Trump's barbarism isn't just on display at the Capitol, he's also on a death penalty killing spree.

Jeremy Hogan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty ImagesAnti-death-penalty activist Glenda Breeden holds a lamp while protesting against the execution of Lisa Montgomery on January 12, 2021.
  • Trump’s incitement of a deadly insurrection of the Capitol projected a shameful image of American barbarism to the rest of the world, but Trump’s capital punishment killing spree is every bit as barbaric.
  • Over the past seven months, more than one-fourth of all the federal executions of the past century were ordered by Trump. Prior to July 2020, there hadn’t been a federal execution since 2003.
  • Trump has fetishised the death penalty for his entire public life, and to this day refuses to apologise for taking out a full page ad in The New York Times calling for the executions of the falsely-accused “Central Park Five.”
  • The government should not be empowered with the right to kill its citizens.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

America has projected an image to the world over the past couple of weeks as somewhere between a banana republic and a crumbling empire.

We’ve got a president poisoning millions of people with lies because he can’t accept he was decisively defeated in a free and fair election. A president who incited a violent insurrection on the Capitol, one of the world’s beacons of democracy. A president who cheered on the barbarism even as his aides begged him to intervene.

But there’s another, less publicized display of Trump’s barbarism happening under our noses. It’s another shameful image of America in 2021, laid bare for all the world to see.

Killing in the name of America

As the Trump era comes to a fitful close, the administration has undertaken an unprecedented campaign of capital punishment.

Since 1927, there have been 50 federal executions of prisoners convicted of heinous crimes.

Until Trump rebooted US government-sponsored murder in July 2020, there hadn’t been a federal execution since 2003.

To date, Trump has presided over 13 federal executions, including a lethal injection this week of the first woman killed by the federal government since 1953. (The final execution on Trump’s watch was carried out Friday night.)

The geyser of state-sanctioned violence is stunning. More than one-fourth of all federal executions in the past century have been conducted by the Trump administration in the past seven months.

Trump’s right-wing populism, and his obsession with vengeance, has made a mockery of the “limited government” ethos commonly espoused by Republicans and conservatives.

Hannah Cox, National Manager of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, in a statement this week called federal Republicans “out of step” with “conservative state-based activists who say capital punishment goes against their principles of fiscal responsibility, limited government, and valuing life.”

Overall, a narrow majority of Americans — 55% — still support capital punishment, according to a recent Gallup poll. But that’s the lowest level of support for the death penalty since 1972.

Part of the reason for that drop in support is the bad publicity for state-sanctioned murder garnered by a series of gruesomely botched state-level lethal injections — where condemned prisoners have writhed in pain for hours.

Many of these botched killings are the result of states using drugs of poor quality and questionable provenance, ever since a 2011 European Union ban on selling drugs commonly used in lethal injections to the US.

As a result, death penalty states shroud their execution drug policies in secrecy.

These killings have also reinforced a sinister version of what conservatives revere as “American exceptionalism.”

With rare exceptions such as Japan, the US is an outlier among developed democracies in its continued use of capital punishment.

The only country in the Europe with the death penalty is Belarus, commonly referred to as “Europe’s last dictatorship.”

And while Russia might engage in state-sponsored assassinations, they have been under a capital punishment moratorium since 1996.

American exceptionalists should take note of the company we keep as continuing practitioners of capital punishment, which includes some of the world’s worst human rights-denying dictatorships like China, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Egypt.

Trump’s death penalty devotion

Trump has fetishised the death penalty for his entire public life, most prominently when in 1989 he took out a full page ad in the New York Times calling for executing the falsely accused “Central Park Five.” They were innocent of the crime for which Trump wanted them killed.

To this day Trump has refused to apologise for calling for the state-sanctioned killing of five falsely-accused Black youths.

This was just one of many mistakes made by the justice system. But the difference between unjust convictions and unjust executions is the latter can’t be overturned.

The death penalty is disproportionately used on the economically poor and the mentally ill, and numerous studies have shown it is not a deterrent to major crimes.

At least 174 people sentenced to death in America have had their convictions overturned since 1973. And it is almost certain that innocent people have been executed in the US.

The US government killed innocent people in our name.

This is not to express even a modicum of sympathy for those who are truly guilty of heinous crimes. This is to express what should be part of basic human morality, which is that killing is wrong.

And the government should not be empowered with the right to kill its citizens. Conservatives, many of whom don’t think the government should even have the right to demand taxes, ought to concede the point.

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