There was a fascinating piece in Politico yesterday on the country’s agricultural sector, which has struggled for a while, but which saw an exciting new opportunity take shape last year. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (or TPP) was seen as “a lifeline,” offering Rural America a chance to reach millions of new, international customers.
Donald Trump, a fierce opponent of the trade pact for reasons he’s never been able to explain in any detail, was quick to close that window. Now America’s rural exporters are watching other countries reach deals on their own, leaving the United States on the sidelines. China, in particular, may not have been a part of the proposed TPP, but it stands to benefit greatly: as the Politico piece explained, China “smells blood in the water,” and is “moving quickly to assert itself, rather than the United States, as the region’s trade arbiter.”
When the Republican president killed the TPP soon after taking office, he assured Americans he’d replace it with a “beautiful” alternative. Nearly eight months later, the Trump administration still has no meaningful trade policy or strategy.
As a matter of domestic politics, there is an unfortunate irony to this: many of the areas that stand to suffer the most as a result of Trump’s approach also backed Trump – usually by large margins – in last year’s election. The Politico piece highlighted some folks in Rural America who hoped the Republican president would adopt a more constructive posture.
[Stu Swanson, who farms corn, soybeans and pork] acknowledged his own household is split over its support for Trump…. Swanson was less sure where Trump drew the line between campaign-trail bluster and real action. There was, he thought, far too much at stake for his rural base to make any rash decisions. Then, three days after he was sworn in, Trump made good on a promise to drop U.S. support for TPP.
“I was disappointed Trump kind of broadly wiped out TPP before there was even a discussion,” Swanson said.
Jerry Maier, a Wright County corn and soybean farmer who supported Trump, said he feels the same way.
“If you’re at the table and nothing happens, that’s one thing. But if you aren’t even at that table, that’s frustrating,” he said.
If you think this is reminiscent of the health care debate, we’re on the same page.
Not long after the election, many Trump voters scrambled to get health care benefits under “Obamacare,” which they desperately hoped the new White House wouldn’t repeal – even after Trump spent a year and a half on the campaign trail telling voters that if he were elected, he’d make destroying the Affordable Care Act one of his top priorities.
I won’t soon forget the quote from one voter, whose daughter relies on the ACA, who helped elect Trump anyway. “I think he was bluffing,” she said.
Trump said he’d kill the TPP, but he didn’t have a credible alternative, just as he said he’d kill the Affordable Care Act, though he didn’t have a credible alternative to that, either. Voters in red states had to hope that maybe Trump wouldn’t follow through on his own campaign platform, which turned out to be wrong: “On his first full day in office, Trump signed an executive order withdrawing from the TPP.”
For some Americans, it’s a painful “elections have consequences” moment.