It's been nearly three years since Donald Trump spoke at the American Farm Bureau's annual convention, where the Republican strutted like a man who assumed he was among adoring fans. "Oh, are you happy you voted for me," the president said, straying from the prepared text. "You are so lucky that I gave you that privilege."
It wasn't long, however, before Trump launched a misguided trade war, which had the predictable effect of hurting much of the domestic agricultural industry. It wasn't long before we started seeing reports on "farm-state fury" over the White House's agenda.
The president's solution has been straightforward: he's repeatedly directed billions of dollars to farmers, and as the New York Times reports today, "government money is flowing faster than ever" now that Trump needs farmers' electoral support.
Federal payments to farmers are projected to hit a record $46 billion this year as the White House funnels money to Mr. Trump's rural base in the South and Midwest ahead of Election Day. The gush of funds has accelerated in recent weeks as the president looks to help his core supporters who have been hit hard by the double whammy of his combative trade practices and the coronavirus pandemic.
To be sure, White House support for the agricultural sector isn't limited to money. According to an investigation launched by the Office of Special Counsel, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue "improperly used his position to push the president's re-election by promising more help for farmers."
Indeed, the cabinet secretary abandoned all subtlety on the matter over the summer. During remarks in North Carolina, while touting the Farmers to Families Food Box Program -- which has itself been exploited as an improper campaign prop -- Perdue declared, "That's what's going to continue to happen -- four more years -- if America gets out and votes for this man, Donald J. Trump." (As the Times' report added, Perdue has been "ordered to reimburse the government for the costs associated with his attendance at the event.")
But it's the financial support that's raising the most alarming questions. Ken Cook, president of Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization that has been tracking the agriculture payments, characterized Trump's payments to farmers as effectively corrupt.
"For the first time in history, a president has repeatedly usurped congressional authority in order to personally dispense tens of billions of dollars in federal farm subsidy payments that would not otherwise have been paid," Cook said. "This is an authoritarian power grab used to buy political support from voters who are essential to his re-election."
Complicating matters, it's also fair to consider whether this is another authoritarian power grab used to buy political support from voters who are essential to his re-election. The White House is also throwing money at seniors in the form of taxpayer-financed drug discount cards, and Team Trump is throwing public funds at Puerto Rico.
And while Trump tries to use our money to bolster his re-election campaign, he's simultaneously trying to leverage both the State Department and the Justice Department to undermine his political opponents.
These are the kind of corrupt abuses we'd expect to see in countries the United States used to condemn, not emulate.