Wilbur Ross, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, is not happy with you, me, and, based on comments he made at a gathering of Big Biz executives Nov. 16, our republic’s representative government.
When asked about the slow-and-getting-slower NAFTA trade talks at an invitation-only Wall Street Journal “CEO Council” meeting that day in Washington, D.C., Ross, identified by Politico as “one of President Donald Trump’s closest advisors on trade,” said the U.S. “will continue to take a hard line on its proposals” just as the fifth round of the increasingly bitter talks continued later that week in Mexico City.
Ross went on to report that “the [NAFTA] negotiating environment has only grown more difficult as a result of industries like ag that have voiced a greater level of concern over the direction the administration is taking in the 2.0 talks.”
The Commerce chief was right; “ag” has voiced great concern “over the direction” the White House had taken in talks with two of the nation’s largest farm and food trading partners, Mexico and Canada.
So concerned, in fact, that three weeks before the Journal gathering, 85 farm-affiliated businesses and groups — from Deere & Co. to the Pet Food Institute — had sent a sternly-worded letter to Ross calling into question his “recent observation that there is ‘not a world of oversupply of agricultural products.’”
The letter also reminded Ross of the Trump Administration’s worrisome talk of leaving NAFTA, a deal that accounted for an estimated 28 percent of all U.S. ag exports ($39 billion out of $140.5 billion) in the 2017 ag trade year. Had Ross and the President forgotten that just a year ago, candidate Trump’s “initiative to modernize NAFTA” contained “a ‘do no harm’ pledge to American food and agriculture” sectors?
Withdrawing from NAFTA — even the suggestion of withdrawal — the letter warned, “would cause immediate, substantial harm” to American farmers, ranchers, and the “U.S. economy as a whole.”
If Ross received the letter, he didn’t heed it. He again complained about “agriculture” to the Journal audience when asked about NAFTA. “‘As one special interest group, say agriculture, for example, gets nervous,’” the Commerce secretary whined, “‘they start screaming and yelling publicly. They start writing letters, soliciting the Congress people, and they start screaming and yelling in public.’”
And, good grief, an exasperated Ross added, all this public participation “just complicates the environment and, frankly, makes the negotiations harder.’”
Yeah, that’s the trouble with democracy. A government of, for, and by the people involves — believe it or not — people. Some, like Ross, are rich; others are poor. Some are powerful; others weak. Some are well informed; others completely ignorant.
All, however, were created equal no matter the amount of money in their back pocket or the number of politicians in their vest pocket. We are equal even if we are the ones “screaming and yelling publicly” or on the receiving end of the screams and yells.
And, sure, democratic government would be speedier and less messy if we the public sat in silence while the plutocrats and autocrats run it.
But the Founders didn’t envision a government where individual wealth or personal power were paramount. Instead, they created a government that empowered all people: E pluribas unam, out of many, one. Those many include everyone — billionaires and poets, plumbers and teachers, bankers and, yes, even yellers. Everyone.
Their reason was elegantly simple. If plutocrat billionaires — and even former plutocrat billionaires like Ross — dominated American government, the United States wouldn’t be a democratic republic that empowers people; it would be a banana republic owned solely by the powerful.
We are those people, all of us, including Ross. We are the public in public debate, public policy, and public accountability. We are, in fact, the “public” in republic.
Truly successful leaders live this idea from birth; fools die never knowing it.
The Farm and Food File is published weekly through the U.S. and Canada. Source material, past columns and contact information are posted at farmandfoodfile.com.