Red State Unrest

[ Posted Tuesday, April 3rd, 2018 – 17:26 UTC ]

Red-state teachers are currently in open revolt against the failure of conservatives to deliver on their economic promises. Republicans in these states embraced tax cuts because (as they told everyone) this would unleash the economy and prosperity for all would soon follow. What happened instead is the same thing that always happens when supply-side economics is attempted -- falling tax revenues which force massive cuts to what were formerly untouchable parts of the budget. Like education. But the teachers are tired of taking it on the chin and are now fighting back. They're sick of being paid a pittance (compared to teachers in other states), they're sick of the lack of resources for their students (books and classrooms that are falling apart), and they're sick of dodges like four-day weeks which desperately try to paper over the hard, cold fact that if you cut taxes on a massive scale, you will have less money to spend to educate your children.

So far, the teachers seem to be winning, or at least making a lot of forward progress. They have a built-in secondary advantage that other workers don't, which is something so obvious most don't even think about it: when teachers strike, students stay home. When students stay home, they disrupt the working lives of their parents, especially for those with children too young to be left unsupervised. This means that people from every part of the economy are very personally affected by a teachers' strike in a way they wouldn't be if any other industry stopped working. Parents are everywhere, in other words.

But while it is heartening to see teachers winning as they push back against conservative economic orthodoxy, there's a more interesting situation beginning to develop in red states (and even in red areas within blue states). Because farmers are also about to take it on the chin. And how they react may influence national politics much more than some red-state teachers getting a long-overdue raise.

President Donald Trump has fired the opening salvos in a trade war, mostly directed at China. China is now firing back. They just announced tariffs on over a hundred individual American products. This is in response to Trump's tariffs on steel and aluminum, so there are a few token things (like scrap metal sent to China to be recycled) included in the list, but mostly it is directed squarely at Trump country. New tariffs on pork products and fruits and nuts are all going to impact farm regions. What's worth pointing out, too, is that this is just China's reaction to Trump's initial tariffs -- Trump's second round was a lot bigger, and China was the direct target. China still hasn't yet announced what tariffs it will levy in response to the second round of Trump's tariffs, but they will be forthcoming soon. It's not hard to guess what will account for the lion's share of these tariffs -- all you have to do is look at what American products make the most money in China. Topping the list are aircraft and soybeans. Now, aircraft manufacturing is a fairly specific industry that only affects a few areas (Washington state, where Boeing is headquartered, for instance), but soy is a major crop grown across much of the Midwest and Plains states. If we continue along the path Trump's trade war is on, then the hardest-hit Americans will be pig farmers and soybean growers. Or, to put it in political context, areas which voted overwhelmingly for Trump.

How much of a political problem this becomes for the president (and for Republicans at large) will likely be determined by how long the trade war lasts. Will this all be extremely temporary or even prove to be just brinksmanship? Well, Trump already has one win in this column, as he browbeat South Korea into a new trade agreement with the leverage of the steel and aluminum tariffs. But China might not be so quick to acquiesce. Their economy (and their form of government) is much more insulated from the popular opinion of its own citizens, which gives Beijing a freer hand to play macroeconomic hardball.

If the tariffs on both sides only last a few months and a new China-U.S. trade agreement is settled before harvest season, then the impacts will be minimized for the president's party. If Trump can boast about a big "America First!" win over China right before the election, then he might maintain his support from the farmers.

But if it drags on for month after month, with no end in sight, then those farmers are going to be getting more than a little bit worried about their bottom line, and some will even be wondering how they're going to make it through next year. Cheering Trump on from the sidelines is one thing, but being used as pawns to be sacrificed to further Trump's trade policy is another. Farm income was already projected to be down this year, and that was before Trump even started talking about tariffs.

Downturns in a farm economy are particularly brutal. Anyone not old enough to remember the 1980s (quick quiz: what was "Farm Aid"?) may not have a clear picture of this, but downturns in farm income can (and do) devastate small towns and even medium-sized cities in the rural heartland. If farmers have no money, then the farm equipment dealer has to shutter his doors. If farmers have no money, then farm-area downtowns dry up and disappear, one boarded-up storefront at a time. Rural economies are very dependent on how farmers are doing, to state the obvious.

That's all fairly pessimistic, or at the very least premature. The first round of Chinese tariffs hasn't even taken effect yet. Perhaps the disruptions won't last too long. Perhaps both Trump and China will back off at some point. And perhaps the economic hit won't be so bad for the farmers. Perhaps.

But if the Trump trade war lasts into the summer and beyond, it is going to be bad news for Republicans, especially those in the House. GOP representatives from farm regions will have a tough political choice to make -- either support Trump's trade war, or buck the leader of their own party. Both carry political risks for them. This may not be as big an issue in the Senate, since statewide races draw on a wider pool of voters (across all parts of the state's economy). But it could be crucial in certain House races -- even those within blue states. For instance, California has a lot of almond growers in its Central Valley, and these usually-red House districts were already being targeted by Democrats this year. The new Chinese almond tariff might be crucial in flipping these districts to Democratic hands in November. And that's just one tariff out of a list of over a hundred.

If Trump's trade war drags on for months, then it's going to be increasingly obvious that the people getting hurt by it the most are Trump's most loyal voters. Getting hit in the pocketbook is going to test his support like no other issue has. If a soybean tariff is added, then this will affect farmers across a lot of very red states. If their own GOP representatives aren't fighting back against the tariffs (and Trump's trade war in general), then opportunities will open up for Democrats who swear to fight hard against the Trump trade war. It could expand the map for Democrats in dramatic fashion, in other words.

After the 2016 election, coastal media elites realized they had been missing a big story in what they sneeringly call "flyover country." In reaction, they sent out some intrepid reporters on "safaris" (how condescending!) to red states, to find out what Trump voters were really thinking. This didn't last long, although you still will see occasional reports "from the heartland" where some big-city reporter travels to the hinterlands to sit down at a local diner for a few hours and shoot the breeze with the locals.

The red-state teachers have sparked off another wave of this phenomenon. We're now getting nightly national media reports from places like Oklahoma and Kentucky, which is rare indeed. But my advice to the news reporters covering these strikes would be to stick around for a while, even after the teachers have gone back to their classrooms. Drive around to some counties that have fewer people living in them than the New York City or Washington, D.C. suburb these reporters live in. Talk to some farmers about Trump's trade war. Find out what they think. Because, come November, it could be another big political story that otherwise would have been ignored.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


10 Comments on “Red State Unrest”

  1. [1] 
    rjrap wrote:

    Don't get your hopes up regarding red states turning blue because of China's tariffs on pork and soybeans. The top 3 states for soybean production are Il, IA & MN. Coincidentally the top 3 pork producing states are the same.

    IL and MN are already blue states.

    The majority of the population in what are consider rural states are in urban areas. Urban is usually more blue than rural. IL has 89% of its population in urban area. IA is 64% urban. MN is 73% urban. The remainder of the top 10 soybean and pork producing states follow the same percentage trends. I'm not sure there is enough of a rural vote to turn red states blue.

  2. [2] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    there's a lot about education that both the right AND the left don't get. consequently they both have been making different poor decisions for different reasons, while teachers and students have felt the squeeze from both sides.

  3. [3] 
    Kick wrote:

    This issue will be just one of many you can add to the list of Trump's broken promises:

    * Mexico is not going to pay for any "wall."

    * Honestly, there isn't going to be any "wall" that isn't already there, and anyway we call it a fence.

    * The swamp hasn't been drained; it's been filled with sharks and alligators.

    * Trump hasn't changed corruption in Washington, DC. In fact, he's the most corrupt POTUS we've had in a long time.

    * Trump didn't have a health care plan for "everyone." Who knew health care was so difficult? <--- Everyone with a pulse except BLOTUS.

    * There isn't going to be a huge tax cut for the middle class, but Trump did away with the AMT and saved himself millions.

    * The puny tax cut you did get will be eaten by inflation and trade wars.

    * Trump didn't want to become POTUS to help anyone except Trump.

    I've said it before, and I'll say it again: There will come a day when many of the Trump cultists will finally come to the realization they were conned by a pathological lying orange pus bucket. <--- thanks for that one, Paula. :)

  4. [4] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    Excellent advice to the reporters covering the teacher's strikes.

    In fact, more journalists should explore areas of thought outside of the Big Money Democrat or Big Money Republican parameters that they constantly and drearily report on.

    They should talk to some "farmers" planting seeds that could grow into a crop of representatives that actually represent ordinary citizens. They should find out whether the ideas the "farmers" are hatching could be worth shedding some sunlight on and providing some nourishment.

    Because come November, it could not only be another big political story that otherwise would have been ignored, it could be another blown opportunity to begin to put an end to the Big Money red state- blue state scam that is destroying our country.

  5. [5] 
    neilm wrote:

    "Trade wars are easy to win."

    Especially when one side has an election in November and the other doesn't hold elections.

    Trump is too stupid to see what is coming down the road, but all the Chinese need to do is make vaguely conciliatory remarks while insisting they have the right to tit-for-tat tariffs, then wait six months.

  6. [6] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    Whoda ever thunk that the day would come when C.R.S. and neilm would find themselves in agreement on something???

    Now the Asshole-in-Chief cam claim to be the 'great uniter', and not be lying for perhaps the first time in his life!!

  7. [7] 
    neilm wrote:

    Whoda ever thunk that the day would come when C.R.S. and neilm would find themselves in agreement on something???

    I think we probably agree on 90% or more of things. The problem at the moment is we are defining our bubbles by the 10% or less we disagree on.

    If you are ever in the Bay Area I'd always buy you a beer at my local watering house.

  8. [8] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    "I think we probably agree on 90% or more . . ."

    I fear that's wildly optimistic. You're letting our agreement(s) on political facts outweigh our differences on political philosophy.

    If CW ever wanders back into the realm of economics as it translates into Lib vs Con political philosophy, I fear you'll be forced to promptly rescind the offer of the free beer.

  9. [9] 
    Kick wrote:


    Perhaps CRS has never heard of a "beer summit." Lots of things have been courteously discussed and/or successfully negotiated over a variety of various assorted alcoholic beverages.

    Seriously: Why in the world would anyone ever have to rescind an offer for a damn beer? *LOL*

  10. [10] 
    ListenWhenYouHear wrote:

    The problem is that Trump doesn’t make decisions based on their long term effects — he is only interested in their immediate impact on his popularity. Honestly, his level of megalomaniacal narcissism has to be the stuff of legends for most medical journals.

    He tries to sound like a tough guy bragging about how tough he has been on Russia and Putin responds by testing missiles right off the coast of the Baltic leaders that were with Trump at the press conference. Will Trump respond to Putin’s actions? Of course not, bullies are cowards; and Trump is the biggest bully this country has ever seen! He still wants us to be BFF’s with Russia — mainly because he hopes that’ll soften the country’s reaction to learning how indebted to Russia Trump really is.

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