Trump touts trade war in Granite City

President attempts to unify steelworkers, farmers in speech at U.S. Steel Works

 President Trump proclaims solidarity with steelworkers at the end of his speech at U.S. Steel's Granite City Works. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

President Trump proclaims solidarity with steelworkers at the end of his speech at U.S. Steel's Granite City Works. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

By Ted Cox

President Trump touted his trade policies Thursday in a speech before an appreciative audience at U.S. Steel's Granite City Works.

Speaking to about 400 steelworkers, many of them rehired after the mill ramped up production with the announcement of Trump's protective tariffs in March, and about as many local supporters in an invitation-only event, Trump said, "We are once again pouring great American steel into the spine of our country."

He declared, "U.S. Steel is back."

U.S. Steel Vice President Douglas Matthews revved up the crowd ahead of Trump's appearance by pointing out the U.S. market was flooded with subsidized steel imports in 2014, resulting in closing the Granite City Works. He said the industry pushed for a fair playing field, saying, "Give us the ball. We want to prove what we can do." He got steelworkers in bleachers on both sides of the event to chant: "Start up! Stay up!"

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"Start up! Stay up!"

U.S. Steel Vice President Douglas Matthews

Announcing, "We didn't start this trade war," Trump insisted time and again that "other countries cheated and broke the rules," and that his administration was only fighting back.

He blamed previous administrations for not standing up for U.S. workers on the international market, saying, "How stupid were we? I probably got elected largely on that.

"Thanks to our tariffs, idle factories across our country are coming back," Trump said, adding that, with a second blast furnace about to be reactivated at Granite City, the 800 workers U.S. Steel planned to rehire this year would soon grow to 1,000. Trump claimed the industrial giant would soon reinvest in plants in Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Gary, Ind.

U.S. Steel President David Burritt said, "We can have steel that's mined, melted, and made in the USA."

Steelworkers cheered when Trump said steel was key to national security. "If you don't have steel, you don't have a country," he proclaimed.

 Steelworkers await President Trump's speech Thursday at the U.S. Steel Granite City Works. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

Steelworkers await President Trump's speech Thursday at the U.S. Steel Granite City Works. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

Trump tried to unite the causes of steelworkers who've benefitted from his protective tariffs and farmers hurt by retaliatory tariffs from China, Canada, and Mexico in his trade war. He hinted at the $12 billion handout his administration has proposed to ease the plight of farmers who've seen markets dry up and prices drop for pork and soybeans, and claimed to have opened markets to them with his recent new agreement with the European Union.

He also made the cause personal, pointing out, "China tried to hurt the American farmer because that way they would hurt me." He urged unity of purpose, saying, "We're going to stick together and win together."

He made repeated references to China's "theft" of intellectual property, and said that with "the best economy we've ever had" it was time to "finally fix the terrible, one-sided" trade deals of the past.

He sounded the running theme of his speech most succinctly when talking about the increased funding he'd pressed upon U.S. allies in NATO. "Our country was being taken advantage of," Trump said. "Not anymore. Not anymore."

Trump talked tough, saying, "We're putting the world's trade cheaters on notice. No one rips off the United States of America."

He recited isolationist positions, saying two great slogans were "buy American and hire American." He called his 2016 campaign mantra "Make America Great Again" the "best slogan," adding that it would soon be replaced by "Keep America Great" in his bid for re-election.

His other running theme was blaming the media — "the fake news back there," where reporters and cameras were set up in the coil warehouse where the event was staged — for not celebrating his triumphs like those NATO concessions and for being devoted to bad news, especially where he's concerned.

Throughout, it was an embattled message of us against them, in an attempt to create some sort of unity around himself. He repeated what's become a motif, saying, "We want every American to know the dignity of work, the pride of a paycheck, and the satisfaction of a job well done."

Again addressing the steelworkers directly, he said, "I will never stop fighting for you, because I know you are the ones rebuilding our country," adding, "You are the ones making America great again."

Trump was joined on the visit by his daughter Ivanka, and he stumped for three local Republican congressmen running for re-election.

Steelworker Tony Caminiti said afterward he supported the speech, but didn't exactly praise it. In spite of Trump's remarks on the media, he said he'd been hoping someone would ask about his story.

 Steelworker Tony Caminiti said he was concerned about the effects of Trump's trade policies being undone. (One Illinois/Zachary Sigelko)

Steelworker Tony Caminiti said he was concerned about the effects of Trump's trade policies being undone. (One Illinois/Zachary Sigelko)

One of those laid off when the plant shut down in 2016, he said, "I thought I'd be back in six months. A lot of the executives thought the same, but six months passed, and it didn't look any better

"So I looked for work, but that's hard at my age, almost 60, and people think you might go back" to working in the mills if they start up again, he added. Caminiti eventually took a job at Alton Steel and commuted from Granite City.

He was rehired at U.S. Steel, but at first in fits and starts, sometimes working a week, sometimes not, as the mill ramped up production. Now, with the second blast furnace set to get up and running, he said, "Things look solid for about the next five years."

Caminiti added, "I'm just worried that another administration comes along and tries to undo everything."

The speech took place well inside the Granite City Works. Protesters gathered at Civic Park, while Trump supporters met down the street at Jerry's Cafeteria.

Dakota Tostado, an 18-year-old from Collinsville who attended the protest, said it was his first, and he found a sense of unity in it there as well.

"It was very unified," Tostado said. "It was civil disobedience — peaceful civil disobedience. And that was so awesome."

He said he found it "not so much a protest of our president himself, but the policies that he and his administration have enacted." Tostado said Trump "has ignored many of his constituents," and their elected representatives in Congress.

"There are a lot of things in this county that need to be resolved, and all of them do not start with him being in Granite City," he added. "He should not have been here today. There are plenty of things he should be doing instead of holding campaign-style rallies in places he thinks he's had an impact."

Tostado said that 800 jobs "compared to the amount of people in Madison County and the State of Illinois, that's somewhat minimal.

"There are people who are against what he's doing," he added, "and we will take a stand when it comes to what matters."