Apocalypse Now and Forever.
March 2018: Speaking to a crowd at a New Hampshire community college, Donald Trump stirred controversy--even for him--with the suggestion that executing drug dealers might be a way out of the country's rising opioid crisis. With overtures to Philippine strongman Rodrigo Duterte, who openly encourages the extrajudicial executions of drug dealers, Trump raised the tough-on-crime ante, chiding:
These are terrible people, and we have to get tough on those People ... but if we don't get tough on the drug dealers, we're wasting our time. Just remember that. We're wasting our time. And that toughness includes the death penalty. (Trump 2018)
Betraying his utter ignorance of the workings of US criminal justice, Trump drew on the myth of drug dealers who "kill thousands" only to be fined or jailed for "30 days" or a year and of murderers invariably imprisoned "for life." Continuing his screed, Trump leaned on his now patented brand of crude nationalist, racial politics, holding China and Mexico responsible for the nearly 1,500 pounds of fentanyl seized by US agents in 2017 and the ambiguous group of 'criminal aliens with 76,000 charges and convictions for dangerous drug crimes" apparently arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that year. Emboldened by chants of "Build that wall! Build that wall! Build that wall!" from his curated audience, he lambasted Democrats for the insolence of sanctuary cities, the terror of the gang MS13, and the chaos of the southern border. Amid the bombast, he offered up "very, very bad commercials" as the centerpiece of his administration's drug control efforts. Despite decades of research findings to contrary, he touted the ability of fear-appeal ads to keep young people from "getting hooked on drugs to begin with," punctuating his cut-rate response to a problem he had declared a national emergency months earlier (Trump 2018).
As easy as it is, we should resist framing Trump's response to the opioid crisis as a marked departure from long-established practices of the US drug war. More aptly, we might say that Trump simply doubled down on many of the missteps that I outlined in Meth Wars. From the racialized specter of violent street crime ginned up by his fixation on MS-13 and the politics of border and nation reverberating in chants to "build the wall," to the geopolitical expediency of policing global commodity chains, the drug war provides this president, as well as those preceding and those to follow...
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