Newsletter: If Trump’s character is destiny, are we doomed?

President Trump speaks to members of the media at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, on Wednesday.
(Andrew Harnik / AP)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018. Click here for a partial list of the California laws that take effect Jan. 1. Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

Before Donald Trump ran for president and offended the sensibilities of just about every decent person in this country, our conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg typically came under fire by readers who saw him as reflexively anti-Obama and prone to arguing against left-wing straw men. But when Goldberg and many of his National Review colleagues joined the Republican Party’s “Never Trump” wing in 2016, he became one of the candidate-turned-president’s most notable critics and started drawing praise from readers who appreciated his clear-eyed view of Trump’s fundamental flaws.

Now, with myriad legal scandals defining this presidency to an extant that not even Trump’s most vocal opponents could imagine, Goldberg offers a grim prediction of where Trump and the country are headed over the remaining two years of this administration. In short, this won’t end well, because the president’s low moral character won’t allow for anything else:

The president who became a celebrity by telling reality-show contestants “you’re fired” has not fired any of his Cabinet officials face-to-face, or even on the phone. He relies on others, or on Twitter, to deliver the news. He loves controversy because it keeps him in the center ring, but he hates confrontation.

The driving force behind nearly all of the controversies that have bedeviled his administration is his personality, not his ideology.

To be sure, ideology plays a role. It amplifies the anger from both his left-wing critics and his transactional defenders. Many of the liberal critics shrieking about the betrayal of the Kurds implicit in his decision to withdraw from Syria would be applauding if a President Clinton had made the same decision. And many of the conservatives celebrating the move would be condemning it.

But his refusal to listen to advisors; his inability to bite his tongue; his demonization and belittling of senators who vote for his agenda; his rants against the 1st Amendment; his praise for dictators and insults for allies; his need to create new controversies to eclipse old ones; and his inexhaustible capacity to lie and fabricate history: All this springs from his nature.

Over the weekend, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie offered an odd defense of the president. He’s like a “72-year-old relative,” Christie said on ABC’s “This Week.” “When people get older, they become more and more convinced of the fact that what they’re doing is the right thing.”

Christie has a point. But the reason Trump won’t change has little to do with age and everything to do with character.

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Remember, Trump’s immigration crisis doesn’t exist. The president wants $5 billion to build a wall along the southern border to stop the flow of, well, what exactly? Illegal immigration is at its lowest level in years, and the vast majority of drugs smuggled into the United States pass through legal points of entry or tunnels. There’s also this fact: Most people in the U.S. without permission enter this country legally, but simply do not leave. How will a wall fix any of this? L.A. Times

But this crisis certainly exists, and it’s almost entirely of Trump’s making. The markets go down, the markets go up, and we can’t exactly know why since machines control most trading. But the volatility indicates stiffening economic headwinds — which will only be made much worse if the president’s negotiating prowess comes up short and a host of new Chinese products get slapped with steep tariffs. L.A. Times

The best politician in America is California’s own Gov. Jerry Brown, and he’s leaving office for the final time on Jan. 7. “It is no exaggeration to say that Brown’s tenure as governor of the Golden State — two disparate tours, separated by nearly 30 years, four terms and 16 years in all — bookends virtually the entire modern history of California,” writes Todd S. Purdum. The Atlantic

Can Kamala Harris navigate the Democratic Party’s identity politics? California’s junior senator has risen to national prominence thanks to her prosecutorial questioning of Jeff Sessions and Brett Kavanaugh. Her selling point throughout her career — from her terms as the San Francisco district attorney to her years as California’s attorney general — has been her competence and rigor. Now, with a likely presidential candidacy looming, Harris has started to speak about race. Vanity Fair

Two votes against a teachers’ strike in Los Angeles: First up is Gustavo Arellano, who doesn’t take sides in the dispute between United Teachers Los Angeles and the L.A. Unified School District, but suggests that UTLA ought to pay the day care bills of “all these parents who are now screwed.” Next is a group of nonprofit foundation directors who warn that closing Los Angeles public schools for any length of time will hit poor students the hardest.