I’m out of farmer jokes.
And not because there aren’t plenty to be had. It’s certainly not for lack of satirical flair.
Rather, I’m out of farmer jokes because what Donald Trump is doing to US agriculture isn’t funny anymore.
I suppose it was never funny, but in the initial stages of the trade war, it was tempting to say that anyone (farmers included) who supported the president’s manifestly wrong-headed policies got what they deserved.
Now, though, I’m reminded of how you might feel about somebody who gets lung cancer from smoking, or pancreatitis from decades of reckless scotch consumption – in a sense it’s “their fault”, but blame-casting is irrelevant when someone is dying. Right now, farmers are dying – figuratively and, assuming acute financial hardship can eventually lead to bad health for a variety of obvious reasons, literally.
The Trump administration on Thursday announced a $16 billion new aid package for farmers hurt by China’s trade retaliations. Of course the USDA put the predictable spin job on things, adding a key adjective in front of the word “retaliation”:
(Washington, D.C., May 23, 2019) – U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will take several actions to assist farmers in response to trade damage from unjustified retaliation and trade disruption. President Trump directed Secretary Perdue to craft a relief strategy to support American agricultural producers while the Administration continues to work on free, fair, and reciprocal trade deals to open more markets in the long run to help American farmers compete globally. Specifically, the President has authorized USDA to provide up to $16 billion in programs, which is in line with the estimated impacts of unjustified retaliatory tariffs on U.S. agricultural goods and other trade disruptions. These programs will assist agricultural producers while President Trump works to address long-standing market access barriers.
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: There’s something oxymoronic about the idea of an “unjustified retaliation”. If you’ve ever been in a situation where you felt compelled to “retaliate”, it by definition means someone has done something to you first. Depending on how you respond, it might well make sense for the other party to characterize your response as “disproportionate” or “unreasonable”, but it’s not entirely clear what an “unjustified” retaliation even is.
Sonny Perdue had the nerve to parrot the same old line on Thursday about how this is all necessary because it’s the only way for America’s courageous president to right decades of historical trade injustices. It is, apparently, farmers’ patriotic duty to go broke.
“China hasn’t played by the rules for a long time and President Trump is standing up to them, sending the clear message that the United States will no longer tolerate their unfair trade practices, which include non-tariff trade barriers and the theft of intellectual property”, Perdue said, before insulting American agriculture by claiming that a billionaire narcissist who has never done a day of manual labor in his life cares deeply for working men and women:
President Trump has great affection for America’s farmers and ranchers, and he knows they are bearing the brunt of these trade disputes. In fact, I’ve never known of a president that has been more concerned or interested in farmer wellbeing and long-term profitability than President Trump.
That is cruelly disingenuous – there’s no other way to describe it.
This is the second time the administration has doled out emergency relief for farmers. Last year, Trump handed out some $12 billion in an effort to alleviate the suffering caused by the trade war.
Read the history of Trump, the trade war and America’s farmers
“The new program will make $14.5 billion in direct payments to producers, channeled through the Commodity Credit Corporation, a program that helps shore up American farmers by buying their crops”, The New York Times writes, describing the logistics. “The payments will be made to agricultural producers for a wide range of products, from soybeans and cotton to chickpeas and cherries, in up to three tranches, beginning in late July or early August.”
Another $1.4 billion will go towards the purchase of surplus commodities, which will be handed out to food banks and schools and also to the poor, which is nice until you remember that pretty soon, farmers will be among those who are impoverished.
Trump held a press conference at the White House late Thursday to discuss the new program. Not to ruin the suspense or anything, but he told the same story he always tells. Basically, the US is being ripped off, he’s the only one who can fix the situation and while it’s unfortunate that farmers are going broke, you know what they say about omelettes — you can’t make one without bankrupting a couple hundred thousand farmers.
Incidentally, Trump is still selling green hats for $45 on his official website. Suffice to say the proceeds do not go towards helping rural America.
Frankly, I cannot bring myself to dignify this farce any further. America’s farmers have been duped by a billionaire who has never, at any point prior to 2015, done anything to demonstrate that he cares about working Americans. This is a man whose “charity” was shut down for being nothing more than a giant, personal checkbook.
I’ll just leave you with a 1-second clip that captures the gist of it all…