What happens when the promise of political change meets the rocky cliffs of reality?
Every president, every Congress, every legislature must weather this shift. History shows that all suffer at least some political fallout in the process. There’s a reason incumbent parties tend to lose seats in the midterms, and that presidential approval (usually) starts high but falls.
Enter President Trump. No president in modern memory began an administration with such wild promises. Reversing globalization. Increasing the industrial workforce despite widespread automation of blue collar fields. Building pipelines and walls across the landscape like so many tinker toys.
Add to that a Republican Congress that, with Trump, seeks a historic roll back to the federal workforce and a complex downsizing of federal health care reforms. Huge tax cuts for top earners. Defense and homeland security spending increases.
For Trump and his supporters, all of this seems possible. Reality dictates that this is only true if the United States racks up previously unthinkable budget deficits.
But this blog concerns itself with Northern Minnesota, and Trump’s supporters here fixate on a couple big promises that were never specifically outlined except by inference.
One, that massive infrastructure spending would use American-made steel.
Two, that Trump would untether the permits for controversial nonferrous mining projects near Ely and Hoyt Lakes.
We’re already seeing cracks in the American steel promise. Cracks, I might add, that have vexed presidents and policy makers before.
The idea of using American steel in American projects seems like a no brainer. It keeps our domestic steel industry going, and secures American jobs — including thousands here in Northern Minnesota.
But as I’ve written before, American manufacturers, in a bid to compete on price, have long adopted foreign materials into their American products. The Keystone XL Pipeline, for instance, had already encumbered foreign steel for its project, as had the Dakota Access Pipeline, which is mostly already in the ground. Trump himself, as a businessman, used foreign steel all the time.
This has attracted valid criticism of Trump’s executive order demanding American steel for these projects. They’re getting around it either by saying that the materials were received prior to the order, or that by incorporating materials into components in America makes them American.
That’s a tricky workaround. In port cities across America, shipping and receiving firms invest heavily in equipment to offload bigger and bigger shipments of foreign steel and other commodities. They even tout how good the projects are for *their* economies. Just two weeks ago, a New Jersey port bragged about receiving its first shipment of Russian steel.
Eventually, the narrow thinking of each parochial concern will collide with that of the others. So who has more power? Manufacturers? Or miners? I know which one employs more people (aka “voters”). Further, China isn’t going anywhere. These are the long range concerns for the Iron Range.
Meanwhile, Iron Rangers wait to see what the Trump Administration means to nonferrous mining proposals. Though likely coincidental, the fact that Ivanka Trump and her husband, Trump advisor Jared Kushner, rent their house from the owner of Twin Metals drew much attention last week. Trump had already signaled his support for projects like Twin Metals. But the rental story shows the complex yet cozy relationships between the world of development capital and the Trump administration. Even without trying, they sleep under bedcovers knit from conflicts of interest.
What will it mean for the Iron Ranger looking for work? Or the communities struggling to balance their boom and bust economies? Well, it’d be fair to say that people here remain hopeful about what might transpire, but that threads of nervousness underly those hopes.
We’ve heard these promises before.