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Opinion

Newsletter: Is 2020 the year Trump becomes a loser?

President Trump at Mar-a-Lago
President Trump makes a video call Dec. 24 to U.S. troops overseas from Mar-a-Lago.
(Nicholas Kamm / AFP/Getty Images)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. (Yes, initially I typed “2019" out of habit.) Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

The story of Donald Trump’s life is one of repeated cycles that begin with personal and commercial failings seemingly erased by public acclaim (or stiffed business partners). His reckless overspending in the 1980s and ‘90s, his casino bankruptcies, his cartoonish campaign for the presidency — all were forgiven or even validated by a credulous fan base that insists on maintaining his reputation as an unmatched dealmaker, allowing him to intrude on our collective consciousness and now in the halls of global power. He’s indestructible but easy to underestimate.

But there’s hope, according to Jon Wiener. The UC Irvine historian took to the L.A. Times’ op-ed page to predict that our national nightmare will soon come to an end because Trump will have the worst year of his life in 2020. Wiener’s arguments were all good ones: The grim poll numbers just don’t add up for the president, he gravely misreads public opinion, and recent electoral gains by Democrats suggest the left will be highly motivated to turn out in November. This all sounds reassuring and eminently reasonable.

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That is precisely what makes it so unsettling. If there was one lesson from 2016, it was for our national commentariat (including yours truly): Don’t become too trusting of your political instinct. In fact, Wiener’s piece drew expressions of skepticism from some of our letter writers, who noted that America’s peculiar system of selecting its president via the electoral college amplifies the voices of fringe voters in a handful of key states. More worrisome is this thought: Whereas Trump entered 2016 as the second-most likely American to become president, he begins 2020 as the incumbent and therefore the most likely American to be inaugurated on Jan. 20, 2021.

Happy New Year.

Trump owes us an explanation on Iran, and soon. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike, was a key figure in the Iranian political and military establishment, not a stateless terrorist like Osama bin Laden or Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. No matter how dangerous he was, assassinating him represents a dramatic deterioration of the U.S. relationship with Iran, and the Trump administration owes Americans a thorough explanation of what it wanted to achieve, says our editorial board. L.A. Times

Andrew Bacevich writes with a tone of righteous contempt for the U.S. political and military establishment when it comes to wars in the Middle East. His latest op-ed piece, on the futility of the Suleimani killing, blames our policymakers for so badly destabilizing the Mideast and entrenching the U.S. in conflicts there that the strike on Suleimani represents not a dramatic shift in our posture in that region, but rather more of the same. L.A. Times

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Wagging the dog? I’ll let one letter writer sum up the opinion of many of our readers: “If you wondered what Trump was going to do to distract us from impeachment, you have your answer: assassinate Iran’s most important general. Never mind the consequences; all that matters is that Trump gets the news cycle moving in a new direction.” L.A. Times

California strikes a blow for consumer freedom and digital privacy. Starting Jan. 1, you may have noticed a small but significant link on most of the websites you visit: an option for you to decline to have your data sold for commercial purposes. Even better: Because California is so big, and website owners don’t want to worry about which visitors are residents of what states, the privacy protections in most cases will affect Internet users across the country. Slate

What researchers know about people who attack places of worship: They’re men, and most are white. In the vast majority of incidents, the shooters had been experiencing some sort of personal crisis, and nearly all of them were suicidal. There are two distinct subgroups who target religious groups: one that is motivated by ethno-religious hatred, and another that is motivated by domestic issues, and the house of worship just happens to be where an ex-girlfriend or spouse is that moment. We can reduce the frequency of these shootings by training ushers and greeters to spot warning signs, and by forcefully and publicly condemning hate. L.A. Times

As always, thank you for reading, and please suggest improvements to this newsletter by contacting me at paul.thornton@latimes.com. As you know, none of this work is produced for free, so please consider subscribing to the L.A. Times. For information on our other newsletters, go here.


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