“Yonder come Miss Rosie, how in the world did you know?
By the way she wears her apron and the clothes she wore
Umbrella on her shoulder, piece of paper in her hand
She come to see the gov’nor, she want to free her man, oh.” — John Fogerty
You can tell a lot about people when you watch what they do when their back is against the wall. When the end is near, people have a habit of either building their legacy or doing all of the awful things they wished they could do when people were watching more closely. Of course, we know which category the president is in.
One of these areas of legacy is the legacy behind federal executions. The Trump administration is rushing to get in some key executions before the end of the term. Usually, we focus on last second pardons, commutations, or reprieves. Who you save says a lot about you. Certainly, that will be a story line that we explore as we get closer to January 20th. Yet, I can’t help but take a look at this story line now.
The story above chronicles the numbers of prisoners that the Trump administration has executed and plans to execute, but that isn’t necessarily the whole story. A large part of the story isn’t necessarily the who, but the how. In the last month, Trump decided that it is high time that we bring back hanging and firing squads. I suppose the guillotine is right around the corner.
I suppose how one dies is a semantic argument. Once the state puts you to death it really doesn’t much matter how they put you to death. Sure, lethal injection might seem more humane than a firing squad, hanging, or gas chamber, but you are just as dead. Just as importantly is the backdrop that this story places against those that support the president.
Many evangelicals have professed their fealty to the president because they are staunchly pro-life. Obviously, this stance is purely about abortion. Nothing quite shows off the hypocritical nature of the evangelicals quite like this issue. This is one area where most Catholics differ with the stereotypical Evangelical stance on the death penalty.
However, most people I know aren’t sadists. They don’t relish executing people and certainly don’t root for it like a football fan roots for their teams on Saturday and Sunday. They see it as a necessary evil in a world that seems to be getting more and more dangerous by the minute. I get that on an emotional level even if the numbers don’t really back that up. Most people don’t proceed rationally on issues like this.
Still, one cannot overlook the fact that the president is not proceeding as if the death penalty is a necessary evil. He’s removing the necessary from the equation by speeding up the process and adding cruel means into the equation. He’s putting his sadism on display for everyone to see as if that will be his lasting legacy to the world.
Admittingly, it is increasingly difficult to be a religious and faithful person and be politically active. One party supports a woman’s right to choose. Another party supports this. Neither seems to support life at least in the way my church teaches us to support it. All that being said, there is a key difference between them that is also a point of distinction.
It gets back to the roots of who we are and what we support when no one is looking. What do we do when our backs are against the wall? Do we look for vengeance on those that have done wrong? Do we enjoy administering that vengeance? Thankfully most people do not. Unfortunately, our outgoing president appears to enjoy it. In fact, the traditional means weren’t good enough for him. That more than anything else might tell you a little more about who he is.