Patriotism and Trump's Tariffs

There is much hay to be made for Democratic candidates in rural areas. President Trump's tariffs are costing a key Republican constituency -- farmers -- literally billions of dollars. In those heavily Republican areas, it's a solid campaign pitch, and there's evidence it's working. Best to keep in mind, however, that it carries a risk.

National media are interviewing farmers and coming away amazed at how they're sticking with the President. 

“We understand the president’s goal to make sure that China becomes a better and more fair trading partner," one farmer told CNBC. "We understand that they have not treated American business and American trading partners very well over the past several decades. And we admire the president for trying to make sure that that is corrected."

The risk Progressives take in attacking the tariffs is assuming farmers sticking with Trump are dupes, so blinded by whatever pathology caused them to support Trump in the first place that they can't even understand what's best for them. It's the same, what's-wrong-with-Kansas  feeling we got when people who'd received their first health insurance through the ACA voted for a candidate who vowed to take it away. 

Progressives who scorn the apparent contradiction of farmers continuing to support a President who's damaging them financially ignore something important, something that is, in fact, at the core of most rural districts' identity: patriotism. We should not assume that their willingness to sacrifice today for a better tomorrow is caused by stupidity or racism or blind partisanship. Instead, we should respect and honor the noble underlying motivation of many who think their best interests involve hanging in there with the President.

“President Trump is a businessman,” an Arkansas soybean farmer told Bloomberg. "He’s making a high-risk business decision that probably should have been made a long time ago.”

Most rural districts have long Progressive traditions. Progressivism took hold in the high plains when wheat farmers rebelled against the railroad monopolies and the New Deal saved literally millions of family farms. (We know of a diner in Iowa where a faded, wrinkled picture of FDR still hangs above the cash register.) We won't bring those districts back into the Progressive fold by insulting their residents. 

The assumption that people in rural communities are stupid or bigoted or blinded by partisanship is, not surprisingly, offensive to people in those areas. We need to set aside our scorn to fall back on understanding and empathy -- things we Progressives hold to be core to our identities.

We should argue passionately our beliefs. But we should do so without insulting the people whose votes we seek.


The People's House Project