It is even more fucked up when it is the passionately religious who seem to be more supportive of state-sponsored violence in democratic societies. It is bizarre when, for instance, those who are ready to kill people using the government machinery are also the ones who use the imagery of Jesus to tell us how we should live. I suppose Jesus never talked about peace and love!
And hence the odd situation that the US, with all its bible-thumpers, continues with the death penalty.
the U.S. has ended up in some rough company, particularly when it comes to the death penalty. In the past generation, the number of countries that have stopping using the death penalty has doubled, from about fifty to about a hundred. Of the fifty-seven member states of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and of the thirty-five member states of the Organization of American States, only the U.S. carried out executions last year. The countries that executed the most offenders were, in order, China, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United States.
Take a look again at the company that we keep: China, Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. Puke-worthy about how we treat life! The US is a religious country alright, as much as the theocratic Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan are. As the late Christopher Hitchens wrote (I quoted him in this blog-post from more than five years ago)
The point of the penalty was that it was death. It expressed righteous revulsion and symbolized rectitude and retribution. Voila tout! The reason why the United States is alone among comparable countries in its commitment to doing this is that it is the most religious of those countries. (Take away only China, which is run by a very nervous oligarchy, and the remaining death-penalty states in the world will generally be noticeable as theocratic ones.)
Whether or not the US is loved around the world, what the US does--not the rhetoric--is keenly watched by everybody. Therefore, when the US government machinery kills its own people, then it is a convenient justification for other countries to kill their own people.
In August at a rally in Istanbul, after the failed coup attempt in Turkey, the BBC reported, the country’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said, “They say there is no death penalty in the E.U. … Well, the U.S. has it; Japan has it; China has it; most of the world has it. So they are allowed to have it. We used to have it until 1984. Sovereignty belongs to the people, so if the people make this decision I am sure the political parties will comply.” He said that the Turkish people might want to restore the death penalty to punish those responsible for killing hundreds of citizens during the attempted coup. That has not happened yet, but, if it does, its purpose, Erdogan suggested, will be a display of cold-blooded power.
Now that we in the US too will have a strongman president, the likes of Erdoğan will be all the happier to kill their own people, and will feel justified to do so.
the voters—the populists—continue to back the death penalty, as does the President-elect. (Donald Trump notoriously called for the execution of the Central Park Five, fourteen-, fifteen-, and sixteen-year-olds who were charged with a high-profile rape and beating, in 1989. Even though the five were later exonerated, Trump, during this year’s campaign, reiterated his belief in their guilt.)
Of course, in the US, politicians who want to reach the Oval Office dare not oppose the death penalty, especially because of the racial dimension of the punishment. Remember what happened to Michael Dukakis? Or how Bill Clinton had to prove his mettle to the White Christian voters by putting to death a mentally-impaired black man? Yep, the US lives according to Jesus's words!
The only ray of hope is the trend of remarkable fall in the number of executions and death sentences. Aziz Ansari joked that for racism to go away, we simply have to wait for the racists to die--the younger generation is a lot more progressive than the middle-aged and older whites are. Similarly, we simply have to wait for another generation to exit the world for the US to end the horrible practice of state-sponsored killing. And maybe by then we will also stop electing the likes of the worst human being ever to reach the Oval Office.