Notwithstanding the warm welcome he received a few days ago at the American Farm Bureau Federation's national conference, the damage Donald Trump is doing to agriculture will long outlast his presidency. Between his devastating trade war that has decimated their markets and his refusal to address climate change that threatens their future, farmers should rethink their assumption that he's on their side just because he colorfully berates coastal elites.
Political conservatism is built into farm culture, so the raucous cheers that greeted Trump at the Austin, Texas, gathering of the nation's largest agricultural organization might make sense at first blush.
But there's actually nothing conservative about what Trump has done to agriculture.
Everyone who knows anything about trade predicted that Trump's trade war with China would provoke retaliatory tariffs and lock American farmers out of their biggest foreign market.
And everyone was right. U.S. agricultural sales in China dropped by an astounding 50% between 2017 and 2018, mostly the result of those retaliatory tariffs.
Trump had the gall to brag at the convention about an overall spike in farm income during that time, without mentioning why: because the trade war necessitated billions of dollars in federal bailout funding for struggling farms.
And even with the bailout, farm loan delinquencies and bankruptcies last year hit their highest levels since 2012. There are myriad reasons, but cutting American farmers out of the world's largest market certainly didn't help.
Trump this month finally signed the first phase of a new trade deal with China that will, in theory, address longstanding U.S. complaints about technology theft and begin bringing the trade war to an end. But it's going to be a long process, and a long time before the trade relationship is normalized.
It's the very definition of chutzpah that Trump stood before those farmers and bragged about this progress toward ending a trade catastrophe that he personally and unilaterally started.
The larger danger for farmers is just beginning. Human-caused climate change is already playing havoc with American agriculture, delivering hotter temperatures, more flooding and less predictable storms. Trump has done everything he can to deny it's happening and prevent the U.S. government from acting responsibly in the face of this threat, from pulling out of the Paris climate accord to scaling back climate-minded environmental regulations. His zeal to deliberately undermine climate-change mitigation efforts thumbs a nose at the greatest threat agriculture has ever faced.
Despite all this, farmers embraced Trump in Texas, and many if not most of them will embrace him at the voting booth in November. That shows the power of ideological rhetoric over hard facts. The hard fact is, this president is about as helpful to farmers as a plague of locusts.
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