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Trump Goes Full Nixon on Law-and-Order, Vows 'Ruthless' War on Drugs and Crime [FEATURE]

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #961)
Consequences of Prohibition
Politics & Advocacy

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

In a sharp break with the Obama administration, which distanced itself from harsh anti-drug rhetoric and emphasized treatment for drug users over punishment, President Trump last week reverted to tough drug war oratory and backed it up with a series of executive orders he said were "designed to restore safety in America."

"We're going to stop the drugs from pouring in," Trump told law enforcement professionals of the Major Cities Chiefs Association last Wednesday. "We're going to stop those drugs from poisoning our youth, from poisoning our people. We're going to be ruthless in that fight. We have no choice. And we're going to take that fight to the drug cartels and work to liberate our communities from their terrible grip of violence."

Trump also lambasted the Obama administration for one of its signature achievements in criminal justice reform, opening the prison doors for more than 1,700 drug war prisoners who had already served sentences longer than they would have under current, revised sentencing guidelines. Obama freed "record numbers of drug traffickers, many of them kingpins," Trump complained.

And in a sign of a return to the dark days of drug war over-sentencing, he called for harsher mandatory minimum prison sentences for "the most serious" drug offenders, as well as aggressive prosecutions of drug traffickers and cracking down on "shipping loopholes" he claimed allowed drugs to be sent to the US from other countries.

In a New Hampshire campaign speech during the campaign, Trump called for more treatment for drug users and more access to overdose reversal drugs, but there was no sign of that side of the drug policy equation in Wednesday's speech.

Last Thursday, Trump backed up his tough talk with action as, at the Oval Office swearing in of Attorney General Jeff Session, he rolled out three executive orders he said were "designed to restore safety in America," but which appear to signal an increasingly authoritarian response to crime, drugs, and discontent with policing practices.

The first, which Trump said would "reduce crime and restore public safety," orders Sessions to create a new Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Policy, which will come up with "strategies to reduce crime, including, in particular, illegal immigration, drug trafficking and violent crime," propose legislation to implement them, and submit a report to the president within a year.

The second, regarding "transnational criminal organizations and preventing drug trafficking," directs various federal law enforcement agencies to "increase intelligence sharing" and orders an already existing interagency working group to submit a report to Trump within four months describing progress made in combating the cartels, "along with any recommended actions for dismantling them."

"I'm directing Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security to undertake all necessary and lawful action to break the back of the criminal cartels that have spread across our nation and are destroying the blood of our youth and other people," Trump said Thursday.

The third directs the Justice Department to use federal law to prosecute people who commit crimes against police officers, even though they already face universally severe penalties under existing state laws.

Trump was breathing law-and-order brimstone last week. (Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons)
"It's a shame what's been happening to our great, truly great law enforcement officers," Trump said at the signing ceremony. "That's going to stop as of today."

The tough talk and the executive orders provoked immediate alarm and pushback from human and civil rights advocates, drug reformers, the Mexican government, and even the law enforcement community. The apparent turn back toward a more law-and-order approach to drugs also runs against the tide of public health and public policy opinion that the war on drugs has been a failure.

In a report released last Friday, dozens of senior law enforcement officials warned Trump against a tough crackdown on crime and urged him to instead continue the Obama administration's efforts to reform the criminal justice system.

The report was coauthored for Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration by former Dallas Police Chief David Brown, who won wide praise for his response after a gun man killed five of his officers last year.

"Decades of experience have convinced us of a sobering reality: Today's crime policies, which too often rely only on jail and prison, are simply ineffective in preserving public safety," the report said.

The president's crime plan would encourage police to focus on general lawbreaking rather than violent crime, the report said. The Justice Department already spends more than $5 billion a year to support local police, much of it spent on "antiquated law enforcement tools, such as dragnet enforcement of lower-level offenses" and Trump's plan would "repeat this mistake," the officials wrote. "We cannot fund all crime fighting tactics."

Drug reformers also sounded the alarm.

"This rhetoric is dangerous, disturbing, and dishonest," said Bill Piper, senior director for national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "We have had a war on drugs. It has failed. Tough talk may look good before the cameras, but history has taught us that cracking down on drugs and building walls will not stop the supply or use of drugs. It mostly causes the death and destruction of innocent lives. Trump must tone down his outrageous rhetoric and threats, and instead reach out to leadership from both parties to enact a humane and sensible health-based approach to drug policies that both reduce overdose and our country's mass incarceration crisis."

Indeed, most public health experts argue that the prohibitionist approach to drugs has been a failure. They point to research such as a 2013 study in the British Medical Journal that found that despite billions spent on drug prohibition since 1990, drug prices have only decreased and purity increased, making getting high easier and more affordable than ever before.

"These findings suggest that expanding efforts at controlling the global illegal drug market through law enforcement are failing," the authors conclude.

Public health analysts also point to research showing that between 1991 and 2001, even when the drug war was in full effect, the rate of illicit drug use among teens rose sharply, while their cigarette smoking rate fell off a bit and their alcohol use dropped sharply. The substances that are legal for adult use were less likely to see increases than ones that are prohibited, the analysts point out.

Mexican Foreign Affairs Secretary Luis Videgaray also chimed in to note that there wouldn't be any Mexican drug cartels without American demand for drugs and to remind Washington that it's not just what's being exported from Mexico that is a problem, but what's being imported, too.

"For years, from the Mexican perspective, people say, 'OK, the problem with drugs -- that it's creating so much violence, so many deaths of young people in Mexico -- is because there's demand for drugs in the US,''" Videgaray said. "We happen to be neighbors to the largest market for drugs. From the American perspective, it's just the other way around," he said, adding that both countries need to get past "the blame game."

And if the US is serious about helping Mexico disrupt the cartels "business model," it needs to stop the southbound traffic in cash and guns.

"We need to stop illegal weapons flowing from the U.S. into Mexico," Videgaray said. "We always think about illegal stuff moving through the border south to north, but people forget that most guns -- and we're not talking small guns, we're talking heavy weapons -- they get to the cartels and create literally small armies out of the cartels."

Will progress on reducing mass incarceration come to a halt? (
Human Rights Watch reacted to a comment from Attorney General Sessions at his swearing in ceremony that crime is a "dangerous permanent trend that places the lives of American people at risk," by noting that crime is down dramatically by all measures over the past 20 years despite a slight increase in violent crimes between 2014 and 2015. "There is no 'dangerous permanent trend' in violent or non-violent crime," it pointed out.

And Amnesty International swiftly reacted to the executive order calling for new federal penalties for crimes against police.

"Law enforcement officers face unique hardships and challenges due to the nature of their work," said Amnesty's Noor Mir. "Authorities are already able to vigorously prosecute crimes against law enforcement officers, and there is no history to suggest that officers are not fully protected by current laws. This order will not protect anyone, and instead it creates additional penalties that could cause people to be significantly over-prosecuted for offenses including resisting arrest.

There is a better way, said Mir, but that would require going in a radically different direction than where the Trump administration is headed.

"This order does nothing to address real and serious problems in the US criminal justice system," he said. "Relationships between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve could instead be improved by investing in reform of the criminal justice system and better training for officers. Police already have laws protecting them, but there is no federal standard for the prosecution of officers who unlawfully kill civilians. Implementing a standard for lethal force in line with international standards will protect both police and civilians."

The Trump administration has outlined an approach to drugs and criminal justice policy with dark Nixonian and Reaganite underpinnings, promising more, more, more heavy-handed policing, more swelling prison populations, and more -- not less -- distrust and suspicion between police and the communities they are supposed to serve and protect.

And, in typical Trump fashion, his brash, draconian approach to the complex social problems around crime and drugs is creating a rapid backlash. Whether the rising opposition to Trump can rein in his authoritarian impulses and regressive policy approaches to the issue remains to be seen, but a battle to stop the slide backward is brewing.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


marcus (not verified)

Stop the drug war with objective of shutting down the black market. The drug war has failed. The drug war is driving the problems, not fixing them. Decriminalization/legalization is necessary, it needs to be backed up with public health announcements explaining exactly why it is needed. Its not in any way condoning the abuse of addictors, it is done bc the alternative, the drug war, has made things infinitely worse on almost every level, to include making drugs abundantly available to any & all that wants them.
We need to pull LE out of the drug biz - that will free up a lot of resources currently chasing their collective tails. When the laws create more harm and cause more damage than they prevent, its time to change the laws. The $1 TRILLION so-called war on drugs is a massive big government failure - on nearly every single level. Its way past time to put the cartels & black market drug dealers out of business. Mass incarceration has failed. We cant even keep drugs out of a contained & controlled environment like prison.
We need the science of addiction causation to guide prevention, treatment, recovery & public policies. Otherwise, things will inexorably just continue to worsen & no progress will be made. Addiction causation research has continued to show that some people (suffering with addiction) have a "hypo-active endogenous opioid/reward system." This is the (real) brain disease, making addiction a symptom, not a disease itself. One disease, one pathology. Policy must be made reflecting addiction(s) as the health issue that it is.
The war on drugs is an apotheosis of the largest & longest war failure in history. It actually exposes our children to more harm & risk and does not protect them whatsoever. In all actuality, the war on drugs is nothing more than an international projection of a domestic psychosis. It is not the "great child protection act," its actually the complete opposite. Let's remember, opioids (drug) prohibition is a historical and cultural aberration, just 100 years old. We had fewer drug problems in my own grandparents' time when opium, morphine, heroin, cocaine and cannabis could all still be bought legally over the counter. (Re)legalizing opioids would not be a "risky social experiment", as some think. On the contrary, drugs prohibition was the reckless social experiment. And its a massive failure. Alcohol prohibition didn't work, and opioid prohibition is failing even more miserably. The longer we've had drug prohibition laws in place, the worse have the social and health problems they cause gotten.
The lesson is clear: Drug laws do not stop people from harming themselves, but they do cause addicts to commit crimes and harm others. We need a new approach that decriminalizes the disease. We must protect society from the collateral damage of addiction and stop waging war on ourselves. We need common sense harm reduction approaches desperately. MAT (medication assisted treatment) and HAT (heroin assisted treatment) must be available options. Of course, MJ should not be a sched drug at all.

Mon, 02/13/2017 - 11:22pm Permalink
Domestic POW (not verified)

The link to the second mentioned EO is repeated for the third EO. The correct link is

What is truly needed is public protection from police violence and corruption as part of a serious attempt to end the problem of corruption with impunity which plagues the nation.

Thu, 02/16/2017 - 5:45pm Permalink
sicntired (not verified)

We did this in Canada just a short time ago.We went from world leaders in drug reform to diseased dogs.The Vancouver heroin program(at least there is one)treats addicts like diseased cattle.Line up thrice daily for a shot.Zero real life.That's what Stephen Harper did with what was a heroin maintenance program.The people running it don't seem to know we have a new government?The Fentanyl crisis(116 dead in January)just may alter the picture? Trump is just Harper 2.0.Conservative governments are autocratic, backward looking and fiercely anti drug.Trump is just another backward looking, ignorant idiot.It'll be a hard 4 years.Try to look at it from a world view.He just might end regime change and militaristic interventions?Won't help if his goon squad drug patriot army gets you.Could be worse.Remember Duterte when the revived swat team gung ho wanna be marines crash the door.He's talking beefed up mandatory minimums in the nation that's already the world leader in draconian sentences for drugs.Next time there's an election,you might consider putting down the pipe for an hour and voting?

Sat, 02/18/2017 - 2:53am Permalink
Anon (not verified)

If anybody out there is still wondering why Trump is taking such a hard line approach to "drugs," even in a climate of a majority of Americans calling for the legalization of marijuana, is because Russia is against legalization.

"Of course, we must take into consideration in our current work that a range of governments have begun a true campaign on the legalization of certain types of narcotics, or so-called recreational drugs. We, of course, are against such approaches and this point of view needs to be more actively moved forward on all international platforms,” Putin said during a government council meeting."


At this point it is hard to tell if Trump is spearheading this conservative Christians anti-drug stance because he is under pressure from Russia OR if he genuinely believes that ALL drugs are bad as a result of his new found Christendom is the likes of Pence, Sessions, DeVos, etc. and his own anti-drug stance as a result of the death of his brother.

Sat, 02/18/2017 - 3:44pm Permalink
John Thomas (not verified)

It's a little more complex than that.  -   Colorado's Republican Governor Hickenlooper thinks Trump's okay with marijuana in the legal states.

>>>"While in California recently to testify at a California state Senate hearing, Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado, whose voters voted to legalize cannabis in 2012, said he “would be very disappointed if the new attorney general came in and just stamped everything down and started sending in the federal troops everywhere.”

“Every indication is that President Trump, he knows what he wants, he’s got his own value system and that he’s going to try and run the show,” Hickenlooper said. “We’re optimistic that he is going to let the experiment continue.”

Sacramento Sheriff Scott Jones spoke to AG Sessions last week in D.C. at a law enforcement convention.  Jones made a point of bringing up immigration and cannabis policy with Sessions.

"Regarding the prioritization of federal resources to combat marijuana, he didn't see the federal government getting involved in marijuana use or low-level state, what are traditionally state and local crimes,"  Sheriff Jones said.

In January, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer answered a reporter's concerns about Trump's promises to support state medical marijuana programs under prohibitionist AG Sessions. Spicer answered:

"When you come into the Trump administration, it's the Trump agenda you are implementing, not your own. And I think Senator Sessions is well aware of that."

Sun, 02/19/2017 - 4:26am Permalink
Mark Mitcham (not verified)

In reply to by John Thomas (not verified)

With respect, I will need something a little more solid than the fact that Hickenlooper may be "disappointed" with Sessions' drug war, or some cop saying Sessions has bigger fish to fry, in order to say with confidence that legal marijuana is safe under Trump.  (Further, that begs the question "If we now distinguish between 'legal' and 'non-legal' marijuana, and the war on 'non-legal' marijuana continues, is that not still Prohibition?"  Yes.  It's a race/class war in thinly-veiled disguise.  This is not something the marijuana legalization movement should accept.)

What we're likely hearing here is marketing.  But "Don't worry, I don't have the money for the bullets to shoot you" isn't very reassuring.  I'd suggest bracing for impact in legal cannabis states.  It would stand to reason they would talk big on "TV" but go under the radar as much as possible in legal states.  Don't you think?

Is it not crystal clear by now that Trump and Sessions are no friend to the marijuana legalization movement?


Sun, 02/19/2017 - 9:44am Permalink
John Thomas (not verified)

In reply to by Mark Mitcham (not verified)

You don't have to recite all the fears about Sessions.   I've been hearing them trumpeted every day for what seems like an eternity now.   -   But the fact is, Sessions has not made one comment since his nomination indicating he is going to take any action against the legal states.  -  And, as I have pointed out, there are various indications he won't.  

We have legal and non-legal alcohol.   -  Does that mean we still have alcohol prohibition?

So you, like many hysterical others, think Trump/Sessions is planning a sneak-attack on the cannabis culture.

Go on believing that if that's what floats your boat.   -   It's just not likely, and it's not worth getting hysterical about until we have something solid to base that fear on.



Sun, 02/19/2017 - 5:09pm Permalink
Mark Mitcham (not verified)

In reply to by John Thomas (not verified)

I'm not hysterical.

I'm making my best assessment based on the evidence.  And, as I have said before, but which bears repeating now, I would be delighted to be wrong about all this, and if I am, I will celebrate my error with the finest bud!  But I've placed my bet, so to speak, on the color most likely to come up, in my best estimation.  But I'm not a cannabis business owner; I only stand to lose out on quality hash and wax products, more than likely.

This isn't about me.  I think the bigger problem is Trump, Sessions, Bannon, and their fascist, white supremacist agenda.  The legalization movement must never become a vehicle for a fascist, white supremacist agenda.  But I think the chances are essentially zero that the white supremacist movement, now in power like never before, will give up their favorite Jim Crow cudgel: marijuana prohibition.  I already hear the Trump supporters trying to weasel their way into the movement, but they have no principle -- they are saboteurs.  They will divide us.  The marijuana legalization movement is diverse --- that's why we have no room for bigots.

I'm trying to raise awareness of this likelihood.  This is my primary concern.  I have no stake in making predictions.


Sun, 02/19/2017 - 9:56pm Permalink
Mark Mitcham (not verified)

In reply to by Mark Mitcham (not verified)

When I said the white supremacists are now in power "like never before", I meant only in recent history.  Obviously, things were worse during the days of slavery; I never meant to suggest otherwise.

Sun, 02/19/2017 - 10:41pm Permalink
Anonymous6 (not verified)

The party of small government and individual liberty. They want the government so small it can fit in your bedroom making sure you are not taking any politically incorrect substances. More like an East German Stasi agent. Explains the Orange Buffoon's wall fetish and Putin/Russian connection. Comrade Putin is big on family values, I heard. Fucking hypocrites.

Sun, 02/19/2017 - 7:31am Permalink
Anon (not verified)

In reply to by Anonymous6 (not verified)

Vlad Putin is indeed a hypocrite.  Russia used to be atheist until killer Putin found god thru some personal tragedies; and now authoritarian Putty wants to force this morality on the rest of his population, the world even.  It is said Putin wears a cross and will not take it off.  Given the blood sacrifice of Christos, bleeding from his hands and feet, there is no doubt that Putin is also wearing red gloves and shoes due to his faith (just imagine this on a daily basis), as the rest of his Russian believers.  And as the de-antlered stag leads a bleeding and a sickened herd (anti-nature, anti-healthy, mortal), healthy wolves smell the blood of the feast and will eventually bring things back into balance by taking out the diseased.  Just imagine (and reinforce) this cosmic justice on Putin and the Russians the next time you are in deep thought as a result of marijuana or some other mind expanding, so-call recreational drug ;0)  

Sun, 02/19/2017 - 11:51am Permalink

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