Harrington's Sort & Cull

I'm in the Shower, Feel Free to Tweet

John Harrington
By  John Harrington , DTN Livestock Analyst

The waiting game can be excruciating, whether you're trapped in an extra-long line at airport security, feel abandoned in a small room at the proctologist's office, or suffer eye strain from monitoring Twitter for news of Mr. Trump's belated Ag secretary appointment. Of course, those of us who work the farm beat for a living have been really pulling hair and biting nails over the latter.

Just when you think the transition team is finally narrowing in on a new head for the USDA, another candidate surfaces at Trump Tower or Mar-a-Lago. Indiana Jones didn't spend this much time searching for the Holy Grail. Isn't there any way we can speed the process along?

How about if I just take a shower? It may not sound all that constructive, but personal hygiene is never a bad idea. Besides, doesn't the phone always ring when you're in the shower? Please, don't thank me. I'll be sudsing-up for the team.

So in the name of both investigative report and general cleanliness, I'm hitting the hitting the showers, armed with loofah, rubber ducky and waterproof smart phone. And when I'm not focusing on how good pulsating hot water feels on lower back pain, you can bet my thoughts will be steaming away at why the USDA appointment has been so delayed.

Actually, at least two troubling questions will be pulling the curtain behind me before the tap can even turn luke warm: 1) Does the slow process in naming the ag chief generally reflect an apathy and indifference among the new powers-that-be (say, not unlike the old powers-that-be); 2) As one of the last cabinet positions to be assigned, has the selection process been complicated by the need to "balance" the profile of the Trump Administration more than a true interest in the concerns of the farm economy?

The answer to the first question is almost a giveaway. Of course, the tardy priority speaks to the "Rodney Dangerfield" status of agriculture. That's not a criticism of own our new president per se.

It's just a harsh fact of political life that's been evolving over the last century or more.

Besides Harry Truman and Jimmy Carter, I can't think of a modern president who ever had to get his own farm hands dirty in order to pay the bills. Increasingly, my favorite story about John Kennedy and Orville Freeman rings true about the shrinking clout of the USDA.

Soon after JFK was elected, some constituent or lobbyist started to bend his ear over an issue pressing to country markets. The new president wasted no time in dismissing the conversation with a firm set of ground rules:

"I don't want to hear anything about agriculture except from Secretary Freedman," Kennedy said flatly. "And I don't want to hear too much from him."

The difficulty of the second question seems more likely to run up the hot water bill. On one hand, Trump's would-be cabinet to date has been criticized for being too white, too male and too rich. Yet the King of Twitter has posted no note of remorse in this regard, insisting that his team-building efforts are more informed by ability than diversity.

And although the long parade of Ag secretary possibilities has included both women and minorities, the finalists do not promise to stick out in the official cabinet photograph. For example, if Sonny Perdue, former governor of Georgia, ultimately gets the job, no one will accuse the new administration of tokenism.

But while diversity strictly defined in terms of sex, ethnicity, age and class can be rather superficial, I think it can take on greater significance when referring to economic thinking and priorities. In this regard, as far as I can read the orientation of Trump's cabinet choices, we need leadership at the USDA that will put more country skin in the game.

Most analysts and commentator agree that the new Trump Cabinet has a substantial bias toward both "Big Oil" and protectionism. I can't see that such a consensus stands to serve the heart of U.S. agriculture, not with so much revenue tied to the fortunes of ethanol and export demand.

Is it possible that at least some of the slow deliberation surrounding the eleventh hour appointment can be tied to the perceived need of this kind of diversity? Maybe. Maybe not.

At this point, I just hope the president-elect tweets before my hot water heater starts sucking air.

John Harrington can be reached at harringtonsfotm@gmail.com

Follow John Harrington on Twitter @feelofthemarket

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