When nothing is something

EDITORIAL

BY ART CULLEN

Sen. Chuck Grassley’s press aide would like us to publish a correction: In our July 18 editorial we said that Grassley “said nothing” in the face of the Trump Administration’s reckless trade war that has soybean prices tanking, Iowa manufacturing hurting and a lot of Iowans wondering why our senior senator is in lockstep with this corrupt and compromised President. Well, Grassley has said something. To wit:

“President Trump missed an opportunity to publicly press President Putin on whether he would agree to extradite the defendants to the United States to answer the allegations in court,” Grassley said in one statement that the flak sent to us, this one vaccuous like every other. It was not about trade. It was about Russian meddling in our elections. Still, it says nothing. Oh, gosh, an opportunity lost.

Grassley, Sen. Joni Ernst, the major commodity groups and Republican members of Congress have issued statements of concern over declining ag export prospects and thus prices. They hung back when Trump called the leader of Canada, our closest ally and trading partner, patently dishonest. They haven’t done anything about tariffs on newsprint that are choking US newspapers — hey, there went our pittance of a tax cut. They haven’t done or really said anything about tariffs on steel that are hurting Iowa manufacturers today. What do they have to say about John Deere sales in Europe or Mexico? Where do they lay the blame for layoffs in the Quad Cities? Not on Trump. They are afraid of him. As we said July 18, they are cowards in the face of corruption.

Lost opportunity. Here is a missed opportunity: When Trump slapped tariffs on China and Canada and Mexico and Europe, Judiciary Chairman Grassley could have said something. Something big. Such as: “You are not getting a Supreme Court justice through the Senate until you straighten out this soybean and pork tariff problem with China.” And: “You are not getting a dime for your stupid wall along the Mexican border until you publicly apologize for insulting the leader of Canada, one of Iowa’s three most important export markets (the other two being China and Mexico).”

That would get Trump’s attention, and ours.

Leaders have the courage to lead for their state. Chuck Grassley cowers at the challenge, afraid that the Trump base will turn on him. They are turning fast. The Democratic candidate for state agriculture secretary, Tim Gannon, is raising more funds than the incumbent Republican, Mike Naig. That’s almost unheard of. Rep. Rod Blum is in big trouble in manufacturing and export sensitive Dubuque, which is why President Trump is visiting on Thursday. Vice President Pence merely highlighted the trade fiasco during his recent Midwest emergency swing. Trump will only amplify the problem for all Iowans, and even get his basest of supporters thinking twice about supporting the Republican ticket in the fall.

It’s bad that Trump likes to play footsie with a murderous dictator like Putin. We believe that investigators will find that Trump is deeply intertwined with and beholden to Russian oligarchs (like he is beholden to the Chinese after accepting a $500 million loan for a hotel project). It is not Russia that will be his undoing. Our farmer friends are not following the news from Helsinki like they are the markets on the Chicago Board of Trade. Since Trump has become President, ag export prospects have only declined along with prices. Iowa farmers will lose money again this year, the sixth in a row. They voted for change, alright, but not the sort that drives soy down a buck a bushel or our pork out of Mexico. The workers at John Deere in Waterloo did not vote for Trump so he would whack them with steel tariffs.

That’s why Grassley and Ernst don’t quite know what to say or do. They fear offending Trump yet they are hearing plenty from farmers and people who build grain wagons. They care a lot more about steel prices in Davenport than they do Mexicans hopping off a freight train. And, in religious northeast Iowa, the President’s personal behavior is at least off-putting. So they dither and issue statements of pablum, and claim that they are doing something, saying something that you can chew, when it all is puffery and cotton candy.

They can’t turn fast enough. The trade war already has caught up to Iowa. The layoffs are happening. No more Harleys for Europe. Let that comment pass. Lose billions in soy sales — hopes and prayers and blown kisses to the folks back home. China orders its farmers to plant an extra million acres to soy, and Brazil rips up some more rain forest for the legume. Stay patriotic, we’ll take care of you, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue assures us. We just don’t know how. And Grassley isn’t saying. They can barely pass a farm bill in Congress. How are they going to bail out Cargill and ADM, Tyson and the (Chinese-owned) Smithfield Pork, and, as an after-thought, that young guy who is losing a dollar per bushel at these prices and paying $250 cash rent? Yes, tell him to hang tough and be a patriot for a level-playing field if you can hang around long enough to plant next spring. We’ll figure out something with President Trump. You can put that in the bank. Or, the senators can do nothing and hope it passes and that nobody notices, or you can say it’s a Mexican’s fault, or you can spin this thing so that people think the senators are taking on crazy and corrupt Trump. Too late.