GALESBURG, ILL. —
When VOA first met with Kirkwood, Illinois farmer Wendell Shauman on the presidential campaign trail, one of the big issues for him was getting the Trans Pacific Partnership, or TPP, approved.
“The more free trade agreements we got the better off we’ll be,” he told VOA at the time, as he was preparing to transport a shipment of corn to a waiting barge on the nearby Mississippi River.
That was back in 2015… before Donald Trump won the White House in the 2016 presidential election.
Now, thanks to an executive order issued by President Trump soon after taking office, Shauman faces the reality that U.S. involvement in the TPP is essentially over.
“Any time you back out of a trade deal, it's not a precedent I like to see set,” Shauman tells VOA.
“I think a lot of them felt that was a campaign tactic instead of a promise,” explains Illinois Farm Bureau Senior Director of Commodities Tamara Nelsen. She says withdrawing from the TPP agreement means no immediate price boost for farm products like corn and soybeans.
“We would have gained tremendous access to Japan’s beef and pork markets through this agreement,” she adds. “I think we were looking at between 10 to 35 cents a bushel on corn – the impact of TPP once it was implemented. So I think they will see no new markets for their products and that’s going to be disappointing.”
While that means a direct hit on Wendell Shauman’s pocketbook, he says he is not disappointed.
As former chairman of the U.S. Grains Council, Shauman - who has a Ph.D in plant studies - traveled extensively throughout the world to promote U.S. agricultural products.
Although he struggled to find the words to explain why, Shauman says he voted for Trump in the election.
While trade agreements and jobs were two big issues on the minds of farmers and manufacturing workers during the 2016 presidential campaign, Shauman says he supported Trump based on other issues that, at least for Shauman, transcended trade.
“We’re conservative people,” he explained. “We think government is too big. We’ve got too many regulations. We could only see more of them coming from Hillary. We could see a liberal Supreme Court which is already giving us trouble.”
Not far from Shauman’s farm is the now closed Maytag appliance factory in Galesburg, Illinois. George Carney worked there for more than two decades until he lost his job when the work moved to Mexico. He blames it on the North American Free Trade Agreement, also known as NAFTA.
He has struggled to find steady work since, and was strongly opposed to the TPP.
“Just the bad experience of NAFTA left a bad taste in my mouth, so I was just against it because it was a trade agreement,” he told VOA.
But Trump’s TPP opposition was not enough to win Carney’s vote.
He said President Trump “comes across like a babbling buffoon.” But Carney is pleased with his performance, so far. “I think he’s doing his job right. I like what he is doing.”
Which is why Carney, who has never voted for a Republican for president before, is looking ahead to the next election in 2020.
“I could see myself voting for Trump next time.”
Although Wendell Shauman is on the opposite side of the TPP issue, he, too, says he could vote for Trump again, depending on how he handles any potential changes to the NAFTA agreement, and how he continues to conduct himself while president.
“Sometimes it’s embarrassing,” Shauman admits. “I literally said, ‘why don’t you just grow up.’ But he’s the president and we’re going to live with him for four years, and we’ll see where this ride goes.”