Ahead of Donald Trump’s speech to the American Farm Bureau’s annual convention yesterday, the editorial board of the Des Moines Register published a highly unflattering piece, explaining that the president and his team have offered very little so far in the way of “policies that actually help farmers, consumers and rural America.”
“They’re just pandering to big corporations. They aren’t interested in the family farmer. The USDA is the U.S. Department of Agriculture, not the U.S. Department of Big Agribusiness.”
Which liberal uttered that? U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley. The Republican railed on Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue in October for killing a rule designed to protect the rights of farmers who raise chickens, cows and hogs for large meat processors. The Farmer Fair Practice Rule was rolled out by USDA under President Barack Obama but never took effect.
The USDA, and agriculture in general, doesn’t seem to be much of a priority to Trump. Seven of the top 13 USDA officials still haven’t been nominated. Perdue is also reorganizing the department in ways that threaten to downplay rural development.
It’s against this backdrop that the president was warmly received in Nashville yesterday, though he said alarmingly little. Trump seemed to understand that he’s enjoyed strong political support in rural areas, but when it came time to present a substantive vision for how intends to help rural communities, he seemed far more eager to celebrate himself.
“Oh, are you happy you voted for me,” Trump said at one point, straying from the prepared text on his trusted teleprompter. “You are so lucky that I gave you that privilege.”
He proceeded to talk about the number of electoral votes he received in 2016 – yes, this remains an area of intense focus for the president – before badly misstating the ways in which the Republican tax plan will affect farmers and taking credit for recent gains on Wall Street. Trump even found the need to request a standing ovation after discussing changes to the estate tax, which, GOP talking points notwithstanding, has very little to do with farm owners. (I don’t recall any modern president ever asking for a standing ovation.)
Trump then signed executive orders on rural broadband that don’t appear to actually do anything.
It was, to a very real extent, a missed opportunity for the president. Because while there may be a cultural connection between rural areas and Republican politics, the New York Times noted yesterday that some of the economic policies the Trump administration is pursuing “are at odds with what many in the farm industry say is needed.”
[S]ome of the president’s economic policies could actually harm the farm industry. New analyses of the tax law by economists at the Department of Agriculture suggest it could actually lower farm output in the years to come and effectively raise taxes on the lowest-earning farm households, while delivering large gains for the richest farmers.
And the administration’s trade policies continue to be a concern for farmers, who benefit from access to other markets, including by exporting their products. Mr. Trump continues to threaten to withdraw from trade pacts if other countries do not grant the United States a better deal, a position that has put him at odds with much of the farm industry.
This dovetails with an item of ours from last summer, after many farmers expressed disappointment with Trump’s move to kill the Trans Pacific Partnership, which was poised to be a “lifeline” to struggling farms. Rural communities thought the Republican White House might at least offer an alternative to the TPP, but the president never bothered.
How did Trump address these issues in his remarks to the American Farm Bureau? He didn’t – though he had plenty to say about the stock market.