As the most brazenly corrupt of Donald Trump’s nominees, and that is saying something, Trump Attorney General William Barr will likely be the very first Trump official to be canned by the incoming Biden-Harris administration. Barr certainly knows this, and is spending his remaining time in government hurriedly enacting whatever new federal “reforms” are closest, one presumes, to his own heart.
Since Barr’s every move so far has been in service to making the United States a more brutal and authoritarian nation, one of his top short-term priorities is therefore designating new and quicker ways for the nation to kill prisoners. Barr is not only pushing through the executions of three more federal death row inmates in the weeks before Biden takes office, but has hurriedly changed federal execution rules to expand the ways the government may execute inmates.
Yup, that’s right. One of the last things William Barr is pushing through during his remaining time in office is the return of firing squads. It’s as if Republican “conservatism” is scrambling to make the nation look as much as possible like North Korea.
As CNN notes, Barr’s move is at this point largely moot. The new rules will allow firing squads in states that themselves allow such a penalty; none of the three inmates the Trump administration intends to execute before Biden’s inauguration are affected. The rules are intended to speed up future executions as the nation’s primary method of carrying them out, lethal injection, falls out of favor due to botched protocols and the objections of the pharmaceutical industry, but the Biden administration may quickly yank them back—or initiate a moratorium on federal executions.
The death penalty has been proven to be both ineffective as a deterrent and more costly than imposing life imprisonment to begin with; it should be abolished on those grounds alone, irrespective of moral arguments. Trump and his gang of arch-conservative Republicans (that is, fascists) have instead hastened those executions, and are on track to oversee the most federal executions in over 200 years.
At some point, conservative priorities are conservative priorities, and as we have seen a great many conservative priorities boil down, in the end, to performative cruelty for the sake of performative cruelty. From Sen. Mitch McConnell’s continued insistence on blocking food aid to Americans even during a once-in-a-century-pandemic to Trump’s spittle-flecked attacks on enemies to tented desert refugee camps to tear gassing Washington, D.C. protesters standing between Donald Trump and a church he never once gave a damn about to a new out-of-nowhere attempt to reintroduce firing squads, of all things, the core theme is of making the nation pointlessly meaner and more violent. This is thought to be a good thing, in the Party. It is celebrated. It is considered making the nation “great.”
What we can take, from Barr’s personal involvement in attempting to reinforce the firing squad as a valid tool of American government, is that this is a project of particular interest to him. It certainly would not require a hurried pushing-through before Thanksgiving if it was not, and one imagines that Barr is picking and choosing which of his ambitions are most worthy of his attention as his remaining time in office dwindles. We can assume that Barr wants the return of firing squads more than he wants most other possible reforms or new sabotage, and so he and conservative allies are pushing it through even if it is pointless, and even if it will be rescinded. It is, to them, a move worth making—even if only symbolic.
We are allowed to infer many things from that, but what stands out most conspicuously is, once again, the constant mirroring of William Barr’s priorities with those of the world’s remaining dictatorships. He has stepped in to insulate Trump’s inner circle from the consequences of crimes on Trump’s behalf. He has acted to block all avenues by which the legislature can even probe, much less impede, illegal or corrupt actions by Trump himself. He has helped purge, from government, those thought to be disloyal. He has ordered investigations of those that brought forward evidence against Trump.
Oh, and firing squads. He thinks it’s time to bring back firing squads.
Whether he intends it or does not, William Barr will leave the office with a legacy. His every move has been in service to remake America into a mean, anti-moral, and fascist nation. If he has failed, it is only because of his client’s own astonishing incompetence. If a more suitable Dear Leader figure had arrived, one can only imagine how much farther Barr would have gone.
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