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In the U.S., not even death and tax returns are certain: Westwood

This week, President Trump pats a brutal authoritarian on the back while Arkansas fights for the right to kill its own citizens.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen (lying down) takes part in an anti-death penalty demonstration on Friday in Little Rock, Ark. Griffen issued a temporary restraining order Friday after a company said it had sold the drug to the state for medical purposes, not capital punishment.

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen (lying down) takes part in an anti-death penalty demonstration on Friday in Little Rock, Ark. Griffen issued a temporary restraining order Friday after a company said it had sold the drug to the state for medical purposes, not capital punishment.

One of the ways I’ve sought to understand the United States, as a Canadian, has been to compare our absurdities.

One inexplicable aspect of American life is the ongoing, vehement, pseudo-religious devotion of some to capital punishment. For weeks now, Arkansas has been in the news for fast-tracking the execution of eight men in 11 days.  

Anyone following the modern death sentence in America knows that procuring the means of execution­ ­— a lethal cocktail of drugs — is often inconvenient for U.S. states. Only certain drugs are allowed, and you can only get them from certain companies.  

There’s been a multi-year shortage of these drugs. And eventually, they expire. Arkansas’s supply of the sedative midazolam, one of the drugs used in executions, will expire at the end of the month. Thus, the state finds itself with enough drugs to kill eight inmates, but not enough time.  

Or, not enough time to move at the regular pace.  Enter a flurry of legal challenges, and this week the state’s supreme court blocked two executions (it had already blocked one).  State officials are keen to follow through on the rest, leading to such news reports as: “Arkansas remains hopeful it can execute five inmates before the end of the month.”  

Capital punishment is the pinnacle of governmental arrogance. It is among the purest examples of unilateral, complete state power: the power to kill.

More from Rosemary Westwood:

Unilateral, complete government power is not exactly desirable in a democracy. It’s not exactly a hallmark of freedom.

And yet, in the same week Arkansas battles for the right to kill its citizens, the U.S. president took time to congratulate Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in his ongoing efforts to concentrate power. Erdogan narrowly won a recent referendum that observers warn could have been manipulated by as many as 2.5 million votes.  

Donald Trump’s reaction was to give the Turkish leader a “well done” call. In the past year, Erdogan has responded to a coup attempt by jailing hundreds of journalists, shutting down dissenting media, and silencing critics. He told election observers warning of possible voter fraud to “know their place.”   

Disturbingly, those do sound like the words of a man Trump would admire. Trump is exactly a man who likes others to know their place. Namely: beneath him.

Protesters last weekend demanding Trump release his tax returns were met with Trump’s trademark anger and incredulity: “The election is over!” he tweeted, while repeating the ridiculous claim that protesters were paid.  

The place of the U.S. public is not, as Trump would have it, in his preverbal pocket. It is not one of unthinking loyalty. The place of the U.S. public is one of oversight. Of the critic. And in four years: of the boss.  

It remains to be seen how much Trump’s obsession with power will change the presidency. Enough Americans, especially Republicans, appear pleased to have him and his strongman (ignorant man) ways. Just as 49 per cent (as of September) support the death penalty.

Inexplicable support on both counts, but true.  

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