SPRINGFIELD — With the blast furnace roaring once more at the U.S. Steel plant in Granite City, creating 800 new steel jobs, President Donald Trump labeled his tariff policy a success when he spoke at the plant Thursday.
Despite the warm reception Trump received from those positively affected by the factory's reopening, his tariffs have received a much more mixed reaction across Illinois as farmers and business owners alike grapple with the impact of retaliatory tariffs from other countries.
For Megan Dwyer, a soybean farmer from Henry County near the Quad Cities, the ongoing trade war cuts deep, as the main purchaser of her crop sends about two-thirds to China.
"We can have the best crop in the world, but if there's nobody there to buy it, it doesn't matter," Dwyer said. "And so, we're very dependent not only on the weather, but now we're very dependent on our end user, which today is basically China, Japan, Mexico, Columbia, Peru."
Dwyer, who voted for and still supports Trump, said she still has faith that Trump can deliver a better deal on trade, but sought to relay the impact that the tariffs are having on farmers across the country.
"We need fair deals and I think we should fight for them," Dwyer said. "We just need to be careful and tactful in how we do that."
She said the Administration's $12 billion plan to aid farmers impacted by the tariffs amounts to a "band-aid" and that farmers ultimately need markets to sell to.
"We farmers don't need a bailout," Dwyer said. "We need clear, consistent trade policies that actually put America first -- by letting American families sell their products in markets across the globe."
Most farmers and business owners said Trump has a point when it comes to trade: countries like China, for instance, have "dumped" steel at artificially-low prices on the global market, decimating domestic industries in places like the United States.
But, they said the administration's tariff policy has to be more strategic and targeted.
"There are few voices on the president's current track," said Todd Maisch, president of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce. "Most voices say, wait a minute, getting tougher is OK; we would help you with that, but you've got to be well-defined and have a well-orchestrated plan. And right now, it just looks to be very random, very much shoot-from-the-hip. Nobody knows what the program really is."
The Trump administration's 25 percent tariff on steel and 10 percent tariff on aluminum went into effect July 1. Allies, like Canada and the European Union, responded in kind with tariffs on quintessentially American products like Harley-Davidson motorcycles and lawn mowers.
The administration also slapped tariffs on $34 billion in Chinese goods in a dispute over Beijing's high-tech industrial policies. China has retaliated with duties on soybeans and pork, affecting Midwest farmers in a region of the country that supported the president in his 2016 campaign
Mark Selvaggio, the owner of Springfield-based Selvaggio Steel, said the tariffs could end up being a positive for the country if Trump can negotiate with organizations like the EU to "level the playing field" on trade.
Selvaggio said the short-term pain currently inflicted on local businesses by the tariffs is compounded by the state's financial struggles.
"I'm hoping that the tariffs have an end date," Selvaggio said. "If we got a game plan together, if there is such a thing as four-dimensional chess, then it'd be nice to get to the end of it."
Maisch said the tariffs' impact on Illinois has been a net negative, but that it has not yet risen beyond minor skirmishes that can be worked out. He said the Trump Administration will have to take some initiative to soothe relations between the United States and its trading partners.
"I think that there is plenty of space for all sides to take a step back and get a lot more rational," Maisch said. "But, let's face it, the Trump Administration has pushed this. It's probably their responsibility to define what they want to achieve, define what success is and then have a reasonable and rational discussion with our trading partners to find how to get there."