-induced homicide laws (aimed at dealers) or stiffer penalties overall. As Daniel Denvir pointed out in a story about a drug-induced homicide case in Pennsylvania for Slate in January, the dealers in many cases where people overdose are users themselves. Surprise, surprise — it hasn’t worked. The crisis just keeps getting worse.
Whenever Trump can land on the simplest and most reactionary solution to a problem, he will. Sure, it’s widely accepted by both researchers and much of the general population that the War on Drugs has been a failure, but what if we scared drug dealers? It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t work — at least it’s tough.
If Trump were serious about fixing the problem, there are a lot of real potential solutions, from funding rehabilitation and treatment and needle exchange programs, to marijuana legalization, to prosecuting companies that produce prescription opioids for misleading the public, to, I don’t know, maybe ending our policy of fighting forever wars and destabilizing societies in opium-producing nations.
None of these solutions, you’ll find, include expanding the scope of the cruelest thing that America does to its own citizens.