Researchers for the U.S. Department of Agriculture say the Trump administration is retaliating against them for highlighting how farmers are being hurt by President Donald Trump's trade and tax policies. Some have resigned over it. The pattern is familiar with this White House, which also clashes with its own experts on issues like climate change and foreign policy. When did expertise become a liability?
Much of Trump's political support comes from rural regions. Farm income has taken an especially big hit from Trump's trade wars. Soybean exports alone are down by $2 billion, because retaliatory tariffs imposed by China in response to Trump's tariffs have deprived American farmers of a market that bought 60% of their 2017 crop.
Much of the reason the nation knows all of this is because of the Agriculture Department's Economic Research Service, a klatch of government experts who produce reports on farm income and related topics that historically have had a major impact in setting agricultural policy.
You'd think an administration would welcome that kind of reality check from its own experts. But the research service's findings that Trump's trade wars are devastating the very voters he needs most have reportedly infuriated the White House.
Worse, two researchers reported last year that the Republican tax cuts would benefit mostly the wealthiest farmers. This shouldn't come as a surprise — the entire point of the tax plan was to bestow a deficit-funded windfall upon the rich while tossing crumbs to the middle class — but having that reality voiced by the administration's own experts had to sting.
Research service sources told Politico that anger from on high is behind a recent restructuring by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue that will end what had been the researchers' semi-independent status, putting them more directly under his control. The Agriculture Department also is moving the service out of Washington, D.C., to a still-undecided location, which can't help but further diminish those researchers' impact on policymakers.
Of course, responding dismissively to unpleasant news from experts is a familiar story for this White House. Earlier this year, just days after an alarming Pentagon assessment of the effects of climate change on military operations, Trump was on Twitter suggesting that a cold snap meant it wasn't happening.
Similarly, Trump's reckless foreign policy decisions are often at odds with his own diplomatic, military and intelligence advisers who, unlike him, have years of deep knowledge in the field — most notably, former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who resigned last year after Trump announced a U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria.
Whether the issue is climate change, tax policy, trade wars or real wars, an administration that rejects expertise when making policy is flying blind. Real people pay the price, as American farmers can attest. Do any experts dare warn Trump that he can't keep hurting farmers' livelihoods while expecting to win their votes?
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