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The US ‘Upheaval’ Viewed by Washington Correspondent Lawrence Martin

Filmed just before riots swept to the White House, the Globe and Mail’s columnist talks Trump and a nation on the edge.

Serena Renner 1 Jun 2020 | TheTyee.ca

Serena Renner is a journalist and editor who writes about culture, social justice and the environment, as well as creative change-makers and their big ideas. She is completing a practicum with The Tyee.

Last night, the protests erupting across the U.S. in response to systemic racism and police brutality against Black Americans, marched their way to the White House gates. If this happened three days earlier, the Salt Spring Forum with Canadian journalist Lawrence Martin would have been a bit different.

Yet, the Washington, D.C.-based columnist for the Globe and Mail laid the foundation for what’s been boiling beneath the surface in Trump’s America, which Martin moved to specifically to cover the Trump White House. For him, it’s no surprise the unrest arrived on the president’s doorstep.

“Trump is well on his way to defeating himself,” Martin said. “[Biden] just has to be careful not to make horrendous mistakes.”

Martin was the first-ever guest of the Salt Spring Forum 10 years ago, when Stephen Harper was still the Canadian prime minister. At the start of his interview, forum chair Michael Byers reminded Martin of that first conversation, which “told us things about the Harper government that were well known within Ottawa but not so well known in the rest of the country,” Byers said. “I’m hoping you’ll tell us some inside information from Washington as well.”

On inside information, Martin delivered, starting with the question of who will be Joe Biden’s pick for vice presidential running mate. “This is extremely important, because Joe Biden has a very good chance of becoming president, and Joe Biden’s vice-president pick has a very good chance of becoming president, because he [Biden] will step down after four years, probably, and [the] vice-president might take over in the interim or at that point,” Martin said.

He went through the list of options for the post, starting with Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who he said was the leading candidate before the blatant murder of George Floyd at the knee of a white police officer in her home state.

“We see this horrendous development in Minneapolis with the death of the African American at the suffocating knee of this policeman that’s caused a big [stir], as it should. It was murder,” Martin said. “The video tape, he’s asphyxiating him. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

As a Minnesota prosecutor, Klobuchar has a track record of going easy on white policemen in cases against African Americans, which will likely knock her out of the race, Martin explained. “This is a terrible event for her.”

He weighed the pros and cons of four other female candidates, including California Sen. Kamala Harris, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Stacey Abrams — former member of the Georgia House of Representatives — but landed on a lesser-known name: Gretchen Whitmer, the current governor of Michigan.

“Joe Biden speaks highly of her. She might be one to watch,” Martin said. “And there’s about six or seven other possibilities, but they’re all women. He’s not going to go to a man. He’s said that for sure.”

Martin’s belief that Biden has a good chance at the presidency stems in part from watching Trump’s ill handling of COVID-19. Last week, the U.S. surpassed 100,000 deaths from the virus, which is not the highest per capita, but close. A new study out of Columbia University found that social distancing just a week earlier could have saved 36,000 lives.

“‘Make America sick again’ is what people are saying now about him. He has not done well,” Martin said.

Opening the country up from lockdown — which Martin acknowledged is good for the Canadian economy too — likely won’t save Trump, since the economy will take much longer than a few months to recover. And that’s if there isn’t a second wave of COVID-19. We only have to look back through history to see how presidential races have swung during downturns, Martin said.

The Republicans lost in 2008 under George W. Bush during the Great Recession. They were defeated in 1992 when George Bush repeated his famous words “Read my lips: no new taxes.”

“His lips said a different story and brought in new taxes,” Martin laughed, “and the economy was in bad shape and he lost to Bill Clinton.”

Then there was Jimmy Carter, bested by Ronald Reagan in 1980 during the “stagflation” years, and, finally, Herbert Hoover who was overtaken by Franklin D. Roosevelt and his 1932 New Deal.

“American presidents don’t habitually win an election when the economy is in bad shape,” Martin summed up. “So that puts [Trump] in a very difficult position. But you know he’s going to pull every dirty trick in the book.”

Martin walks us through some of the tricks Trump could pull if he doesn’t come out victorious on Nov. 3, which Martin wrote about in a recent column titled “The 2020 U.S. election is a disaster waiting to happen.”

These ploys could include everything from allegations of mail-in voter fraud — a seed Trump has already planted — to “Obamagate:” the continuing need to undermine the presidency of America’s first Black president, which will likely extend to Joe and Hunter Biden’s dealings with Ukraine. That is if another political diversion, such as a Cold War–style escalation with China, doesn’t happen first.

“He’s an egomaniac; everybody knows that,” Martin said. “People say he won’t even leave office if he’s defeated. His ego is so great, he couldn’t even take it, so it wouldn’t be beyond him to do anything in order to win.”

But if poll numbers mean anything in 2020 — which never fall below 40 per cent or above 46 per cent for Trump — Martin doesn’t see how he can move those numbers to win.

“[The Republicans] will try to pull out scandal after scandal, and I just don’t think it’s gonna work,” Martin said. “I have some faith in Americans this time. I think Americans are going to say ‘this guy is just too much. We have to turn the page here. We can’t have another four years of this sort of upheaval.’”

Polls show that 80 per cent of Canadians feel the same way. While Trudeau will likely remain Mr. Nice Guy when it comes to negotiating with Trump on trade and the border, Canadians can only hope that history will repeat itself to get us out of recession. That our current “great depression” might pave the way for a change in leadership like it did in 1932.

“The Canadian prime minister did not get along with the president at the time,” Martin said, “and then Franklin Roosevelt came in and turned the economy around. He brought in the New Deal. I think the hope now is that Trump, the Hoover, will exit, and Joe Biden will come in and start a major economic recovery. He won’t be an FDR, but he’ll be a big improvement over the president that Canada has had.”

From a journalist’s perspective, “there has never been a greater source of material [than Trump],” Martin said. “[Trump] is the most extraordinary character that I’ve ever seen.”

The Tyee is partnering with Salt Spring Forum on this video interview and others, including with physician and author Kevin Patterson, China historian Timothy Brook, climate change author and activist Bill McKibben, Canada’s Amnesty International Secretary Alex Neve and physician and former Trudeau cabinet member Jane Philpott.  [Tyee]

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