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Editorial: Trump puts on a good show, but how will it end?

We'll acknowledge this: President Donald Trump, a former reality television performer, certainly knows how to rile up his supporters. His rally speech at Scheels Arena on Wednesday, June 27, was enthusiastically received by the audience, whose members had waited outside for hours in sweltering heat before they were admitted. His "Make America Great Again" speech was spiced with many of his tried-and-true applause lines, including his administration's efforts to protect the nation's borders and to kill "job-killing regulations." As expected, he had supportive words for Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., whose campaign to unseat Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., is what brought him to town. To nobody's surprise, he made critical comments about Heitkamp. The crowd cheered and applauded through it all.

A much more somber rally took place a few hours earlier, at the Red River Valley Fairground, where farmers gathered to call attention to the very serious problems they face, some of them with the potential to be exacerbated by Trump's policies. Crop prices have been slumping for years, but the uncertainty created by the president's bellicose trade policies, which have provoked retaliatory tariffs on farm products, threaten to make a bad situation worse. And the situation is very bad: Commodity prices are below the cost of production and many farmers, whose income has plunged to less than half of what it was a few years ago, are struggling with negative operating capital. Last week, amid trade jitters, soybean futures at one point were trading at their lowest price in nine years.

And farmers are hardly the only businesses who could be hurt by the unpredictable forces unleashed by the tariff's Trump's administration has imposed on goods from nations he has accused of trading unfairly. One example, we'll admit, hits very close to home: a tariff on Canadian newsprint, the lowest-cost source for many independent community newspapers in the U.S., has dramatically increased a major cost for an industry that, like farmers, is struggling. Are Trump's tariffs and tough talk about unfair trading partners a shrewd bargaining ploy—or a sign of recklessness? We just don't know at this point.

That can be a big problem. Businesses and investors want competence and certainty, not swaggering drama, from the White House. Trump is fond of boasting about eliminating regulations that stifle business—and his deregulatory agenda is welcomed by business—but there are troubling signs that call for careful and deft maneuvers by Trump and his team. Although the economy is performing well, many economists worry that the country could enter a recession next year. That would hurt businesses and families. It also wouldn't do anything to improve the political fortunes of Trump and his allies.

Editorials represent the views of Forum management and the Editorial Board.

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