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Newsletter: Opinion: What to call a president who hates elections?

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020. Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

Trigger warning for Trump cult members: This newsletter contains criticism of the president, and judging by some of the emails I read from you last week, it’s tough for you to take. You bristled at my suggestion in last week’s newsletter that President Trump’s thuggish response to the protests in Portland, Ore., puts him in the historical company of budding authoritarians who would go on to do much worse things than violently suppress dissent.

That was before he rage-tweeted about postponing the Nov. 3 election. In all seriousness, I’d love to read an honest defense of that one, because so far many of the assurances that we shouldn’t take the president at his word have come from the left. On our own op-ed page, UC Berkeley law school Dean Erwin Chemerinsky reminds readers that federal law sets a firm date for the quadrennial election, and the Constitution pinpoints the precise moment an outgoing president’s term expires. Still, says Chemerinsky, Trump has telegraphed his intent to flout the will of the voters, and that ought to be taken seriously.

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More urgent, in my view, is what this conveys to the Republican leaders in several important states. North Carolina, Florida, Arizona, Georgia — these are all swing states where Republicans wield anywhere from considerable to total authority, and the GOP had set out to narrow voting rights long before Trump became its leader. So it’s hard not to be deeply troubled by the president’s latest authoritarian outburst, even if the Constitution puts up guardrails that Trump evidently didn’t know about.

The only question is, what guardrails will the president collide with next?

Speaking of dictatorships, thank the gods for the ACLU, because too often it’s the one standing between democracy and a Trump dictatorship, writes Robin Abcarian. The “Muslim ban,” family separations, the military’s transgender ban, the census citizenship question — all were thwarted in part or whole because the American Civil Liberties Union took Trump to court. Now, ACLU attorney Dale Ho has a warning: “This will be the hardest election to run since 1864, when we had a presidential election during the Civil War.” L.A. Times

The cult of Trump is starting to inflict casualties. Rep. Louie Gohmert has been one of the president’s operatic sycophants in Congress, so when he was diagnosed with COVID-19, he did what any honest Trump cultist would do: blame his mask. “Gohmert gave himself COVID-19 because he already had it,” writes Virginia Heffernan. “How is this person a member of Congress?” L.A. Times

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Watch this Cabinet member, because he’s the real danger to democracy. Trump may utter whatever authoritarian impulse stirs in his gut without giving it much thought, but it’s Atty. Gen. William Barr who has the smarts to make them happen. Warns former U.S. Atty. Harry Litman: “Under him, the Department of Justice stands ready to advance any pro-Trump policy, justifying it on the basis of a blinkered, tenuous view of the facts and the law, or maybe just Barr’s personal ideological intuitions.” L.A. Times

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If all this is enough to make you want to leave for Mars, you’re not alone. The L.A. Times Editorial Board confesses some envy for the JPL-built rover Perseverance that rocketed away from our planet this week for its months-long journey to Mars. A $2.4-billion mission to Mars may seem an odd undertaking for a civilization threatened by climate change and COVID-19, but, says scientist Sarah Stewart Johnson, “to travel to another planet and put a rover on its surface now feels like a rebuke to the powerlessness we feel here at home.”

We asked you for responses on reimagining California after the pandemic, and respond you did — more than 3,700 of you. We’re still collecting and reading those suggestions, but so far there seems to be broad agreement among readers that the COVID-19 pandemic clarifies the need for a stronger safety net in the form of universal healthcare and measures to reduce wealth inequality and improve education. I give a sampling of the responses here and ask for more suggestions from readers, and in another piece my colleague Alexa Díaz provides an update on where our “Reimagine California” project is headed next.

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As always, you can share your feedback by emailing me at paul.thornton@latimes.com.


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