Trump’s end-of-term execution spree is nothing more than a perverse power trip


A protest against the execution of Brandon Bernard, who was put to death by lethal injection in Indiana on Thursday. PHOTO/Austen Leake/AP

It’s hard to overstate just how unprecedented and sadistic the Trump administration’s flurry of federal executions is. The overwhelming majority of prisoners who are put to death in America are executed under state law, rather than by the federal government. Since 1927, when record keeping began, 37 federal executions have occurred. There hadn’t been a federal execution for 17 years until this summer, when Daniel Lewis Lee was put to death. What’s more, there hasn’t been a federal execution during a presidential lame-duck period for 130 years. The last one was in the 1890s during the presidency of Grover Cleveland. “It’s hard to understand why anybody at this stage of a presidency feels compelled to kill this many people,” the director of the Death Penalty Information Center said. “This is a complete historical aberration.”

Racking up executions during the last weeks of your presidency would be disgusting at the best of times. Doing it during a pandemic that has killed almost 300,000 Americans takes callousness and cruelty to a whole new level. Particularly when you are a party that has branded yourself “pro-life”. I know words don’t have any meaning any more but does being pro-life really mean ramping up the death penalty, reinstating archaic practices like death by firing squad and poison gas, separating migrant children from their parents, escalating drone strikes, attempting to strip healthcare from people, and trying to cut food stamps during a pandemic? If so, then Trump is going to go down as the most pro-life president in American history. He certainly looks set to become the president who has executed the most people in over 130 years. If the next four executions proceed as scheduled, Trump will have put to death about a quarter of all federal death-row prisoners.

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