As America continues to struggle through one of the worst drug addiction and overdose crises in the country's history, a new report from five unnamed sources in the White House say that president Donald Trump has begun championing the draconian anti-drug policies of countries like Singapore, the Philippines, and China.
According to a scoop from Axios, the unnamed advisors and administration officials said that Trump often speaks with admiration for Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte, both of whom are notorious for executing citizens convicted of nonviolent drug crimes.
"He says, 'When I ask the Prime Minister of Singapore do they have a drug problem, [the Prime Minister replies], 'No. Death penalty,'" an unnamed White House source told Axios reporters.
In addition to the unprompted praise for the South Asian leaders, sources told Axios that Trump repeatedly delves into a "passionate speech about how drug dealers are as bad as serial killers and should all get the death penalty."
And while these private conversations are certainly a revelation about Trump's approach to drug policy and potential intentions for the U.S., the president has not been shy about his support for strict prohibition. In May 2017, it was widely reported that Trump piled compliments on Duterte about his stance on drugs during a call.
"I just wanted to congratulate you because I am hearing of the unbelievable job on the drug problem," Trump said, according to the Washington Post. "Many countries have the problem, we have a problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that."
After that call, drug policy reform advocates were quick to deride the president's allegiances and influences, disparaging his approval of Duterte's inhumane tactics.
"It fills me with disgust to see the U.S. president congratulate someone who has overseen the massacre of thousands of his own people in the name of the war on drugs," Michael Collins, Deputy Director of National Affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, told the Huffington Post. "The U.S. government should be urging restraint and respect for human rights; instead Trump gives Duterte's deadly drug war his seal of approval."
Now, according to Axios' sources, Trump has increased that approval to influence, with one White House insider telling the news site that "Trump has said he would love to have a law to execute all drug dealers here in America, though he's privately admitted it would probably be impossible to get a law this harsh passed under the American system."
Instead of denying those dictatorish quotes as rumor or a misrepresentation of the president's true opinion, Trump surrogate and newly appointed White House anti-drug coordinator Kellyanne Conway merely clarified her boss's barbaric ideas on drug policy.
"There is an appetite among many law enforcement, health professionals, and grieving families that we must toughen up our criminal and sentencing statutes to match the new reality of drugs like fentanyl, which are so lethal in such small doses," Conway told Axios. "The president makes a distinction between those that are languishing in prison for low-level drug offenses and the kingpins hauling thousands of lethal doses of fentanyl into communities, that are responsible for many casualties in a single weekend."
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Of course, America already incarcerates more people than any other country in the world, and has still seen opioid abuse and overdose statistics spike. And that says nothing of the epidemic's roots in American doctors' offices. Even fentanyl, the drug most frequently cited by Conway and other prohibitionists, was introduced to the U.S. market by pharmaceutical companies.
Outside of those white collar influences, America is home to a roots-deep institutionally racist criminal justice system, meaning that any additional penalties for drug trafficking would almost surely disproportionately affect people of color, despite equal rates of criminal participation across racial lines.
Trump has not made any formal steps to introducing Duterte or Loong's death penalty for drug dealers, but the fact that he even sees their cruel and unusual policies as a possibility should cause concern in and of itself.
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