It’s not easy to name the worst thing Donald Trump has done in the last four years.

One contender is his decision to treat the coronavirus pandemic as a re-election issue instead of a natural disaster. That mistake is responsible for some fraction of the 276,000 COVID-19 deaths that have occurred in this country since March 1.

Then there is his greedy self-dealing, openly using high office for personal gain. That has fueled a cynical belief that what he does is OK because everybody does it, or would do it if they had the chance.

And there is his ongoing cruel treatment of desperate people at the southern border, who he used to describe as criminal invaders before he started courting the Latino vote.

Deadly incompetence. A culture of corruption. Racist policies.

There’s so much to choose from.

But the worst thing Trump has done might be his rush to execute as many federal death row prisoners as he can before he leaves office.

There have been only three federal executions in the last 50 years and none since 2003, before Trump and Attorney General William Barr announced a policy change in July. Since then, eight prisoners have been executed and five more are set to die before Trump leaves office, a schedule that was accelerated after the election.

That matters because the next president, Joe Biden, is a death penalty opponent who has announced that he would stop federal executions and introduce policies to encourage states to do away with capital punishment.

Trump’s urgency to end these lives is not motivated by a need to protect the public from these killers – they aren’t going anywhere.

And he’s not trying to send a message that will deter other criminals – research and common sense tells you that they don’t expect to get caught.

The only reason for this killing spree is to limit Biden’s options, out of spite. And Trump is doing it in the name of all of us.

Yes, it’s true that all of these murderers have been found guilty of horrible crimes. The one woman in the group was convicted of murdering a pregnant woman and kidnapping the baby she cut out of her victim’s womb.

Another faces death for torturing and killing his 2-year-old daughter. One is a gang member who was convicted of seven murders.

We can’t tolerate acts like this, but no one is suggesting that we should.

The question is whether the government should use its power to kill in cold blood.

Twenty-two states, including Maine, say no, and they have a punishment available to them for the worst of the worst that recognizes the seriousness of the crime and protects the public from the criminal. It’s life in prison without the possibility of parole.

That’s where these five would be headed if Trump delayed their executions just a few more weeks.

This is not a partisan issue for me. I never could respect then-Gov. Bill Clinton after I heard he rushed back to Arkansas to oversee the execution of a brain-damaged convict in order to shore up his “tough on crime” credentials just before the New Hampshire primary in 1992.

And, even though it was in war, I never felt comfortable with the little glint I thought I could see in President Barack Obama’s eye when he said “we got” Osama Bin Laden.

Government-sponsored killing is never something to brag about.

Trump has been a fan of capital punishment for a long time. In 1989 he bought full-page ads in four New York City newspapers, blaring “Bring Back the Death Penalty” in the case of five teenagers who hadn’t yet been convicted in the rape and assault of a jogger in Central Park.

That the “Central Park Five” were later exonerated did not diminish his enthusiasm for vengeance killing.

But now, Trump is not just some loud-mouth real estate developer with too much money – he’s our president. And if he wants to kill five human beings on his way out the door, there’s no one who can stop him.

These executions don’t need to happen. He’s killing for spite and doing it in the name of all of us.

That may not seem as important as his gross incompetence in handling COVID, or the deliberate cruelty of his border policy.

But these executions should be considered among the worst things he has done to us.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.