BY RUBEN NAVARRETTE JR.
Take it from this country boy, Mr. President.
Farmers — including those in my native Central California — don’t need your handout. They just want you to remove your boot from their neck so they can make a living.
The Trump administration is offering an estimated $12 billion in farm aid, which is about the last thing farmers need.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue calls the proposed assistance “a firm statement that other nations cannot bully our agricultural producers to force the United States to cave in.”
The farmers I know aren’t worrying about Uncle Sam caving in to foreign countries. They’re worried about their entire industry caving in on them, their families and their futures.
Still, they don’t want welfare; they only want to grow their crops and sell them at a fair price. Most of them accept they’re not going to get rich tilling the soil, but they’d appreciate it if they didn’t have to go broke in the process of providing nourishment to the nation.
Some respect would also be appreciated. Farmers remain the neglected step-children of the American economy.
In California, the nation’s agricultural capital, farmers have gotten so efficient at seeding, harvesting, packaging, selling and shipping fruits and vegetables that they can feed most of the country and part of the world. Meanwhile, blowhard politicians in both parties tout the hip commodities of technology and Hollywood films as driving the economy in the Golden State. But as an industry that generates nearly $60 billion in annual net income, it’s farming that fills our bellies.
Supposedly, Trump’s farm handout would come in three forms; direct payments to farmers who grow soybeans, sorghum, wheat, cotton, dairy and hogs; government purchases of fruit, nuts, legumes and meats that go to food banks; and the development of new markets for exports.
Whether he is bashing the European Union or separating refugee families at the border, Trump’s M.O. is to break things and then quietly try to cover up the wreckage with a Band-Aid.
Besides, the proposed farm subsidy is guilt money. The only reason the assistance is even on the table is because Trump fired the first shots of a global trade war with China, Canada, Mexico and Europe by imposing tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, which invited the targeted nations to retaliate with tariffs on U.S. farm products.
Because Trump can’t admit fault, he is spinning the retaliatory tariffs as an unprovoked attack on farmers by foreign powers.
Nonsense. The foreign tariffs are in self-defense. Trump started this shoving match.
To help convince farmers that his aid offer is on the level, the President has even gone to the trouble of printing up green baseball caps that read “Make Our Farmers Great Again!”
Get a load of this city slicker. He doesn’t get it. Farmers don’t need to be made great again. They already are great. It’s their political leadership that often falls short.
Trump has promised farm groups that his tariffs will ultimately benefit their industry if they can “just be a little patient.”
Too bad farmers can’t use patience to pay the mortgage, buy feed, get a truck, fix the tractor or purchase groceries in hard times.
Actually, I think farmers — many of whom lean conservative and voted for Trump — have been mighty patient as they wait for any evidence at all that their trust wasn’t misplaced.
So far, the administration has been — on multiple fronts — about as friendly to farming as a plague of locusts.
Besides the chaos created by tariffs, its nativist-fueled crackdown on illegal immigrants has scared off foreign workers and made it nearly impossible for farmers to find field hands.
Wages are rising because the workers who remain have their choice of jobs. Why pick tomatoes — even for the unusually high wage of $25 per hour — if you can build homes for twice that amount? According to media reports, avocado growers on the California coast are paying pickers as much as $400 per day; and they still can’t find qualified and willing workers to bring in the crop.
Meanwhile, the Republican majority in Congress — which enables Trump by making excuses for his incompetence — seems to have no interest in passing legislation that would help farmers find workers to bring in the harvest. They won’t legalize the undocumented, or import a new batch of temporary guest workers. They’ve spent years fleecing farmers, and now they offer nothing.
Subsidies are easy to promise. Solutions are harder to come by. Politicians are no help to farmers, many of whom would probably — right about now — prefer the locusts.
Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group. His email is ruben@rubennavarrette. com. His daily podcast, “Navarrette Nation,” is available on apps.