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His trade agenda faltering, Trump unveils another bailout for farmers

While Republicans rail against "socialism," the Trump administration is implementing a classic wealth-redistribution scheme to benefit a favored industry.
A tractor plows a field on February 25, 2014 in Firebaugh, California.
A tractor plows a field on February 25, 2014 in Firebaugh, California.

When Donald Trump initially launched a series of trade tariffs, the White House realized that the president's agenda would hurt farmers. Officials argued, however, that farmers simply wouldn't mind shouldering the burden.

Indeed, Trump conceded his plan would cause "pain" for some Americans, but he believes they're willing to take one for the team. "I tell you, our farmers are great patriots. These are great patriots," the president said last spring. "They understand that they're doing this for the country."

As we discussed at the time, in context, "this" appeared to mean "putting their business and livelihood" in jeopardy, confident that the president's plan would eventually pay off.

As the hardships intensified, Trump eventually agreed to a multi-billion-dollar bailout for the agricultural industry affected by his trade war. Yesterday, the Republican announced a second bailout. Bloomberg News reported:

President Donald Trump's new $16 billion aid package for farmers raises the federal government's bill for the trade-war but isn't easing anyone's concerns about damage to the U.S. economy. [...]The Trump administration unveiled its latest package Thursday to help farmers hurt by the trade war with China, including $14.5 billion in market facilitation payments directly to producers and $1.4 billion in government purchases to be distributed through school lunch programs and local food banks. That brings to $28 billion the total trade assistance the U.S. has announced for agriculture.Farmers can expect to receive their first aid payments by July or August, Agriculture Department officials said in a conference call with reporters on Thursday. The final payment is scheduled for the beginning of the 2020 election year.

In case this isn't obvious, "market facilitation payments" is a delightful euphemism for "government bailout."

As part of the same rollout of the new expenditures, Trump added, "And just so you understand these tariffs are paid for largely by China." This may be one of the president's favorite talking points, but as NBC News reported yesterday, it continues to be untrue.

This is, however, a lie Trump desperately wants -- and by some measures, needs -- people to believe. As the Washington Post's Greg Sargent recently noted, the bogus claim is "central to the new story he's telling." The president is effectively declaring, "I'm taking from China and giving the spoils to my voters."

Except, of course, he isn't. What the Trump administration is actually doing is implementing a classic wealth-redistribution scheme. The president has endorsed a model in which he takes money paid by American businesses and consumers through tariffs, and redirects that money to pay farmers.

There's certainly room for a debate about how best to help the agricultural industry, but stepping back, certain political truths appear unavoidable: an amateur president, who struggles to understand the basics of his own agenda, imposed risky tariffs intended to protect certain industries. When farmers felt the effects, that same president decided taxpayers should subsidize those farmers' incomes.

It's against this backdrop that Republicans routinely accuse Democrats of supporting "socialism."

Trump added yesterday that he's "never heard ... any of the farmers speak badly" about his trade agenda. That's because he's not listening.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who has many constituents hurt by the White House's policies, said last week in reference to the president, "I'm not sure if you talk to him face to face, he hears everything you say."

Update: James Hohmann did a nice job noting Trump's affinity for "picking winners and losers" in the economy. This is, of course, the opposite of Republican orthodoxy on free-market principles.