Opinion newsletter: Can Biden get away with ‘you ain’t black’?

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, May 23, 2020. Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

For those of us who think Donald Trump is the worst possible president to have during a pandemic, Joe Biden would have to work harder to repel our votes than to keep them. I’ve already written about the moral tradeoffs involved in supporting a nominee accused of sexual assault (I’m referring here to Biden, not Trump — too bad that has to be clarified), and our columnist Robin Abcarian has detailed the ways in which the former vice president is orders of infinity better than the incumbent president.

This isn’t to say the likely Democratic nominee is inept at adding new entries to his catalog of gaffes — hardly disqualifying material compared to Trump’s logorrhea, but cringe-worthy nonetheless. Most recently, Biden bleated out in an interview with Charlamagne tha God, “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.” Worse than just an ill-advised moment of profound tone-deafness, Biden’s gaffe suggests he takes the reliably and overwhelmingly Democratic black vote for granted. Editorial writer Scott Martelle warns Biden how that worked out for Hillary Clinton.


The thing is, says editorial writer Carla Hall, Biden’s actually correct, but he still doesn’t have the right to say what he did. In that spirit, I’ll step aside for Hall:

“As a political and social liberal — who is also black — I was dismayed that anyone, black or white, voted for Donald Trump in 2016. But I was particularly appalled when I saw anyone black campaign for him. ...

“I would be the last black person to suggest that black Americans are a monolithic group who all believe the same things. When it comes to electing the president of the United States, all Americans should care about voting rights, social programs, truthfulness and candor from our leaders, the environment, the meting out of justice, diversity in government offices, and the makeup of the Supreme Court. (As resilient as she is, Ruth Bader Ginsburg cannot live forever.) But when voting rights are subverted, the safety net is attacked, environmental regulations abandoned and income inequality widened, the repercussions hit black people hardest.”

Campaign pecadillos were a nice respite. Back to the raging COVID-19 pandemic, where despite some mildly good news this week about L.A. County finally slowing transmission, things are still pretty terrible. In Georgia, the initial numbers that suggested reopening earlier than epidemiologists advise might be safe turned out to be a big lie, prompting Matthew Fleischer to warn against being lulled into a false sense of security. On the “warp speed” vaccine front, health journalist Arthur Allen extols the virtues of going a little more slowly, a point echoed in a letter by an epidemiologist who worked on polio outbreaks in the 1950s.

This is actually being written during a global crisis: Don’t take the idiotic things this president says seriously. Trump insisted this week that he’s been taking hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 profylaxis; he also said that it was illegal for Michigan to send out absentee ballots (which Michigan hadn’t actually done). Editorial writer Michael McGough dismisses the punditry that takes this president’s pronouncements as serious proposals and instead offers a more perfunctory reaction: Trump’s an idiot. Move on. L.A. Times

Hey, LAPD, why aren’t those unmasked Venice beach sunbathers being ticketed? Columnist Robin Abcarian asked officers patrolling the beach that question, and one’s response was, well, concerning: Forcing people to wear masks is unconstitutional. She tweeted about her exchange, eliciting rage from all corners, and asked the LAPD chief and the mayor about it. Eric Garcetti’s response: “And if they have somebody who says FU and all that, like, whatever. We’ll train, we’ll learn ... maybe we will [give tickets] sometimes. But a week into this that’s not the right move.” L.A. Times

Enjoying this newsletter? Consider subscribing to the Los Angeles Times

Your support helps us deliver the news that matters most. Become a subscriber.

He’s gotten hate mail his whole career, but the anti-Semitism expressed by some of the president’s ardent supporters worries columnist Nick Goldberg. He writes: “It is demoralizing and distressing that anti-Semitism is back in vogue, at least among certain groups, just in time for the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops fighting Nazism in Europe. It’s a little like when you read that cases of measles, a disease that was declared to have been eliminated in the United States in 2000, are growing disturbingly quickly — because we have forgotten what we learned in a previous generation and have failed to remain vigilant.” L.A. Times


How do you decide who gets into your coronavirus bubble? Staying home with a family is one thing, but living alone at a time when socializing is discouraged and even shamed presents myriad challenges. Joyce Wadler, a New York journalist who lives alone, relays the questions being asked to people considered for admission inside her and her friends’ coronavirus bubble: Does your other friend wear a mask? Who’s in your bubble? What about your daughter’s boyfriend? L.A. Times

Stay in touch.

If you’ve made it this far, you’re the kind of reader who’d benefit from subscribing to our other newsletters and to the Times.

As always, you can share your feedback by emailing me at