The mainstream media is taking President Trump to task for making nice with the democratically elected dictator of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, by talking to him and inviting him for a visit in the White House. They say that it’s unseemly for an American president to be embracing a ruler whose military, police, and intelligence agencies are purportedly engaging in extrajudicial state-sponsored killings of suspected drug dealers and drug users in a quest to win the war on drugs. (See, for example, a New York Times editorial entitled “Donald Trump Embraces Another Despot” and a Washington Post article by Anne Applebaum entitled “How Trump Makes Dictators Stronger,” each of which I address here and here.)
As usual, the media is guilty of engaging in a serious case of moral blindness and abject hypocrisy in their criticism of Duterte. That’s because Duterte is doing nothing more than copying the processes and methods of the U.S. government in its war on drugs and its war on terrorism, both of which most members of the mainstream media have long supported.
What’s the media’s beef with Duterte? No, not that he is waging the war on drugs. Most members of the U.S. mainstream media believe in the war on drugs, just as he does. They want it to be waged. They believe that people who ingest harmful substances should be arrested, prosecuted, jailed, fined, and punished by the state. They want to win the war on drugs as much as Duterte does, and they have wanted to win it since its inception some 50 years ago or so.
Their beef is with the way that Duterte is waging the war on drugs. He’s trying to win the war by purportedly ordering his forces to kill drug-law violators — both dealers and users — without going through the hassles of judicial proceedings. The U.S. mainstream media says that’s wrong, and they’re right. No government should ever be permitted to kill people without due process of law and trial by jury, which are principles our American ancestors enshrined in the Bill of Rights against U.S. officials and, later, against state officials with the enactment of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Where did Duterte get the idea of extra-judicial measures to win the war on drugs? It’s impossible to say for certain but it’s entirely possible he got them from the U.S. government itself, which has long engaged in extra-judicial measures to win both the war on drugs and its war on terrorism.
For example, consider asset-forfeiture laws, which are enforced at both the federal and state level, and which are supported by many members of the U.S. media as a proper and legitimate measure to win the war on drugs.
What is the distinguishing characteristic of U.S. asset-forfeiture laws? Extra-judicial taking of people’s money and property! That is, federal and state drug cops are empowered to take people’s assets from them without due process of law and trial by jury.
Thus, while in the Philippines the drug cops are shooting people without due process and trial by jury, here in the United States the drug cops are stopping people on the highways and taking their money from them without due process and trial by jury. In other words, federal and state drug-war enforcement officers here in the United States are empowered to do to people’s money and property what Duterte is empowered to do to people’s lives.
Now, obviously taking a person’s life is a much bigger thing than taking his property. But there is the matter of principle. It’s just as wrong to take a person’s property without due process of law and trial by jury as it is to take a person’s life without due process of law and trial by jury. That’s in fact why our American ancestors used the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to prohibit federal and state officials from taking life, liberty, and property without due process of law.
One can easily imagine Duterte thinking to himself, “If it’s okay to take a person’s property without due process to win the war on drugs, as U.S. officials maintain, then why isn’t it okay to take of a person’s life without due process of law to win the drug war?”
It’s also a virtual certainty that the way the U.S. government wages its war on terrorism has influenced the way that Duterte wages the war on drugs. After all, Duterte’s methods in the drug war mirror the methods the U.S. government’s employs in its war on terrorism.
Consider: Duterte’s forces are killing suspected drug users and drug dealers without due process and trial by jury. That’s precisely what U.S. officials do — and have done — to suspected terrorists. They kill them — assassinate them — without due process and trial by jury.
Of course, the U.S. mainstream media might say, “But Jacob, Duterte is killing his own people while U.S. officials are only killing foreigners.” Of course, from a moral standpoint, that’s not much of an argument. Moreover, it’s not true that the U.S. is assassinating only foreigners. Just ask the family of Anwar al-Awlaki and his two minor children, all of whom have been killed by U.S. officials — without due process of law and trial by jury. And don’t forget: the U.S. federal judiciary has upheld the power of the president and his national-security establishment to assassinate Americans citizens.
While the U.S. mainstream can easily recognize and condemn acts of tyranny when committed by foreign regimes, unfortunately they are unable to do the same when it comes to acts of tyranny committed by U.S. officials. The democratically elected Duterte and his quest to win the war on drugs provides a good example of this phenomenon.