Opinion: Weekend events could indicate presidential moves on ag policy

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“This was the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe.”  — White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer

Dave Dickey

Dave Dickey

President Donald Trump’s first weekend in office may not bode well for farmers and federal ag policies over the next four years.

This past weekend in Washington D.C. was the likes of which I have not seen in my lifetime, and perhaps you have the same reaction.

The events of Trump’s inauguration on Friday, Trump’s visit to CIA headquarters, and the Women’s March on Washington on Saturday have revealed a presidency that badly needs an infusion of experienced staffers willing to stand up to the president’s worse instincts.

On Friday, a mostly red crowd showed up to witness and celebrate Trump’s inauguration. Certainly people turned out by the hundreds of thousands to hear the President deliver his message of “America First.”

Trump painted a vision of U.S. protectionism, and perhaps isolationism in declaring:

“From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first, America first. Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our product, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs. Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength.”

Trump’s speech surely played well in red America where good jobs and economic stability are more dreams than reality. But it did nothing to heal the divide and division created by the Trump and Hillary Clinton campaigns, and the belief that forces outside democracy were enough to tilt the election in Trump’s direction. Nor did it acknowledge that a majority of voters do not support Trump’s “America First” vision.

I suspect those reservations and fears were in part responsible for Saturday’s huge women’s march on Washington D.C. (and Los Angeles, and Chicago, and Atlanta, and New York – and oh, did I mention London and Sydney and Berlin, and Paris, and Nairobi and Cape Town?).

It was a historic protest in terms of its size. People are extremely dissatisfied.

Enter media’s coverage of the events as the unfolded.

First, numerous outlets – fairly or unfairly – noted in their reporting that former President Barack Obama‘s 2009 inauguration turnout dwarfed that of Trump, showing pictures suggesting such.

That raised the president’s hackles.  On Saturday, Trump went to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia and used the hallowed wall honoring the 117 CIA operatives who died in serving their country as a backdrop to lash out at the media, his critics and boast of the size of his inauguration.

“…we had a massive field of people. You saw them. Packed. I get up this morning, I turn on one of the networks, and they show an empty field. I say, wait a minute, I made a speech. I looked out, the field was — it looked like a million, million and a half people.”

O.K.  By now you’re asking yourself if you often read my blogs what does this have to do with policy, specifically agriculture policy?

As it turns out lots because of what happened Saturday evening and Sunday morning.

Because. Saturday. Evening. Press Secretary Sean Spicer. Lied. To. The World.  Over. NOTHING OF CONSEQUENCE.

Spicer showed up almost an hour-and-a-half late for his announced 4:30 p.m. conference.  That, in itself, is passive-aggressive behavior given he did not apologize for nor give reason for his lateness.  But then came the subject of choice.

It in no way acknowledged the ongoing women’s marches around the world but instead became a chance to berate the media about two things – a Martin Luther King statue in the Oval office – and the size of Trump’s inauguration.

Spicer’s monologue (he took no questions) was full of exaggeration, misinformation, and deception.

Now let me ask you a very serious question: If Trump is willing to deceive over things easily disproved, what is he willing to do when talking about important issues of consequence for agricultural America like climate change, renewable fuel, clean water, the looming farm bill, trade, and a host of others?

On Sunday morning, Trump confident Kellyanne Conway tried to provide context for Spicer’s remarks on “Meet The Press.” In a heated back and forth with host Chuck Todd, Conway suggested don’t believe what your lying eyes are telling you, believe us:

Alternative facts? What? Is this shades of George Orwell’s 1984?

There are no such thing as alternative facts. Something is either factual or it isn’t. Inauguration weekend did not happen in a vacuum. Conway, let me education you.  Facts are not the same thing as opinions, perspectives, or lies.

And here is the thing about the weekend.  The world was tuned in.

And Spicer and Conway did harm to the Office of the President.

And truth.

And Democracy.

The lyrics of Buffalo Springfield protesting the Vietnam War back 50 years ago echo across the decades and could have just as well been written today:

There’s something happening here
But what it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware

I think it’s time we stop
Children, what’s that sound?
Everybody look – what’s going down?

There’s battle lines being drawn
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong
Young people speaking’ their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind

It’s time we stop
Hey, what’s that sound?
Everybody look – what’s going down?

What a field day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly saying, “hooray for our side”

It’s time we stop
Hey, what’s that sound?
Everybody look – what’s going down?

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
Step out of line, the men come and take you away

We better stop
Hey, what’s that sound?
Everybody look – what’s going down?

We better stop
Hey, what’s that sound?
Everybody look – what’s going down?

We better stop
Now, what’s that sound?
Everybody look – what’s going down?

We better stop
Children, what’s that sound?
Everybody look – what’s going down?

About Dave Dickey

Dickey spent nearly 30 years at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s NPR member station WILL-AM 580 where he won a dozen Associated Press awards for his reporting. For the past 13 years, he directed Illinois Public Media’s agriculture programming. His weekly column for Big Ag Watch covers agriculture and related issues including politics, government, environment and labor. Email him at dave.dickey@investigatemidwest.org.

This column reflects the writer’s own opinions and not those of Big Ag Watch

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