No ‘I feel your pain’ answer from Cot­ton

The Saline Courier - - OPINION -

We don’t do pol­i­tics like we used to. Ex­hibit A would be Pres­i­dent Trump and his trade poli­cies. Ex­hibit B would be Ar­kan­sas’ ju­nior se­na­tor.

Trump won the pres­i­dency as a Repub­li­can de­spite coun­ter­act­ing some long-held Repub­li­can be­liefs, par­tic­u­larly about trade.

Repub­li­can of­fice­hold­ers have been in­ter­na­tion­al­ist free-traders, even while many of their vot­ers weren’t. In many cases, those vot­ers stuck with Repub­li­cans, or started vot­ing for them, be­cause of cul­tural is­sues like guns and abor­tion.

But now Trump has come along and spo­ken to their eco­nomic anx­i­eties as well – by ini­ti­at­ing a trade war with China, and by making il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion his pri­mary is­sue.

The trade war has alarmed many Repub­li­cans and peo­ple who sup­port Repub­li­cans.

Mean­while, Trump has got­ten no credit from Democrats even though his trade poli­cies ar­guably ad­dress some of their con­cerns.

True, the tar­iffs will in­crease the prices lower-class and mid­dle-class Amer­i­cans pay for ba­sic goods.

But the global trad­ing sys­tem also has shrunk Amer­i­can man­u­fac­tur­ing and driven a stake through the heart of la­bor unions, once a pow­er­ful Demo­cratic con­stituency. China is an au­thor­i­tar­ian regime that steals Amer­i­can in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty, doesn’t play fair, and doesn’t re­spect hu­man rights, which should con­cern us all.

There’s even an en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist case to be made for in­creas­ing tar­iffs if they ac­tu­ally bring some man­u­fac­tur­ing home, which they may not do much. I trust our fac­to­ries to be cleaner than theirs.

If Pres­i­dent Obama had raised tar­iffs on Chi­nese goods, it would have been cheered by some of the same Democrats who so bit­terly op­pose Trump. The Repub­li­cans now grudg­ingly sup­port­ing Trump, mean­while, would be aghast.

But that’s pol­i­tics th­ese days. So now let’s talk about Sen. Tom Cot­ton, who fully sup­ports Trump’s trade war.

This is de­spite the fact that the Amer­i­cans most hurt so far are some of Cot­ton’s con­stituents – par­tic­u­larly soy­bean farm­ers. Ar­kan­sas Farm Bu­reau Pres­i­dent Randy Veach told the Ar­kan­sas Democratga­zette that Ar­kan­sas agri­cul­ture is fac­ing a “slow dis­as­ter” with soy­beans down “$2 be­low the breakeven price.”

The trade war with China isn’t the only rea­son for this; the weather also has been a fac­tor. But it’s a big rea­son.

Pow­er­ful groups like the Farm Bu­reau and the Cham­ber of Com­merce are firmly op­posed to the tar­iffs. Wal­mart cer­tainly doesn’t want to see a trade war, which will dis­rupt its pro­cesses and raise prices.

If pol­i­tics were prac­ticed the way it used to be, an Ar­kan­sas se­na­tor would hes­i­tate to op­pose th­ese en­ti­ties. A for­mer pres­i­dent from Ar­kan­sas would say he feels the farm­ers’ pain.

But pol­i­tics isn’t re­ally prac­ticed that way th­ese days. It’s now more about tribal pol­i­tics than any­thing else. In Ar­kan­sas, Cot­ton is on the right tribe – the Repub­li­can one. He’s of­fended no one in his party with his stances on cul­tural is­sues. He faces no real threat in his re­elec­tion cam­paign. The po­lit­i­cal dam­age will be lim­ited.

A for­mer sol­dier, Cot­ton sees the trade war as he might have seen a mil­i­tary mis­sion. There’s an ob­jec­tive to be reached, and there might be some re­gret­table but ac­cept­able losses along the way.

That’s how he ex­plained it dur­ing an ap­pear­ance Mon­day on “CBS This Morn­ing” to pro­mote his book, “Sa­cred Duty: A Sol­dier’s Tour at Ar­ling­ton Na­tional Ceme­tery.”

The book is about the Army’s

Old Guard, where he once served. He was paid more than a $500,000 ad­vance for the book, ac­cord­ing to Politico, which is a lot, but it’s sell­ing well. Trump gave it a ma­jor plug on Twit­ter Tues­day.

Asked about the tar­iffs, Cot­ton said, “I think they’ll ul­ti­mately hurt the Chi­nese more than they will Amer­i­cans, in part be­cause Chi­nese com­pa­nies and their govern­ment have been cheat­ing the United States for so long. There will be some sac­ri­fice 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 our fallen he­roes who are laid to rest in Ar­ling­ton make that I write about in ‘Sa­cred Duty.’”

That’s a pretty dis­pas­sion­ate answer. It’s cer­tainly not “I feel your pain.” And it’s not what some pow­er­ful groups in Ar­kan­sas want to hear.

But I’m not sure pow­er­ful groups are as pow­er­ful as they once were. We don’t do pol­i­tics like we used to. •••

Steve Brawner is a syn­di­cated colum­nist in Ar­kan­sas and for­mer man­ag­ing ed­i­tor of The Saline Courier. Email him at brawn­er­[email protected] Fol­low him on Twit­ter @steve­brawner.


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