Mined from the notebooks, April 16, 2018. Posted Wednesday morning, May 2.
I don’t think you make a lot of money planting just a few acres of soybeans. Soybeans being loaded into a truck during harvest in Princeton, Illinois. Photo by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via the Washington Post.
[Editor’s note: This is the second in what I expect a three-part series of posts. Part One is here.]
From the start, our Mr President Trump has routinely done things that hurt his base and that therefore ought to hurt his standing with them: Try to take away their health care. Raise their taxes by stealth to pay for massive tax cuts for the rich. Cut funding for programs that serve their communities---education, first and foremost, so that shaky public school systems will get even shakier. Go after veterans’ benefits. Allow businesses to pollute rivers and streams, ignore safety standards, screw employees out of whatever they can be screwed out of. Give banks more freedom to screw their non-rich customers while engaging in the sort of recklessness that crashed the economy in 2008. His overall approval ratings are still historically low, yet his wildly high approval ratings among his voters have barely ticked a point or two downward. If anything, they seem to have gone up. Republicans just won’t quit him.
Oh, for a while---a short while---they get mad. He was promising to hurt THEM, Those others! The specifics didn’t matter. The targets did! THEM wasn’t supposed to be US!
But then they talk themselves out of it.
Give him time. Give him a chance. He knows what he’s doing.
Democrats are shocked by this. He’s doing what he promised to do. He’s doing what Republicans voted for him to do: stick it to THEM! Don’t they realize that THEM includes them! Aren’t they listening? Are they taking him seriously but not literally? Do they think they have a special exemption? A great many of Trump’s voters apparently think they do.
But I think one of the things going on here is that Republicans are still hearing the question “Do you approve of the job Donald Trump’s doing as President?” as “Are you ready to admit you made a big dumb mistake?”
Nobody’s ever ready to admit that.
Vanity affects everyone’s judgment of themselves. Vanity won’t let us admit our mistakes, and so these Republicans flat out deny they made one. They don’t want to face the possibility Trump has made them look like chumps. Some grudgingly allow that it does look that way, but they’re still pretty sure they were right, time will tell and until it does they’re not going to leap one way or the other. Some are vain in another way. They’re presenting themselves as noble and self-sacrificing. Yeah,right now I’m taking a hit, but it’s for the greater good, and I expect it will work out for the best in the long run. That’s what Trump’s telling farmers at the moment. That’s what’s what he’s promising.
“When we do a deal with China – which probably we will, if we don’t they’ll have to pay pretty high taxes to do business with our country. That’s a possibility. But if we do a deal with China, if during the course of a negotiation they want to hit the farmers, because they think that hits me, I wouldn’t say that’s nice, but I tell you, our farmers are great patriots. These are great patriots. They understand that they’re doing this for the country. And we’ll make it up to them. In the end they’re going to be much stronger than they are right now.”
Notice how it’s all about him---again.
Trump will provide. They believe in Trump’s plan the way they believe in God’s.
"You have to have faith in our innovation and entrepreneurialship in this country," said Ed Westra, a grain cooperative manager and Trump devotee. "You've got to think of the big game."
But I think there are a couple of other factors to consider when looking at the polling.
I think many of his voters were disappointed that he didn’t hurt enough of Those People hard enough and fast enough. But hurting people is part of what Donald Trump lives for, which is to make himself big, strong, and wonderful in his own eyes. Hurting people proves he’s as powerful and tough and superior as he needs to feel he is. Trump can hurt people in his sleep. If he does sleep. Going by his manic twittering that often begins before dawn, you got to wonder. Over the last fifteen and a half months, hurting people is pretty much all he’s accomplished as President. Immigrants, would-be refugees, trans people, anyone who relies on any government assistance. He wasn’t able to repeal Obamacare, but he’s been able to make it more difficult for anyone who’s on it to stay on it and more difficult for anyone who needs to get on it get on it. He’s promising to do worse with his---and his fellow Republican villains in Congress’---plans for “welfare reform”. They’re going after Social Security and Medicare, folks. Not yours of course. Theirs. You’ll be fine. You have that special exemption.
So no wonder his approval ratings among Republicans have grown stronger if not actually gone up. They’re happier now. Pain and punishment are being meted out. Those people are paying the price at last. They’re being thrown out of the country. Their families are being broken up. Their illnesses aren’t being treated. Their children are going hungry. Serves them right! The bull’s loose in the china shop. The swamp’s being drained.
That’s what those metaphors meant.
Those people’s china would get smashed. The swamp was home to all of those people living large off good, hardworking, God-fearing Republicans’ tax money.
Trump’s trade wars are of a piece with the wanton destruction and infliction of pain and hardship brought on by his making impulsive decisions on matters he knows nothing about and doesn’t care he knows nothing about. He only cares that it makes his voters cheer. That’s been his political m.o. From the outset. Tell frightened and angry people they’re right to be frightened and angry, make them even more frightened and angry, do things that make the situation even worse, and blame it on THEM!---the Fake News, the Democrats, immigrants, Muslims, THEM, those others. Free trade isn’t bad because it costs Americans jobs. It’s bad because it benefits THEM. The Chinese, the Mexicans, the Canadians, the Germans.
Try to explain how the economy will suffer all around from trade wars and Trump voters will be happy to tell you that trade is what got us into this mess---“us” always meaning themselves. You aren’t part of us. They’re the only us. You are one of THEM!---and anyway all the benefits of free trade go to the big coastal cities where you live so fuck you and fuck them! (Let’s not talk about BMW, Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, Kia…) In their hearts, most of these Trump voters don’t expect him to bring back the steel industry or “clean” coal to become the fossil fuel of choice but at least the Chinese will be getting less of our money and that’s what’s important, even if we’ll be getting less of theirs.
Anyway, trade wars are easy to win, says the President confidently. Of course, that means they’re also easy to lose. Never mind.
Trump’s real base---the Republicans’ real base---the rich greedy corporatist bastards who own and run the party--- can weather the downturn. They don’t like tariffs and trade wars, they don’t like to see the Dow down. But they got their massive tax cut and this is the price they have to pay. And they know Trump has to keep the rubes happy.
Farmers know better. If they aren’t already taking the hit, they’re realistic in expecting to soon. They’re not letting on that they’re mad, but they’re worried.
“It’s going to hurt American farmers, no doubt about it,” said Jarous Valenec, a 43-year old dairy farmer who attended one town hall. “We were already looking at depressed prices for corn and soybeans before this. There’s no sector that’s showing good numbers.”
Not too worried though. They know Trump says stuff just to hear himself saying stuff. Stuff he has no real intention of following through on because he’s not thinking ahead. He doesn't think ahead. He doesn't think. He reacts, He reacts to the moment with no idea or concern how things will work out in the future. The future being as far away as next week. He doesn't intend anything because he never intends anything when he shoots his mouth off except to make a big noisy fuss that gets him attention.
And he doesn’t care.
It makes no difference to him how things work out in the end. What matters to him is that he’s seen to be the one doing the negotiating, that he gets the credit for having made the deal. Odds are that when all is said and done, our trading arrangements in the Pacific will be pretty much what they were before he imposed his tariffs. He’s already making moves towards---or at least making noises as if he’s planning on it---renegotiating the United States back into the Trans-Pacific Partnership, just as he’s in the process of renegotiating NAFTA so that it looks a lot like it did before he started the renegotiations.
So it’s not surprising that these farmers are taking a sensible wait and see attitude. The probability is that things will simmer down. Chinese and American businesspeople and trade officials will work it out to each nation’s mutual advantage if not to their satisfaction. We’ll go back to business as usual, while Trump takes credit for having bullied the Chinese into major concessions and his fans and propagandists will crow how great it is to have a tough and tough-talking President again.
Still, it’s not clear how long it’s going to take before things start even out. In the meantime, a lot of farmers are going to have it rough. It’s hard to know how much to feel sorry for them. Like I would know, but somehow I don’t think these are small family farms. When you can talk about taking losses of $35,000 to $50,000 and not use the words bankruptcy and foreclosure, it doesn’t seem likely to me you run a small family farm. Like I said, like I would know. I lived in the Midwest for only eight years. Two in Iowa where I went to grad school. Six in Indiana where I taught college. All I know about farming is observational. But I don’t think you make a lot of money planting a few acres of soybeans and patches of corn or raising a few dozen hogs. I saw and smelled a good many hog farms during my grad school days in Iowa and none of them looked like small scale concerns. Hundreds and hundreds of pigs stood shoulder to shoulder as far as the eye could see. The soybean farms around Fort Wayne in the years when we lived there went on for acres and acres and acres. My commute from Fort Wayne to Muncie was a drive through an eighty-nine mile long cornfield. That was over thirty years ago. I don’t imagine that thirty years of consolidation and industrialization and globalization have done small family farms any favors. One of the hog farmers in a story in the Des Moines Register says he sells 25,000 hogs a year. It strikes me then that another word besides farming for the line of work these people are in is agribusiness. Not that it matters. Businesses of all sizes and kinds survive paycheck to paycheck, so to speak. But this is industrial farming.
Strictly speaking, these farms aren’t what Wendell Berry would call “brought in industry”, but neither are they, strictly speaking, local businesses. They contribute to the local and state economies, of course, but their markets aren’t in the towns nearby. They’re not even in Iowa. These farmers are in a real way industrialists and international businessmen and women. And so they rely on the federal government to keep their international markets open. Which would be fine, if they didn’t vote Republican which is voting to prevent other people from relying on the federal government to help them.
End of Part Two.
From the Department of If You don't like a policy, wait a minute update May 2, 2018: Trump continues to make a big noisy fuss about tarriffs and trade wars.