Donald Trump can’t order the death penalty for people who kill cops, but that isn’t the point

For a group that’s positively apoplectic over President Obama’s relatively small number of executive orders, Republican primary voters seem awfully keen on certain types of executive order.

Which is why Donald Trump can say, to thunderous applause, that if he’s elected president he will issue an executive order mandating the death penalty for anyone who shoots and kills a police officer.

Trump made the proposal while receiving the endorsement of the New England Police Benevolent Association, a union that represents police and correctional officers.

As the New York Times was quick to point out in their fact check of Trump’s proposal this morning, “that is not how America’s legal system works.” Not only did the Supreme Court outlaw automatic death sentences in 1976, but the President doesn’t have authority over state-level sentencing laws. And nearly 20 states do not have the death penalty as an available sentence for any crime.

Donald Trump, screenshot via 60 Minutes

Donald Trump, screenshot via 60 Minutes

But of course, that isn’t the point. None of Trump’s policy proposals are designed to reflect political reality. Even the American Nazi Party has dismissed Trump’s call for banning Muslim entry into the United States as unrealistic, telling Buzzfeed in an email that “Unless Trump plans on ruling by Presidential Decree, I don’t see how he would implement ANY of his ‘plans,’ the rest of the sold out ‘mainstream’ political whores would block his every move.”

Granted, “ruling by Presidential Decree” isn’t too far off from what conservatives think Obama’s been doing with his use of executive power, and is precisely what Trump has promised to do with respect to the death penalty for cop-killers, but you get the point.

There are a number of reasons why Trump can get away with proposing out-and-out fantasies as public policy while making claim after claim that is, as philosopher Harry Frankfurt would politely put it, “not germane to the enterprise of describing reality.” One of those reasons is that Trump’s supporters really are different from the rest of the GOP field’s. They are less educated, they are less familiar with the political process and as one might imagine, they are more likely to have watched The Apprentice. This means that when Donald Trump says that he can do things that no politician has ever done before — that no politician would ever dream of doing — and he can make it happen with nothing more than “leadership” and “management,” it doesn’t sound quite as nuts to his audience as it would if Marco Rubio said something similar to his.

This means that Trump can pitch his presidency as the de-facto equivalent of what would happen if Breitbart asked its commenters what they would do if they each got to be king for a day. Congress is less of a check on Trump’s power so much as it is a hurdle to step over: As not-exactly-fringe elements within the Republican Party have been saying since 2011, the only thing keeping congressional Democrats from adopting every conservative principle is the GOP’s insufficient thirst for a fight and lack of competence in the three-dimensional chess match that is Washington politics. Trump offers quick and easy solutions for both of those grievances. As for the Supreme Court? According to Trump, some “top lawyers” have said that the Constitution itself is unconstitutional, so all bets really are off there.

All this is to say that fact checking Donald Trump when he proposes outlandish, illegal and abundantly cruel ideas may be necessary, but let’s not pretend facts matter to the people who support him.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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29 Responses to “Donald Trump can’t order the death penalty for people who kill cops, but that isn’t the point”

  1. Third_stone says:

    Give the same justice to police who kill citizens, a much larger problem than anybody killing police.

    What exactly does “native born” mean in relation to presidents? Does it mean actually born in the United States? One born elsewhere can gain citizenship, but that is not “native born”.

  2. emjayay says:

    I’m not sure where the snark is supposed to be in that reply to my reply. I labeled the snarky part of my comment. By snarky I mean the opposite of its apparent meaning. Just that one phrase.

  3. FLL says:

    Trump has finally played the Cuban card, and I knew he would. This is part of my reply to one of Becca’s comments on Jon Green’s thread of Monday, December 7 (link here):

    …In relatively normal years I’d say that Marco Rubio would be the nominee, but I think the shrunken Republican base is so dominated by the hysterically anti-immigrant crowd that they don’t trust someone who is Hispanic on both sides of his family.

    At a town hall event in Iowa on the evening of Friday, December 11, Trump had this to say about Ted Cruz, whose father is Cuban and whose mother is Anglo-Canadian:

    “I do like Ted Cruz, but not a lot of evangelicals come out of Cuba,”

    That’s an even bigger slam against Marco Rubio, who is Cuban on both sides of his family—the Cuban candidate who tries to be Catholic, Baptist and Mormon all at the same time (although his official religious affiliation is still Catholic). I noted the efficacy of this line of attack in my comment of November 20 (link here):

    …By the looks of yesterday’s rally in Birmingham, Trump seems to think he will sweep the Deep South, which he probably will. Do I think that Ben Carson or Marco Rubio would sweep the Deep South? Um… let me try to put this delicately. No. Get it?

    Allow me to role-play and do my Donald Trump impression:

    “Don’t be fooled, folks. What can you expect from a couple of spics like Cruz and Rubio who probably want to let in more Mexican immigrants?

  4. cambridgemac says:

    I don’t see how your reply has anything to do with my post. I stated that Trump does not believe in the rule of Law as we understand law. He is dictatorial. But to your point – there is, in fact, quite a lot of doubt about whether he is a fascist. If you have studied fascism.

    http://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2015/12/10/9886152/donald-trump-fascism

  5. Nelson Kerr says:

    I disagree, I don’t think that there is any doubt that he is a fascist, none at all

  6. cambridgemac says:

    To be fair, Republican ignorance started over a decade later – under President Grant – and the hatred started later still – perhaps a decade or two later…

  7. cambridgemac says:

    I think this misses the point. Trump doesn’t care about legislation. (Which is what LAW is.) He believes in diktats. What the Leader says – or writes – is what people do. This may not be fascism, but it certainly is not democracy, either. And the police either know that or don’t care. Which is worse?

  8. His Excellency says:

    You mean like the way the Democratic Party immediately decided that making Bush a one-term president was their top priority, since they were still embittered over the results of the 2000 presidential election? And then, eventually, a few years after the end of his second term, the rise of the far-left “revolutionary” Occupy Wall Street, totally heirs to the Bolsheviks of Lenin’s Russia and not at all communist, getting their way in sabotaging many things.

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  10. Nelson Kerr says:

    Even in a federal case an executive order can’t create a statute

  11. emjayay says:

    Mostly of course because of the Republicans deciding that making him a one-term president was their number one priority. And then the rise of the far right reactionary Tea Party, heirs to the founding fathers and not at all racist, getting their way in sabotaging everything.

  12. emjayay says:

    It’s kind of like all public employee unions should be banned, except police and firefighter unions, which are generally far stronger than the others. And all public employee benefits and pension plans should be decimated. Except for police and firefighters, whose benefits and pensions generally far exceed those of other public employees.

  13. ComradeRutherford says:

    Well, of course the police want a police state….

  14. gratuitous says:

    An executive order, huh? Since the prosecution would be a state court event, there’s no way a presidential executive order would have the force of law. How dumb do the members of the police union have to be to believe Trump’s ranting would make a dime’s worth of difference?

  15. JaneE says:

    Trump is saying he will overthrow the constitutional government of the US, probably by having his partisans riot as in the Arab spring. Whether or not he succeeds, that is what his supporters are hoping for. If the police do support him, we may have a shooting civil war on our hands. Again.

  16. Don Chandler says:

    I sometimes think Trump doesn’t know what he’s getting into. His followers are rabid. They will hold him to the promises he made. But what he promises is impossible.

  17. FuzzyRabbit says:

    “Why is it killing a cop pulls an automatic death sentence, but not a
    firefighter, teacher, EMT or child? Why this one profession and no
    other?”

    Because that’s how it’s done in a police state, which evidently the New England PBA wants.

  18. 2karmanot says:

    The Trumpenfuhrer will go there.

  19. Stratplayer says:

    So, the unabashed neofascist now has the police behind him. This is going to get a lot worse before it gets better.

  20. Buford2k11 says:

    I am really starting to see that the “Trump supporters” are a violent bunch…veiled threats, are still threats….yet, they still don’t get it….those of us who would rather, “live and let live”, own guns, and know how to use them…yet, we prefer to not have to use them….and we prefer to not to have to strap up to go out…..the paranoids have ruined it for the rest of us….

  21. Knottwhole says:

    Damn generous with how long it hasn’t mattered to repugs.

    The hatred and ignorance was just getting started in April of 1861.

  22. UncleBucky says:

    And then what? Kristalnacht?

  23. nicho says:

    Obama told us a lot of things that he couldn’t/wouldn’t/didn’t do.

  24. Hue-Man says:

    The U.S. political system famously rests on checks and balances. They seem to fail when they are needed most, when a national emergency intervenes and the different branches of government stop doing their jobs. Thousands of Japanese-Americans are imprisoned, thousands of people are tortured, murdered, and confined permanently without charge, etc.

    The killing of a cop is a personal tragedy but in no way justifies tossing out checks and balances and the rule of law. You don’t have to look far for examples of dictatorships that have controlled every aspect of their citizens’ lives – and deaths.

  25. Mike_in_the_Tundra says:

    I strongly suspect that Trump knows what he’s saying isn’t possible, but he’s depending on his followers to be ignorant of how our government works.

  26. BeccaM says:

    The other problem is the New England PBA still endorses Trump. They represent cops and prison guards, who are supposed to be sworn to uphold the law, and they’re endorsing a guy who has said on numerous occasions he fully intends to make the law be whatever he says it is. Up to and including torturing prisoners and murdering terrorist suspects’ families.

    Now Trump is proposing he’ll order something he cannot order under existing law. And still they support him.

    As I’ve said before, I now have a handy litmus test for the basic intelligence, humanity and moral decency of a given person. It’s an automatic failing grade if they support Donald Trump.

    I also take issue with singling out the police for this special level of punitive automatic sentencing. Why is it killing a cop pulls an automatic death sentence, but not a firefighter, teacher, EMT or child? Why this one profession and no other?

    Or is this the whole point, to have a separate justice system for citizens and another for their overlords and the overlords’ security forces?

  27. keirmeister says:

    I you are a Trump supporter, you are a stupid person. STUPID. The rest of us are not required to treat you with any legitimacy whatsoever.

  28. Doug105 says:

    Neither facts or science has mattered to republicans for over a decade now.

  29. Don Chandler says:

    Trump tells the rabble what they want to hear. Thus he sounds like a decisive leader. In the meantime, congress and the president are confined by the reality of the constitution and the deadlocked political situation. So by contrast, Trump appears both appealing and decisive to his rabid following. If Trump were to win, there would be guns fired in the air on election day and his lawyers would declare the constitution unconstitutional.

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