Straw Wars: A Political Case Study

"Liberal paper straws don’t work," reads the description for the Trump straw on Is President Trump's 2020 campaign "amplifying public tensions" over plastic straws by selling reusable plastic Trump straws, as The Washington Post claims?

By Rita Peters Published on August 29, 2019

I was disgusted when I read a recent article in The Washington Post about the Trump campaign’s sale of Trump-branded plastic straws. Then I did a bit of research and found out that the real story was quite different from the picture the authors painted.

According to the story, the straw sales are just one example of Trump “deliberately amplifying public tensions by seizing on divisive topics to energize his base.” In other words, the Trump campaign wants to stir up Republicans’ outrage. So it sells plastic straws to mock the Left’s efforts to help the environment by banning them in certain cities.

Evaluating the Story

As I read the article, I asked myself two questions. Do these laws really deserve to be mocked? And how will provoking the Left do anything to help America?

As a liberty-loving conservative, my instinct is to cringe at laws that intrude into the details of my everyday life. On the other hand, as a Christian with a profound respect for the world our Creator has entrusted to us — and concern for the other creatures that inhabit it — I can’t ignore the toll that plastic straws are taking on the world’s oceans.

State and local governments have legitimate authority to enact this type of law. So the question becomes: is it good policy? Is the harm of plastic straws so great that it warrants intrusion upon the people’s freedom to choose which kind of straw they will use?

Would our president’s staff really mock liberals’ concern for the environment by promoting a product that actually harms the environment?

The people who live in the cities where these bans are considered get to answer this question. And to hold their elected officials accountable to act accordingly. It isn’t hard to imagine that in cities like Seattle, it is the will of the people to ban plastic straws. And while some may disagree with them, surely no one can deny their good intentions.

So as I read the article, I was horrified that the Trump campaign would mock this attempt to address a serious issue. Of course paper straws don’t work well. But 8.3 billion straws polluting the world’s beaches is a real problem. Would our president’s staff really mock liberals’ concern for the environment by promoting a product that actually harms the environment?

The Truth — and What We Can Learn From It

In order to understand the campaign’s position better, I went to an original source: the Trump campaign website. And that was where I discovered a single fact that shed a whole new light on the story. The “Trump straws” are indeed plastic, but unlike the plastic straws littering the world’s beaches, they are reusable, recyclable plastic — a critical detail nowhere mentioned in the article.

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While the sale of these straws by the Trump campaign does still involve an element of poking fun at “liberal straws,” the real picture is quite different from the one painted by the media. The Trump campaign isn’t just thumbing its nose at legitimate environmental concerns. It is offering an alternative solution, since the paper straws are roundly acknowledged to be duds.

Here are two lessons we can learn from this case study on the straw wars:

  1. In today’s media environment, it takes a lot of work to find the truth. That’s why we should all think twice before going on political rants. Assuming the worst about our political opponents is always easier and faster than giving them the benefit of the doubt. When we hear things that sound too crazy to be true, they probably are. Or, there probably is at least a bit more to the story. If we truly want to bring some sense of unity back to our nation, we must take the time and effort to find the bits that were left out; to seek true understanding.
  2. Of course politicians must spend time “talking to the base.” But indulging in an excess of outraged dialogue with those who already share our views does little to move our nation toward virtue and prosperity. If we truly want to make progress, let’s stop to acknowledge the good behind our opponents’ position. In this case, for instance, the Left’s genuine concern to be good stewards of Creation is noble and good. Admit that. Then let’s talk, in good faith, about alternatives to the policies we don’t like. In this case, maybe it’s reusable, recyclable plastic straws instead of their soggy paper counterparts.

The mainstream media is no ally to those who desire more honest, substantive policy discussions. They are the masters of “dialing up the culture wars.” That means we must look closer, and work harder, to find our real points of disagreement and talk about solutions.


Rita Dunaway is a constitutional attorney, the author of Restoring America’s Soul: Advancing Timeless Conservative Principles in a Wayward Culture, and co-host of the weekly radio program, “Crossroads: Where Faith and Culture Meet.”

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