We have gotten so used to the formulaic story - interview member of President Donald Trump's base, find he still loves Trump, conclude Trump is invincible - that we wind up surprised when the logical and predictable laws of political gravity hit. This is certainly true of farmers.
You know the setup - a sturdy farmer suffering from Trump-imposed tariffs grits his teeth and says he's hurting but, by josh, he's not parting with Trump whom he trusts to do the right thing. We are to conclude that Trump possesses magical political power, that farmers are too dumb to know what's good for them or both.
Well, it turns out Trump has no magic, and farmers know exactly what the president is doing to them. MSNBC on Monday interviewed Bob Kuylen, vice president of the North Dakota Farmers Union, who explained that his wheat farm, which depends on overseas markets, has lost $400,000 because of the administration's withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and subsequent trade wars. During another interview, Christopher Gibbs, a soybean and corn farmer in Ohio, ridiculed Trump's farm bailouts - which he called "hush money" intended to "sedate" farmers - and made clear that taxpayers are paying for this, not China. He, too, is losing money.
Likewise, the Associated Press reports from Lincoln, Nebraska: "The Nebraska Corn Board and the Nebraska Corn Growers Association issued a joint statement criticizing the Trump administration for continuing to issue oil refinery waivers that thwart ethanol production and for a trade policy that they said has damaged agriculture. 'Many of our corn farmers have stood with Trump for a long time, but that may soon change,' Dan Nerud, a Dorchester farmer and president of the 2,400-member Nebraska Corn Growers Association, said in a release."
The statement also said, "As harvest approaches after an extremely difficult year for agriculture, many Nebraska corn farmers are outraged by the Trump administration's lack of support for the American farmer."
For Ohio, North Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa and other states whose farm economies are seeing record bankruptcies, the villain is not merely the president. Their Republican representatives and senators could take tariff authority back from Trump. They could also publicly object to Trump's use of farmers as fodder in his senseless, unwinnable trade war with China. Instead, they do nothing.
The good news is that, in 2020, all the farm states' congressmen will be on the ballot with Trump, as will Republican senators such as Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Steve Daines of Montana and Tom Cotton of Arkansas. Perhaps after a scheduled 7-hour town hall this week devoted to climate change - which produces extreme weather that has also devastated farm states - Democratic presidential candidates can schedule one for Iowa to focus on tariffs, rural economic ruin and farm bankruptcies.
As they did in tracking harm state-by-state during the health-care debate, Democrats could help break down the farm bankruptcies by state. "Since June 2018, there were a total of 535 Chapter 12 bankruptcy filings. This is an increase of 13%. States in the Midwest, such as Kansas, Minnesota and Wisconsin, had the highest number of filings and the Midwest overall had a total of 240 filings, the highest in the nation," the American Farm Bureau recently reported. "The deteriorating financial conditions for farmers and ranchers are a direct result of several years of low farm income, a low return on farm assets, mounting debt, more natural disasters, and the second year of retaliatory tariffs on many U.S. agricultural products."
The Farm Bureau also reported that the top 10 states in farm bankruptcies in 2018 were Wisconsin, Kansas, Nebraska, Minnesota, Texas, Georgia, New York, California, Indiana, and Pennsylvania. The good news is that Republican-held Senate seats in Kansas, Texas, Georgia (both seats) and Nebraska will be on the ballot in 2020.
Republican red-state congressmen and senators are so busy fawning and kowtowing to Trump, excusing his ignorance and craziness, and straining to avoid mean tweets that they have, along with Trump himself, failed some of the most reliable Republican voters in the country.
Instead of visiting those West Virginia diners to find Trump voters still enamored of the president, the media should head out to Nebraska, Ohio and other hard-hit farm states to find out what Trump is doing to their farms and the economies in rural America. They might find that farmers' patience has worn thin.