The case against Ernst

EDITORIAL

BY ART CULLEN

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, had better come up with a better act than hand-wringing over President Trump’s escalating trade wars with China, Mexico and Canada. She went to Washington promising to make them squeal, but the ones squealing are the farmers who were suckered into voting for Trump and Ernst. The junior senator bleats in chorus with Sen. Chuck Grassley about trade over tariffs. Yet every time they whine the President turns up the flames — threatening to hike tariffs on Mexican goods by 25% unless Mexico does something about immigration. (What that something is nobody but Trump knows.)

First, about those tariffs.

Congress, Mexico and Canada have yet to enact a new free trade agreement because Trump has refused to drop tariffs against our two biggest ag trading partners. Trump makes the politics even more complicated by ratcheting up the trade war with Mexico, our largest corn and pork customer. This comes as farmers are under water literally and figuratively — flooded fields have yet to be planted, and most farmers expect to lose money again this year because of commodity markets tanked by tariffs all around.

The Republican Party used to be the free-trade party. Eliminate barriers to trade and allow us the freedom to farm, the GOP ag gospel used to be. We will out-compete any farmers in the world, they told themselves (not fully accounting for the determination of Brazil and Argentina to destroy more ecosytems to out-compete us).

Grassley can afford to sit tight with Trump. Ernst might not be able to, faced with a re-election campaign in November 2020.

Trade wars are damping profits at John Deere, Iowa’s largest manufacturing employer. This is not playing well in Waterloo. Chuck Grassley used to work there at night. He should know. Men who shower after work are thinking pretty hard about an administration that is selling their jobs down the river. That is precisely why Abby Finkenauer beat incumbent Rep. Rod Blum, R-Dubuque, in the midterm elections. She ran almost entirely as the daughter of a blue-collar family.

Second, about those immigrants.

Three-fourths of Iowa favors a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Nearly everyone wants Dreamers to become citizens. We have been horrified to hear refugee children sobbing in cages, not knowing what happened to their mothers, while their custodial agents at the border make fun of them. That is not the sort of border security people had in mind. It is not acceptable among Iowans. Yet Grassley said late last week that he agrees entirely with Trump about immigration, presumably including family separation and keeping kids in zoo cages. Ernst has done nothing to separate herself from the administration’s un-Christian, inhumane and illegal handling of asylum seekers.

Conflating immigration with trade is a lose-lose.

We lose pork sales into our biggest market. We lock down the border and deny ourselves a source of labor in raising and processing that livestock. We have relied on Latino immigrants in our agricultural industry since the border was drawn in 1854. Those immigrants helped feed the nation during the Bracero program that invited Latinos into the USA during World War II. But we keep changing the rules depending on the sentiment of the day. One day we take down the fence, the next day we want to brick it. The helpless poor who are buffeted by the system are not our concern. But they will become our concern when you cannot milk the cows or feed the laying hens or pick the lettuce. Tyson is not exploiting immigrant labor. It offers a $2,000 signing bonus plus $16 per hour to start in Storm Lake, with a regular production wage of $18. That is not slavery, but many Anglos think it is and turn up their noses in favor of some other job at the same wage in an office. In the Twin Cities you can’t find a white forklift driver for $25 per hour.

These are the realities, historical and contemporary. America is an immigrant nation that trades with the world.

Ernst will have to defend the idea that we are a nation that only wants people of “merit” to enter, as if people without engineering degrees are without “merit.” She has done absolutely nothing effective to stop the President from his disastrous trade wars (which can lead to shooting wars, if you recall World War II). It remains to be seen if the Democrats can articulate that argument against her. Someone must make the case that while Donald Trump burned our economy, Joni Ernst fiddled as Chuck Grassley and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called the tune. She will not stand up for Iowa farmers or workers. She is a lap poodle for power who will probably win unless these trade wars become the issue.

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