In Trump's Trade War, How Patriotic Will Americans Be? Americans, in bigger numbers than ever, like trade. But they also believe China doesn't play fair in trade.
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In Trump's Trade War, Americans Will Be Asked To Show Economic Patriotism

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In Trump's Trade War, Americans Will Be Asked To Show Economic Patriotism

In Trump's Trade War, Americans Will Be Asked To Show Economic Patriotism

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NOEL KING, HOST:

All right. Elsewhere in economics, President Trump has complicated the relationship between the U.S. and many of its biggest trading partners - he put tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, he renegotiated NAFTA, he started a trade war with China. But some of the people who've been hurt by Trump's policies are his biggest supporters, like farmers, and there is no sign for the moment that they're giving up on him. NPR's Jim Zarroli has the story.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: Bob Best manages a heating and air-conditioning company in suburban Atlanta. He says President Trump's steel and aluminum tariffs have raised the cost of the units he buys by as much as $150 each. But he says he still supports Trump 100%.

BOB BEST: You know, I'm not a big tariff guy; I'm a free trade guy. But sometimes, when the bully just doesn't listen, you've got to punch him in the mouth. I mean - and that's exactly what he's doing.

ZARROLI: The bully he's talking about is China, but he says a lot of countries take advantage of the U.S. on trade. Trump, he says, is the first president to really try to do something about it. As an abstract idea, Americans are huge supporters of trade; they think it's good for the country. Mohamed Younis is editor in chief at Gallup, which regularly asks people whether they think trade represents an opportunity for economic growth.

MOHAMED YOUNIS: Seventy-four percent of Americans say that it is, and that number has actually been climbing since 2011.

ZARROLI: But Younis says there's something of a partisan split on the issue.

YOUNIS: The Republicans have become more negative on trade, basically since President Trump was running for office.

ZARROLI: He says GOP voters are much more likely to express skepticism about trade and to approve of Trump's aggressive agenda. Trump's policies have been especially hard on farmers, for example, but they still basically support him. Farm Journal regularly surveys farmers and ranchers about their political views. Editor Rhonda Brooks says 73% of farmers strongly or somewhat approved of Trump's job performance in the last survey in April. Brooks says there's no evidence that support is waning.

RHONDA BROOKS: They believe very strongly that this is a president who is - more than any president in recent history actually, who's really been talking about farmers and at least, you know, acknowledging them and that he wants to help them.

ZARROLI: Even as Trump's tariffs have sent farm prices plummeting, he's provided billions of dollars in aid to keep farmers going. Another reason Trump has held onto his supporters is that he has focused a lot of his rhetoric against China, says Henry Olsen, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. More so than other countries, China is seen as a rival that doesn't play fair, and a lot of Americans think it doesn't follow the rules on trade.

HENRY OLSEN: I think you have an element of patriotism - that people recognize that the Chinese government is not a free government, it's not a democratic government, and that it's increasingly becoming a threat to us and the other countries who do believe in those things.

ZARROLI: Olsen, who writes a column for The Washington Post, says there's another factor, as well, and that's the partisan realignment taking place right now - educated voters who tend to benefit from trade are increasingly voting Democratic; working-class voters who often see trade as a threat are voting more Republican. The question now is whether Trump's support on trade will last. Monte Peterson (ph) is a soybean farmer in North Dakota. He says he voted for Trump in 2016. I asked him whether he would do so again.

MONTE PETERSON: I think that really depends on what he's able to get accomplished from now until election time.

ZARROLI: Peterson says so far, he's not really impressed by Trump's trade policies, but there's still time for him to change his mind. And if Trump really hopes to level the playing field with China in the months to come, he needs to hold on to voters such as Peterson and convince them that the short-term pain they're undergoing will be worth it in the end. Jim Zarroli, NPR News.

(THE HALIFAX PIER'S "CHANCE TO LEAVE")

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