By Ian Pattison
This is an updated version of a column that appeared Jan. 23 in the print edition and on the website.
It would be nice to think that we’ve seen the last of Donald Trump, but that would be wishful thinking. In his petty and fictitious farewell speech at the White House -- timed to coincide exactly with Joe Biden’s arrival in Washington to take the president’s job -- Trump told his supporters that their movement to re-shape America was “just beginning.”
Later, in remarks at Joint Base Andrews before flying home to Florida, Trump said, “I will always fight for you. I’ll be watching and I’ll be listening,” and the real kicker, “We will be back in some form.”
The signal to extremists was clear. You, too, should continue the “fight.” You should join me in closely monitoring the new Biden administration to keep track of their sins against me. And when the Democrats have racked up enough transgressions, I will return to lead you to the promise of America made great again. He just doesn’t give up.
In a parting shot at the justice system that continues to hold him to account (his second impeachment case goes to the Senate on Monday; external investigations continue), Trump issued 73 pardons to a variety of convicts and commuted the prison sentences of another 70 individuals. Some of the pardons seem warranted. Others defy belief.
Rapper Lil Wayne succeeded in a transparent bid for clemency after pleading guilty to a second gun charge. A year ago Christmas, authorities searched his private jet after it landed in Miami. Among his possessions they found a gold-plated, pearl-gripped .45-calibre Glock with ammunition.
Facing a decade behind bars, Wayne saw an opening in Trump’s efforts to curry favour with the Black community. He wormed his way into an Oval Office meeting/photo opportunity to offer support for a program to fund Black business, then tweeted a photo of the two giving thumbs up. A day later Trump described Wayne as "an activist in a really positive way."
Earlier this year, Wayne endorsed Trump’s re-election bid, stunning his followers. Eleven hours before leaving office came the slurry of Trump pardons and, poof, Lil Wayne’s 10-year prison sentence was gone.
Trump had already pardoned a slew of crooked cronies, adding foul Steve Bannon at the last minute. Presidential pardons are supposed to be for those convicted wrongfully or whose sentences are unduly harsh. They’re not supposed to be rewards for really bad behaviour. But such is the grimy reality of Trump world where kissing the ring is all it takes to get out of jail free card.
Trump’s dreadful departure and his four years stoking the fires of American extremism have left Joe Biden a steaming mess to deal with. So the incoming president wasted little time reversing some of the Donald’s worst deeds.
Among 17 acts on Day One, Biden reversed Trump’s anemic pandemic response, swept aside a weak environmental agenda, tore up acts that punished immigrants, targeted racial inequality and sought to inject confidence in an economy that’s exhausted.
With that out of the way, Biden is left with the biggest dilemma of his nascent presidency: How to govern when 50 million people don’t believe he won. Such is the state of division and mistrust in government sown by Trump that even rulings by Republican courts at every level that Biden won fair and square are not just doubted, but denounced as the actions of turncoats.
CANADA figured heavily in Biden’s initial thoughts. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau received the first presidential phone call to world leaders on Friday where the conversation included cancellation of Trump’s permit to build the Keystone XL pipeline that would carry Alberta oil to the U.S.
The proposition was always dicey, more so every time a severe climate event tested the future of the fossil fuels that Alberta is built on. Unable to find sufficient private backing, Premier Jason Kenney risked $1.5 billion in public money to advance the cause of Keystone that then-president Barack Obama opposed. Trump, however, was all in. Biden, who campaigned against the project, has seen the writing on the wall and will begin the steady job of transitioning the U.S. economy using green building blocks that, hopefully, will help to save our collective skins.
Kenney reacted badly. He called Biden’s decision an “insult” and pressed Trudeau to impose retaliatory trade sanctions against the U.S. Imagine the outcome of that stunt. We already have enough trade trouble with our biggest trading partner and “Buy American” is a Biden priority. The term “softwood lumber dispute” has become a part of the Canadian English language, it’s been fought so often.
The European Union and China are leading the way in green research and investment in wind, solar, tidal and battery storage technology. Biden knows the U.S. has to join in. So does Trudeau who is so far unwilling to steer too far off the safe, centre path with which he is so familiar. The PM preaches a green future for Canada but buys the Trans Mountain pipeline and expands it to carry Alberta crude to B.C. for export to Asia.
Trudeau is fond of saying Canada can do such things while building plans to wean the country from oil and gas. A careful transition is important but time’s a-wastin’. To reach net zero emissions by 2050 as promised means taking incremental steps along the way. Where will Canada be in 2025, 2030? We can’t expand our oil capacity and then suddenly catch up to a fast-changing climate a decade from now. Decisive steps to change course must begin immediately. Biden says he’s doing it. Trudeau, not so much. And Kenney may be toast, politically, for having gambled and lost on a bad bet. Another one, actually.
Last March, late on the Friday of a long weekend as the pandemic began, Kenney quietly revoked Peter Lougheed’s Coal Policy that, after extensive public consultation, said most of the eastern slopes of the Rockies should remain off limits to mountain-top removal in order to protect water security, wildlife and the area’s beauty. Lately, Kenney is entertaining an Australian company’s proposal for open-pit coal mines on those same mountains. The premier is no friend of the environment.
Climate change isn’t some vague threat, despite what frightened deniers say. As reported in The Guardian last week, the planet is facing a “ghastly future of mass extinction, declining health and climate-disruption upheavals” that threaten human survival because of ignorance and inaction, according to an international group of scientists, who warn people still haven’t grasped the urgency of the biodiversity and climate crises.
If Biden can set an example of urgency, Trudeau and others who are in no hurry will have to follow or finish well behind in the race to lead the development of the new era.
If the coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything it is that abandoning national research capacity in favour of dependence on others guarantees we’ll be playing a dangerous game of catch-up.
Ian Pattison is retired as editorial page editor of The Chronicle-Journal, but still shares his thoughts on current affairs.