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Newsletter: The ‘law and order’ ex-president has a jailhouse mugshot

A protester waves anti-Trump signs outside the Fulton County Jail in Atlanta on Aug. 24.
A protester holds anti-Trump signs in front of a group of Trump supporters ahead of the former president’s arrival outside the Fulton County Jail in Atlanta on Aug. 24.
(Christian Monterrosa / AFP via Getty Images)
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Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, Aug. 26, 2023. Let’s look back at the week in Opinion.

Let’s be clear about something: No criminal defendant or convicted inmate should have to endure conditions such as those at the notoriously overcrowded and violent Fulton County Jail in Atlanta. That goes for former President Trump, who had until Friday to surrender at the jail, and his 18 co-defendants, who are all charged with trying to overturn the 2020 vote in Georgia. They were all booked, photographed and released after paying bail, something that The Times’ editorial board says no accused person — even a former president as dangerous to democracy as Trump — should have to pay.

But I confess to feeling a smidgen of schadenfreude that a “law-and-order” president got a glimpse of the life he faces if convicted, only because the “tough-on-crime” consensus among politicians like Trump is arguably responsible for creating a place as brutal and neglected as the Fulton County Jail. I’ll say it again: No one should have to experience a place like that. But since so many less moneyed folks do, why not the guy who in 2016 promised to “liberate our citizens from the ... lawlessness that threatens their communities”?

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Of course, Trump’s booking in Atlanta is likely the most he’ll see of the Fulton County Jail any time soon. According to Times op-ed columnist and former U.S. Atty. Harry Litman, no one involved in the case wants to see the spectacle of Trump jailed before conviction, even if the former president violates the conditions of his release:

“Trump’s moments inside the jail’s booking center were supposed to be marked by their ordinariness. County officials strove to treat the former president and his alleged co-conspirators like other defendants subject to the less than dignified procedure.

“But Trump did receive some special treatment that distinguished him — for the worse — even from some of his 18 co-defendants in the sprawling racketeering case. He is now subject to a detailed set of conditions in return for the continued privilege of staying out of the county’s notoriously decrepit jail ....

“Trump’s agreement to these conditions ... provide ample authority to muzzle and punish Trump should he continue engaging in incendiary rhetoric about the case. But Trump’s track record provides every reason for concern that he will ignore his obligations and essentially dare the court to impose a gag order, hold him in contempt and put him in jail.

“No one in the system wants that.”

Trump won the GOP debate by being a no-show. But who came in second? Former Republican operative Scott Jennings doesn’t have many nice things to say about Vivek Ramaswamy, the 38-year-old investor with no political experience trying to out-Trump Donald Trump. But Jennings believes Ramaswamy’s ability to grab attention can boost his poll numbers, and “if he manages to get past 15% in the post-debate polls, Trump will come for him soon enough.”

Ramaswamy is the star of the GOP’s presidential amateur hour. Columnist Jackie Calmes’ description of his positions should give anyone attracted to the so-called outsider pause.

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If you’re curious how I feel about the debate, this letter to the editor aligns with my thinking. A twice-impeached ex-president who may have to run from prison is the double-digit front-runner in a party that cannot bring itself to declare that overthrowing an election is bad. Meanwhile, it’s more than a full year until the election, and the incumbent is only two-thirds through his term in office. At this point, I watch Republican Party primary debates only because I work in journalism — in other words, I do it so you don’t have to.

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Why have storms like Hilary been so rare in California? Last weekend’s summer soaking was the first tropical storm to make landfall here since 1939, and according to atmospheric scientist Ned Kleiner, we owe that largely to the frigid waters off our coast.

Finally, I’d like to share a sad personal update: My mother — whose sudden illness with brain cancer, and the caregiving role it brought to my life, I wrote about in June — died Aug. 2 at age 65. I won’t sugarcoat it: My mom’s final months were hellish, though my brother and I were able to move her from the hospital oncology ward into home hospice care the week she died. Those few days at home free of IV pump alarms and poking and prodding were a godsend. Thanks to all the readers who wrote asking about my mom, and thanks to my colleagues Kerry Cavanaugh and Maret Orliss for filling in for me while I was at my mother’s bedside.

More from this week in Opinion

From our columnists

From the Op-Ed desk

From the Editorial Board

Letters to the Editor

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

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