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Newsletter: Trump got a fair trial. The justice system worked — it’s the GOP that’s broken

Former President Trump leaves the courtroom in New York after being found guilty on 34 felony counts on May 30.
Former President Trump leaves the courtroom in New York after being found guilty on 34 felony counts on Thursday.
(Seth Wenig / Associated Press)
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Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, June 1, 2024. Here’s what we’ve been doing in Opinion.

A jury in New York, after considering the facts presented by prosecutors and the defense attorneys’ responses to them, rendered a guilty verdict. The citizens on that jury were guided by instructions from a judge who, during the seven-week trial, sought to keep order and ensure the rights of the accused were upheld. Procedurally, this is all as it should have been, and stripped of politics and media frenzy, the conviction of former President Trump on 34 felony counts felt like the end of just another criminal case.

I find it hard to muster much more commentary than that. A judge and a jury in New York did their job, and second-guessing their work is for an appeals court to do. Calling Trump’s conviction a disgrace or impugning the impartiality of the judge or jury — as the former president’s supporters in Congress have done, some more histrionically than others — undermines trust in our justice system and the rule of law. We are in uncharted territory here; anything we do, any utterance made by a political leader in response to the first-ever felony conviction of a former president, will be assiduously noted by history.

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But this is an Opinion newsletter, and you come here for commentary, perhaps even of the politically tinged variety. One example of that is the op-ed by former Republican operative Scott Jennings, who argues that Trump’s conviction only makes him stronger. Jennings’ piece provides a window into two minds: that of the “savvy” political thinker, where everything (even facts) are filtered through a partisan lens, and of a Republican Party refusing to accept that Trump can ever do anything wrong. Reading Jennings’ piece is a peek at that kind of thinking.

More useful, in my view, is the column by Harry Litman, a Justice Department veteran who has been closely following Trump’s trial, providing his observations on testimony (including, at times, when it yielded mixed results for the prosecution) and other procedures. In his piece reacting to Trump’s conviction, Litman says the trial strikes an important blow for the rule of law:

“The law prevailed in a fashion that was at the same time basic and majestic. Trump received a fair trial and due process, no more and no less than the next defendant who will be in the same seat in the same dilapidated courtroom where he spent most of the last six weeks. Given all the powerful forces aligned against the rule of law in recent years, we should see that as nothing less than a triumph in and of itself.”

We already knew Trump was unfit for office. The Times’ editorial board sees the reality that the conviction in New York only makes more clear: The former president has done plenty for voters to decisively reject his bid for another term. “Trump’s outrageous attempt to subvert the democratic process isn’t the only reason to oppose his return to the White House,” says the board. “He also should be rejected by voters because of his authoritarian tendencies, his propensity for falsehoods and his volatile temperament.”

Why would California rob from clean transportation to fund highway expansions? To hear state leaders tell it, California is at the forefront of fighting climate change and cutting pollution. Why, then, is Gov. Gavin Newsom proposing to move $600 million from the state Active Transportation Program to fund highway construction? Streets for All founder Michael Schneider reminds the governor that active transportation includes biking and walking, which are a lot more climate-friendly than the driving that expanded highways are meant to accommodate.

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She volunteered as a poll worker and learned a lot about politics. The circumstances that prompted Elizabeth Kopple to volunteer as an L.A. County election worker may have been tragic — her son, who had signed up as a poll worker, was killed in 2022 — but her observations about the machinery of democracy are uplifting. “On election day, I arrived home exhausted, but fulfilled, close to midnight,” Kopple writes. “I’d found a small way to support our democratic process and it felt good. I’d also honored my son and created a new shared experience for the two of us.”

After the war in Gaza, America’s relationship with Israel has to change. The U.S. has long nurtured a “special relationship” with Israel, made possible by that country’s popularity among the American people. That consensus began to wane years before the current war, amid settlement expansion in the West Bank and Israeli efforts to undermine the Iran nuclear deal. Steven A. Cook says the U.S. government should resist pressure to completely cut support for Israel now and instead announce a plan to phase out military aid over the next 10 years.

More from this week in opinion

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

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