The small-town cost of Trump's trade wars

In May, when President Trump announced new tariffs on steel and aluminum imported from Canada and Mexico, Chris Pratt, the plant manager at Mid-Continent Nail, the largest nail manufacturer in the U.S., was caught in a bind. Poplar Bluff, Missouri, Mid-Continent’s home, is a sprawling town of seventeen thousand on the eastern edge of the Ozarks, a two-and-a-half-hour drive south of St. Louis. It’s a quiet place and notably conservative. Flags are everywhere, including on the boxes Mid-Continent uses to ship its nails. When a local lawyer recently started a public radio station, in the basement of a dentist’s office, he chose not to air any NPR programming, in part to avoid offending the station’s board members. In 2016, nearly eighty per cent of the county went for Trump. “Did I like the slogan ‘Make America Great Again’?” Pratt said to me. “I sure did.”

And yet the President’s shoot-first, ask-questions-later economic policies have already cost the town hundreds of jobs. Since the tariffs were implemented, in June, the price of imported steel has risen by twenty-five per cent. Mid-Continent, which had to raise its prices on nails nearly as much, soon lost half of its orders and had to let go of almost half its workforce. If they don’t get any relief, Pratt has said, the factory will likely close. “It’s been devastating,” he told me. “Never did I think when Trump campaigned on ‘Make America Great Again’ we’d have to lay off all these people.”…

Like others here, Coffer’s support for President Trump is unwavering—even though the President may cost him his livelihood. “People think I’m a dumb hick white boy who voted for Trump, and that I’ll get what I deserve,” Coffer told me. “But I’m not some redneck hick.” He believes that Trump is using the tariff as a bargaining chip for the new trade agreement with Mexico and Canada. “There are going to be some jobs lost,” Coffer said, “but, still, factories are opening.”