Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., heads to the Senate subway following a vote in the Capitol on Jan. 8, 2015.
Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty

As farmers struggle, Cotton offers odd defense of Trump’s trade agenda

Updated

It’s no secret that most congressional Republicans are uncomfortable with Donald Trump’s trade agenda, and are especially concerned about the adverse effects it’s having on American farmers, but they don’t appear eager to do anything about it.

As Politico noted in a new article, GOP senators are lamenting the state of affairs, “but after trying, unsuccessfully, to get the president to remove his year-old tariffs on U.S. allies, there’s little appetite for opening a new front with Trump when it comes to China.”

It’s a discouraging policy dynamic. More than a few Senate Republicans seem to realize the White House’s gambit is hurting their own constituents. But because the president is a member of their party, and the GOP base stands with Trump, these lawmakers are prepared to remain on the sidelines, doing nothing.

Well, maybe not nothing. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), for example, yesterday found a new way to downplay the difficulties facing domestic farmers. TPM reported:

“There will be some sacrifices on the part of Americans, I grant you that, but I also would say that sacrifice is pretty minimal compared to the sacrifices that our soldiers make overseas that are fallen heroes that are laid to rest in Arlington make,” he told “CBS This Morning” as Gayle King pushed back, saying “you can’t compare those two sacrifices.”

“When I’m at home in Arkansas, I hear from farmers who are worried about opening up new markets and getting their products to market, but they also understand that China is a serious competitor to the United States and wants to displace us around the world,” he said. “And they look at the sacrifices that soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines make around the world and they’re willing to bear some of the sacrifices in the short term, to hopefully in the long term to ensure our long-term prosperity and security.”

I suppose there’s an element of literal truth to the far-right senator’s argument: it is, in fact, better to be a farmer with a failing business than it is to be a soldier who’s died in the line of duty.

But I’m not sure Cotton has fully thought this one through. Is the Arkansas Republican really prepared to tell a struggling family, “Sure, your farm may be failing as a result of Trump’s trade agenda, but your sacrifice is pretty minimal compared to Americans who’ve died on the battlefield”?

Wouldn’t it be easier to simply encourage the administration to pursue a different course?

I am intrigued by the possibility, though, of how to apply Cotton’s argument to other political debates. Some millionaires may howl in response to proposals for higher taxes on the wealthy, for example, but as Arkansas’ junior senator has argued, “There will be some sacrifices on the part of Americans, I grant you that, but I also would say that sacrifice is pretty minimal compared to the sacrifices that our soldiers make overseas that are fallen heroes that are laid to rest in Arlington make.”

Some business owners may balk at an increase in the minimum wage, but as Tom Cotton reminds us, “There will be some sacrifices on the part of Americans, I grant you that, but I also would say that sacrifice is pretty minimal compared to the sacrifices that our soldiers make overseas that are fallen heroes that are laid to rest in Arlington make.”

Some may resist systemic efforts to combat the climate crisis, but they can take solace in the words of Tom Cotton: “There will be some sacrifices on the part of Americans, I grant you that, but I also would say that sacrifice is pretty minimal compared to the sacrifices that our soldiers make overseas that are fallen heroes that are laid to rest in Arlington make.”