Down the primrose path

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The sun is shining, the sky is blue and the yellow roses along the primrose path are dazzling distractions from what, in a matter of days, has already been a long month for farmers and ranchers.

Worse, a long harvest and bitter winter also loom as President Donald J. Trump threatens even tougher trade sanctions on key U.S. food buyers beginning Sept. 1.

How did American agricultural and political leaders, especially the White House, put farm and ranch constituents on a cliff’s edge in so many crucial areas — trade, climate science, the economy, food assistance, data collection and analysis — in such a short time?

The easy answer is that they didn’t know what they were doing as they almost uniformly placed politics over experience and talking points over expert advice on everything from trade to taxes to technology.

Purposeful actions

The harder, more truthful answer, however, is that farm leaders absolutely knew what Trump Administration officials were doing.

The White House has attempted to cut departmental budgets, eliminated agencies, scrubbed scientific studies with political soap, boosted federal deficits to $1 trillion per year, picked trade fights with every key U.S. ag customer, demoted undersecretaries into irrelevancy and misled Congress, ranchers and farmers with glowing forecasts of their farm and food policies.

In fact, what Cabinet and sub-Cabinet officials were doing was obvious: They were carrying out White House political directives without question or concern to curry favor with the President and his tweeting, vengeful thumbs.

Changing policies

In any other Administration, Congress would have swiftly stepped in to probe, slow and even stop similar shortsighted or harmful actions. But, as Trump trumpeters remind us, this Administration isn’t like any before it.

Nor, as it turns out, are any of its trade or farm policies.

For example, no American farmer or rancher would have taken all of two days in office to dump out of the almost-done Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal with 12 other nations without first seeing what new markets the agreement — involving 40% of the global economy — would have offered the nation and its farm and food producers.

The Trump White House did so unilaterally and without pause.

Nor would have any American farmer or rancher, be free trader or protectionist, kicked off trade talks with their five largest ag customers — China, Mexico, Canada, Japan and the European Union — by threatening all with steep tariffs if they didn’t play by our rules.

The Trump White House did so unilaterally and without pause.

Nor would anyone in farm or ranch policy circles have moved to mute two critical U.S. Department of Agriculture agencies, the Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, because of perceived but never proven political bias.

The White House is doing exactly that right now in its staff-gutting, forced — and possibly illegal — march of both from their longstanding home in Washington, D.C., to metro Kansas City.

Moreover, White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney essentially proved Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue’s explanation of the move (to get both agencies “closer to their customers”) was Grade A baloney during a political rally Aug. 2 in his native South Carolina.

“By simply saying to people,” Mulvaney boasted, “‘You know what, we’re going to take you outside the bubble, outside the Beltway, outside this liberal haven…’ they quit. What a wonderful way to streamline government and do what we haven’t been able to do for a long time.”

Do you know anyone so cruel as to force people to choose a job over home, or a career over family, simply because they have that power in the “liberal haven of Washington, D.C.”?

And, yet, here we are.

Accountability

We watch as few farm leaders and even fewer in Congress hold anyone in the White House accountable for your fast disappearing markets, your fast-sinking farm income, your growing dependency on government handouts and the bleaching of your salt-of-the-earth reputation.

But this is what happens when you stroll down the primrose path; you become so bedazzled by the smell and color of the roses that you don’t look to see where you’re going.

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Alan Guebert was raised on an 800-acre, 100-cow southern Illinois dairy farm. After graduation from the University of Illinois in 1980, he served as a writer and editor at Professional Farmers of America, Successful Farming magazine and Farm Journal magazine. His syndicated agricultural column, The Farm and Food File, began in June, 1993, and now appears weekly in more than 70 publications throughout the U.S. and Canada. He and spouse Catherine, a social worker, have two adult children. farmandfoodfile.com

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