This week, Congress begins the first round of confirmation hearings for President-elect Trump’s Cabinet. After a bombastic Presidential campaign that was often short on policy specifics, the Cabinet selections provide an initial glimpse into how first-time public officeholder Trump will actually govern. While the role of rural America in electing Trump has been well documented, the first impression from the proposed Cabinet is troubling and is raising red flags for how the Trump Administration will respond to key rural issues. It is notable that a position very important to rural America, the Secretary of Agriculture, remains vacant and appears at the bottom of the list of priority positions.
In too many rural communities, natural resources and profits are extracted for the gain of outside—often multinational—investors at the expense of the people that live there. The Rural Compact, an effort we contributed to in 2008 as part of the National Rural Assembly, outlines a set of values and priorities for rural America and continues to be relevant today in assessing Trump’s appointees. The Compact states:
Rural America is more than the land…When rural communities succeed, the nation does better, and cities and suburbs have more resources on which to build. Conversely, when rural communities falter, it drains the nation’s prosperity and limits what we can accomplish together.
As Trump’s appointees make their way through the confirmation process, we’ll be looking at how the proposed Cabinet addresses four key challenges particularly relevant to rural communities:
The past few months have been as much about looking ahead as they have been about coping with life in post-election America, a space that feels post-apocalyptic for many. Americans and people across the globe have been processing their emotions, trying to understand a vote that came as a surprise to many, and in some cases pausing to reflect on rural realities seemingly ignored by the Democratic Party. Voting patterns in the election brought to the surface just how little understanding there is between rural and urban Americans. What can we learn from this? If we stop oversimplifying the Presidential vote—and the voters themselves—we may recognize that people are complex, emotional beings. Many are recognizing the need for Americans to increase our understanding of others and pondering just how to do that. Here are a few good starting points.
Today, politics have become more about identity than policy. This was evidenced in Trump’s campaign, which rarely detailed his stance on policies, but never failed to send a loud, clear, and indeed, successful message of inclusion to rural Americans who felt misunderstood and ignored. The sorting and categorization of communities by race, gender, education levels and shared ideologies is a practice further entrenched by this election, one in which many voters used their vote as one of protest.
As evidenced in the 2016 election, the long-standing urban-rural voting gap is widening. At least part of this gap comes from the fact that rural communities often have different cultural, economic, and community concerns than urban communities. Climate change specifically will impact rural and urban communities differently, yet many climate solutions and policies focus on urban and suburban perspectives. To address this, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and the Jefferson Center organized a State Convening of rural Minnesotans, state agency representatives, and nonprofit organizations last September in St. Paul. Participants strategized together to improve the effectiveness of state agency program offerings and make them relevant to rural needs and priorities.
The State Convening was the culmination of three Rural Climate Dialogues that took place from 2014-2016 in Morris, Grand Rapids, and Winona, MN. The Rural Climate Dialogues were created to provide a space for rural residents to think critically and plan strategically to address local challenges related to extreme weather and climate change. All three dialogues identified the need to strengthen connections between local efforts and state agencies and programs.
On December 5, the Commodity Futures Trade Commission (CFTC) announced it had voted to propose for the fourth time the position limit rule required by the 2010 Dodd Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Financial Protection Act. A Wall Street lawsuit in 2012 and the time required for CFTC staff to review an avalanche of industry comments delayed finalization of the rule. The CFTC published a fact sheet outlining the main features of the re-proposed 910-page rule and naming the 25 contracts subject to position limits.
There is little doubt that many supporters of the Donald Trump candidacy for President expect President-elect Trump to carry out his promise to deport millions of undocumented immigrants and to keep out more immigrants by building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. (The Center for Migration Studies estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States with about six million from Mexico.)
However, according to a 2014 report commissioned by the American Farm Bureau Federation, about half of all hired farm workers are undocumented immigrants. U.S. industrial-scale animal agriculture and horticulture depend on “the abundant supply of undocumented workers available and their willingness to accept transitory, seasonal, or physically arduous work that pays introductory wages that are unattractive to the U.S.-born.” According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture survey of farm labor, non-supervisory wages for all farm workers reported in 2012 averaged $10.80 an hour. How will the Trump administration both protect the agribusiness migrant labor dependent business model and fulfill the campaign promise to protect American jobs by deporting the undocumented?
Congress has gone on recess without holding a vote to approve the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement during the last days of the Obama administration. But on the day after the U.S. elections, Inside U.S. Trade reported that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reminded journalists that President Donald Trump will still be able to present new trade agreements for an expedited, no amendments vote under the 2015 Trade Promotion Authority Act. Free trade proponents are already fretting that Trump’s notion of a better trade deal would mean “protectionism.” But what does that term really mean?
Conventionally, “protectionism” describes government actions and policies, such as taxes on imports, i.e. tariffs, and import quotas to restrain international trade and to protect local economic development. “Free” trade is said to be the absence of such actions and policies, to maximize international trade and, in theory, produce benefits for all consumers and most workers.
However, as economist Dean Baker has written, “the TPP goes far in the opposite direction [from free trade], increasing protectionism in the form of stronger and longer patent and copyright protection.” He estimates that intellectual property protectionism increases prices of prescription drugs, software and other protected products by an equivalent to a several thousand fold increase in tariffs.
Last week in Berlin, Arbeitsgemeinschaft bäuerliche Landwirtschaft e.V. (ABL), Meine Landwirtschaft (a broad platform of over 50 organizations demanding an alternative agricultural system), PowerShift and Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) Europe launched the German version of our report Selling Off the Farm to highlight why trade agreements such as the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA, between Canada and the EU) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP, between the U.S. and EU) will be disastrous for European agriculture. Given that German farmers are struggling in one of Europe’s biggest farm crises, a rise in imports from North American “factory” farms, lax food safety rules and greater corporate control will make an agriculture deal in CETA and TTIP very costly and perhaps the last straw for European family farms.
Our tour across Europe on Selling Off the Farm Corporate Meat’s Takeover Through TTIP and its links to the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) launched on November 29 at the European Parliament. IATP’s Senior Advisor, Sharon Treat, Waldemar Fortuna from the Polish organization, IGO and I met with several members of the European Parliament (MEPs), including coordinators of different political parties that will decide CETAs fate in early February.
In the last two years, there has been an unprecedented awakening by ordinary citizens across Europe about the damage that free trade agreements do to policy making in the public interest. People have begun to understand that treaties, such as CETA and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), give transnational corporations even more power to expand and consolidate than they already possess. Many citizens have begun to challenge key elements of these agreements—such as the provisions that allow these corporations to sue governments for enacting public policies that might dampen their profits.
In country star Jason Aldean’s song Fly over States, he overhears first class passengers on a flight from New York to LA, looking down on the countryside and wondering, “who’d want to live down there, in the middle of nowhere.” Aldean then flips the dismissive line into a proud anthem about the middle of the country. Like the song, Donald Trump flipped the predictions of the professional political class and rode a wave of support from many people who felt over-looked in those fly over states all the way to the Presidency.
The power of the so-called fly over states in the election is impossible to ignore. The electoral maps tell the story. A swath of red, often mostly rural, states in the middle and south of the country, bookended by blue states on the coasts. Even within the few Midwest blue states like Minnesota and Illinois, you can see the stark divide between how urban and rural counties saw the candidates. A look back at the 2012 electoral map tells us this divide is not new, but perhaps wasn’t taken seriously by many Democrats because President Obama won. As the Daily Yonder reports, the long-standing urban-rural voting gap is widening. At least part of this voting gap can be attributed to the Democratic Party’s loss of credibility on a number of core issues that affect the lives of rural communities in those so-called fly over states.
Some dates get burned in our memories. One date that pops up for me each year is November 17, the day the U.S. Congress approved the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) back in 1993. Now, 23 years later, NAFTA is as controversial as ever. After a long battle in which civil society groups from all three countries worked together to draw public attention to the potential negative impacts and, even then, to propose alternative approaches to trade, the pact was narrowly approved in a late night vote.
Just days before the vote, all signs pointed to NAFTA’s defeat. But then, the power of back room deals to build a bridge in one district, to fund a study center in another (as well as assurances of side deals on things like tomato imports or cross-border trucking) overtook the opposition to the trade pact. Public Citizen later published an accounting of those deals, and the fact that many of the promises were never kept. Even before we knew the true cost of NAFTA—both in the questionable use of public funds and in the well-documented economic and environmental devastation that was to come in all three countries—it was a bitter defeat.