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Opinion: Yay, Trump behaved. He was still terrible

President Trump holds out his right hand as he speaks onstage during the debate
President Trump speaks during his final debate with former Vice President Joe Biden in Nashville on Thursday night.
(Associated Press)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. In-person voting begins in parts of Los Angeles County today; check here to find your nearest vote center. Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

Over the last four years or so, we’ve been instructed by pro-Trump conservatives to focus on what he does, not what he says. This was always a disingenuous way to defend the president, but as a substance-over-style argument, it actually served a purpose at the last debate. Because President Trump was on his best behavior Thursday night after his extended temper tantrum with Joe Biden three weeks ago, we could see clearly what the president wants to do the next four years without the distraction of his adolescent blurts and gestures.

And sadly for Trump (and the rest of us, because he is still our president), the substance of his arguments is every bit as ugly as his style.

The Times’ editorial board noted that Trump’s behavior was “considerably more subdued and disciplined” this time than in the first debate, but also that he brought with him his usual “farrago of lies, cheap shots and absurd claims,” in particular his risible insistence that he’s done more for Black Americans than any president since Abraham Lincoln. As for Biden, the editorial board gave the former vice president high marks for dismantling Trump’s most effective attacks — and some of those attacks, wrote columnist Virginia Heffernan, deserved nothing more than the dismissive cringe that Biden gave them.

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So, is Trump the worst president ever? Some of our readers say not by a long shot, but several historians to whom columnist Nicholas Goldberg spoke would put the 45th president high (or low?) in the running for worst ever. Trump will end up in the pantheon of failed presidents with James Buchanan, Franklin Pierce and Warren G. Harding, but whether he will earn the lowest ranking from historians remains to be seen. He does make a compelling case for worst ever, according to presidential biographer Robert Dallek: “This guy has been so extreme and shows such little understanding of the job or the country that we can begin to judge him now.” L.A. Times

We’re sick of being ignored in California, and we have no choice but to keep taking it. As someone who’s voted only in California during presidential elections his entire life, I wouldn’t say I’m sick of the electoral college as much as I am hopelessly resigned to it. But there are plenty of people like the New York Times’ Farhad Manjoo, who describes his sense of “sacred, nerdy seriousness” upon receiving his ballot in the mail, only to feel bitterness and anger over the pointlessness of voting for president in a state that the electoral college renders irrelevant. New York Times

Pope Francis spoke in favor of same-sex, non-marital, civil unions. Of course this is a long way from advocating for equality under the law, but for the head of a church that regards homosexual acts as intrinsically evil, to evince compassion for gay men and women is important, writes Michael McGough. More urgently, religion historian Randall Balmer wants to know what the likely next Supreme Court justice — Judge Amy Coney Barrett, a devout Roman Catholic — thinks about the pope’s statement.

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Guess which major Los Angeles daily newspaper helped write discrimination into California law? The one you happen to be holding right now (digitally, of course). The Los Angeles Times was an early institutional engine behind the growth of Southern California last century, and in 1964 it threw around its weight to support a ballot measure that overturned the state’s landmark housing anti-discrimination law. The sordid history of Proposition 14 and the efforts of the white power structure in California (including The Times) to segregate and impoverish Black people must be understood if voters are ever to correct their grave errors, writes Matthew Fleischer. L.A. Times

It’s time to vote, and we have recommendations. In the months leading up to the election, members of the Los Angeles Times Editorial Board conducted interviews and did research prior to making their endorsements for president, state initiatives and many other offices and measures on the Nov. 3 ballot. For president, the board supported Joe Biden; on the more notable state ballot initiatives, the board recommended voting yes on Proposition 15 to create a “split roll” for property taxes, yes on Proposition 16 to end the state’s ban on affirmative action, no on Proposition 20 to roll back criminal justice reforms and no on Proposition 22 to treat ride-hail companies’ drivers as independent contractors; and on Los Angeles County Measure J, the board recommended a yes vote to shift tax dollars into programs that promote a care-first, community-based approach on public safety. The board also endorsed in races for Congress, district attorney, county supervisor, Los Angeles City Council, Superior Court judges, the L.A. school board and community college trustees. All of our endorsements for Nov. 3 can be found at latimes.com/endorsements.

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


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