Opinion: Beware a nihilistic Republican Party with nothing to lose

Gov. Gavin Newsom, seen in San Francisco on March 19, will face a recall election before the end of the year.
(Getty Images)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, May 1, 2021. Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

Regular readers will not be surprised when I say this: At best, today’s Republican Party is a dwindling reactionary faction bereft of workable ideas; at worst, it is a nationalist, race-baiting, Trumpist sect that threatens American democracy. Evidence for the sorry and dangerous state of what was the Party of Lincoln abounds in California and Washington.

(Before I go any further, let me say that everything the GOP is doing is legal, but that’s a remarkably low bar when the topic is public service.)


In California, as you’ve heard by now, Republican activists who wield almost no voter-backed power in state government have plunged us all into a prolonged political crisis known as a recall election. They’re doing this, as some of our readers have said, really only because they can — and as columnist Nicholas Goldberg points out, it’s the only thing they have the power to do in a state where not a single elected executive officer is a Republican. If Newsom is removed later this year, Goldberg warns, watch for the GOP to use recall elections as their go-to strategy in California.

In Washington, the GOP has been reduced to quibbling over the definition of “infrastructure” and complaining about massive federal spending (even after exploding the deficit with tax cuts before the pandemic), and The Times Editorial Board is having none of it. Reacting to President Biden’s first address to Congress — in which he laid out ambitious and expensive proposals on infrastructure and programs to help American families — the board says the president is merely making up for decades of federal neglect, and Republican intransigence betrays the party’s “antiquated view of reality.”

Unfocused as the GOP may seem, it is certainly not pitiable. The party’s willingness to unleash needless political chaos in California — as the state works its way through a pandemic and faces the dual crises of drought and a punishing wildfire season — simply because it can, and to cast this president absurdly as a radical, ought to give us pause.

More on Biden: Several lines of the president’s speech that got minimal attention were actually some of his most poignant political observations, says Virginia Heffernan. When Biden spoke of nurturing democracy, he focused on “logistics” as much as lofty ideals, reminding Americans that maintaining representative government takes work that’s worth the trouble. As for the president’s pitch for “free” community college, LZ Granderson says Biden isn’t asking a more fundamental question: Why does it cost so much to go to college in the first place?

Most people who want a vaccine have gotten a vaccine, and that’s both wonderful and worrying — wonderful because vaccine suppliers are capable of meeting demand, and worrying because there isn’t much demand left. Less than half of Americans have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, far below what’s needed to return to normal, suggesting that vaccine hesitancy threatens to delay economic recovery. With talk of “vaccine passports” and other inducements to get our COVID shots, the editorial board weighs in with a simple but powerful message: You have no absolute right to refuse vaccination. L.A. Times

Are L.A. City Council members serious about the homelessness crisis? The editorial board asks because one councilmember, John Lee, is trying to claw back funding for a new homeless housing project in Chatsworth that’s supposed to break ground soon. It’s a familiar and deeply disconcerting pattern: Shelters and housing projects slated for relatively affluent, whiter areas of Los Angeles face local opposition, while the burden of addressing homelessness weighs heavily on poorer communities. “Homelessness is a humanitarian crisis,” says the editorial board. “We don’t have time for political games.” L.A. Times

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The delta is dying, even after Newsom promised to fix it. The Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta is on the verge of ecological destruction. One group estimates that high water temperatures will kill up to 90% of the winter-run Chinook salmon in the Sacramento River this year. And Newsom? The governor who promised to broker a deal between the disparate interests unsustainably drawing fresh water from the delta is showing more concern for a small group of relatively prosperous farmers than the survival of the West Coast’s most important estuary, writes Jacques Leslie. L.A. Times

Banning menthol cigarettes is a racial justice issue. The editorial board explains: Even though Black Americans smoke at lower rates than other groups, they are still more likely to die of smoking-related diseases. Some of this may have to do with the fact that 85% of Black Americans who smoke choose menthol cigarettes, which are easier to get addicted to and harder to quit. That’s one reason why the board welcomes the announcement by the Food and Drug Administration that it is moving to ban the sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars. L.A. Times

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