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Newsletter: Opinion: Let’s hope having COVID-19 changes Trump

President Trump, having tested positive, leaves the White House for Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
President Trump, having tested positive for the coronavirus, leaves the White House for Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Oct. 2.
(Getty Images)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020. Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

The U.S. has about 30,000 hospitalized COVID-19 patients, and right now President Trump is one of them. On Friday he was flown by helicopter to Walter Reed Army Medical Center just outside Washington, following a day of speculation about his condition after he tweeted early Friday morning that he and First Lady Melania Trump had tested positive for the coronavirus. At any other time this would be a moment of grave crisis for our country; it’s indescribably worse amid a pandemic, an economic catastrophe, a looming election and (let’s be honest) years-long mismanagement of a presidential administration whose leader could soon become incapacitated.

Most dismaying is that the president could have helped prevent his own sickness and those of at least 7 million other Americans who contracted the coronavirus. As the L.A. Times Editorial Board notes, over the last several months Trump has needlessly put himself, his family, his staff and his fellow Americans at serious risk by acting as if the country weren’t gripped by a pandemic and the economy hadn’t stalled. (And if you think the editorial board is being too harsh, wait until you read what our readers have to say.)

Of course, since the president has fallen ill a month before the election, news of Trump’s condition must be viewed through a political lens. Scott Jennings, a former Republican advisor (and frequent recipient of our letter writers’ criticism), believes the president’s battle with COVID-19 presents a huge opportunity for him, but only if Trump is willing to present himself as something other than uncommonly superior to everyone else: “If he can now step in front of the American people to acknowledge that fact, lay bare his missteps and shortcomings, and demonstrate gratitude for the sacrifices made by all Americans in 2020, he just might be able to turn a bad beat into a positive moment.”

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There was a presidential debate this week, and you might remember that it didn’t go well. The worst of the president’s fusillade of distressing statements was his cryptic instruction to a right-wing hate group to “stand back and stand by,” part of a performance that the editorial board called “an insult to the American people.” Columnist Robin Abcarian said Biden was overmatched by Trump’s bullying. Karin Klein called for someone who knows how to discipline a disobedient child to be present at the next debate. Scott Martelle lamented the few minutes of squabbling that occupied the climate-change portion of the debate. If you aren’t convinced yet of how historically terrible Trump made the debate, then read on.

If Trump can’t disavow white supremacists, why should anyone want him as president? Yeah, the playground-bully act is unpresidential, but it plays well with a certain segment of the electorate. But refusing clearly to condemn white supremacism, even from an entirely political standpoint, makes no sense, says editorial writer Carla Hall: “I can’t believe in debate prep Chris Christie, the Republican former New Jersey governor, or anyone else said to Trump, ‘Hey, if the moderator asks you whether you support white supremacists, dodge the question and attack antifa’ (the anti-fascist and left-wing political movement). And if they did, they should never get invited back to the White House for … anything.” L.A. Times

The L.A. Times is examining its own history of racism, both in its reporting and in its treatment of journalists of color. In a long editorial, the newspaper apologizes for past reporting that advanced racist stereotypes of Los Angeles’ nonwhite communities, including a front-page piece from 1981 that warned of “marauders” from South L.A. terrorizing the (mostly white and affluent) suburbs. In separate pieces, Times owner Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong relates his own experiences under apartheid in South Africa and promises to make changes that enhance the paper’s diversity and reporting; staff writer Greg Braxton shares the pain he felt being sent back to his suburban reporting post after covering the 1992 uprising in Los Angeles; columnist Sandy Banks recalls navigating L.A. and the mostly white Times as a young reporter from Ohio in the 1980s; and Teresa Watanabe laments that the newspaper still isn’t adequately covering Southern California’s large and remarkably diverse Asian American communities. The complete list of stories from our series examining The Times’ history and shortcomings on race can be found here.

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Here’s something that isn’t about 2020 or even anything from this generation: Fifty years ago this week, Janis Joplin died in Los Angeles at the age of 27. Columnist Nicholas Goldberg recently made a pilgrimage of sorts to the Hollywood hotel room where the singer overdosed on heroin: “I’m not quite sure why I wanted to see the room, but apparently I’m not alone — people ask about it several times a week, according to the hotel’s current owner, even when there’s no special anniversary at hand. I guess seeing it adds an element of reality to what is otherwise just history. There’s a shrine of sorts in the room’s closet, the inner wall covered with scrawled notes to the late singer. Otherwise, it is just a room.” L.A. Times

Confirming Amy Coney Barrett wouldn’t be bad just for liberals; it would harm the Supreme Court. Columnist and former U.S. Attorney Harry Litman finds another reason to worry about the ideological lopsidedness that awaits the court: “Barrett’s ascent would cement a five-person majority carefully culled from among the most dogmatically conservative legal minds in the country. They are all, to one degree or another, members of a legal movement defined by its antipathy to scores of legal precedents from the last 70 years and by its determination to move the law sharply right.” L.A. Times

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


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