“And the farmers are happy, because I gave them $16 billion out of the tariffs”, Donald Trump told reporters gathered in the Oval Office on July 26.
It was the latest effort to pretend as though the administration’s Depression-era farmer bailouts somehow make up for the deleterious effect of the trade war on American agriculture.
The president is understandably obsessed with gauging the mood among farmers, given they are key constituents – they are part of the base and, perhaps more than any other affected group, find themselves on the front lines of the trade conflict.
To be sure, it is by no means clear that the farmers are in fact “happy”, as Trump continues to insist.
It is true that some polls continue to show the president enjoys support in the agricultural community, but other measures tell a different story. The Purdue University/CME Group Ag Economy Barometer, for instance, fell to the the lowest level since October 2016 in May, before rebounding in June. (Incidentally, the July update is due on Tuesday.)
Amid the latest escalation with China, the farm community is out expressing extreme consternation. Beijing’s move to curtail US agricultural imports was insult to injury and on Monday, the National Farmers Union released a scathing statement.
“President Trump’s strategy of constant escalation and antagonism isn’t going to resolve China’s unfair trading practices. In fact, it has just made things worse”, the union’s president, Roger Johnson, said, adding that Trump needs to “stop levying tariffs indiscriminately” if he’s really interested in helping farmers.
Of course, Trump’s commitment to ensuring the well being of American agriculture is questionable at best. After all, this a man who has never done a day of manual labor in his life.
Meanwhile, the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Zippy Duvall called China’s decision to halt purchases of US farm products “a body blow to thousands of farmers and ranchers who are already struggling to get by”.
Undeterred, Trump took to Twitter on Tuesday to again suggest he cares about America’s farm families and that if they can just hold out for another – checks notes – year, he might funnel some more of the “many billions” in tariff money to them.
“As they have learned in the last two years, our great American Farmers know that China will not be able to hurt them in that their President has stood with them and done what no other president would do”, Trump declared. “And I’ll do it again next year if necessary!”
A couple of things there. First of all, China has, in fact, “hurt” America’s farmers – badly. Second, the unequivocal message from folks like Roger Johnson is that as long as the administration persists in these escalations, it will be perpetually “necessary” to bail out America’s farmers because the trade war is a disaster for them.
The worst part of the whole charade is that when it comes to the roughly $8.5 billion in aid that’s been disbursed, the vast majority of it went to wealthy, white men (some of whom don’t even live on farms). The bailout program doesn’t appear designed to benefit those who need the money the most and some critics say that situation is likely to get worse.
Let’s go to the tape one more time…
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