Trump Gaslights Farmers on Trade War, But They’re Catching On

Dave Dickey

President Donald Trump displays caps reading "Make our Farmers Great Again" while departing the White House on August 30, 2018.

This sto­ry was orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished on The Mid­west Cen­ter for Inves­tiga­tive Reporting

The nexus for defin­ing gaslight­ing comes from Ingrid Bergman’s bril­liant per­for­mance as Paula in George Cuko­r’s 1944 film Gaslight. In the movie Bergman’s char­ac­ter wit­nessed the mur­der of her aunt as a child. Years lat­er she mar­ries Gre­go­ry who, in a twist of fate, returns with her to live in the very house where her aunt was killed. As it turns out Gre­go­ry isn’t a lov­ing hus­band, but rather a cold and cal­cu­lat­ed abuser whose insid­i­ous and chill­ing lies and actions have Paula com­ing unhinged and doubt­ing her sanity.

Over sev­en decades lat­er, gaslight­ing has become a White House weapon of choice in try­ing to con­vince indi­vid­ual Amer­i­can farm­ers all is well while they suf­fer finan­cial­ly from the POTUS agri­cul­tur­al pol­i­cy choic­es. (By the way, as ear­ly as Feb­ru­ary 2017 I cau­tioned in a blog that farm­ers need­ed to be on alert.)

So what is gaslight­ing? We’ll define it as manip­u­la­tive behav­ior designed to sow seeds of uncer­tain­ty in vic­tims with the objec­tive of gain­ing pow­er and con­trol. Over time, gaslight­ing cre­ates self-doubt, which caus­es the vic­tims to ques­tion their real­i­ty. The POTUS and his toad­ies have been gaslight­ing farm­ers in gen­er­al and soy­bean farm­ers in par­tic­u­lar with his trade war against China.

The tools of gaslight­ing include:

• Bla­tant lying. In tar­get­ing Chi­na with bil­lions of dol­lars of import tar­iffs POTUS tweet­ed to farm­ers that trade wars are good, and easy to win.” Of course, that is utter nonsense.

• Deny, Deny, Deny. Now that Amer­i­ca is more than a year into the trade war and it has­n’t yet been resolved (how can that be … yeah I’m being snarky) POTUS has denied ever say­ing that trade wars are easy to win. The goal is to make farm­ers doubt their mem­o­ries and ulti­mate­ly replace their real­i­ty with that of the POTUS.

As an aside, bla­tant lying works best when you can enlist oth­ers to lie as well. Enter The Fed­er­al­ist, a con­ser­v­a­tive pro-POTUS web­site and newslet­ter. Willis Krumholt’s Aug. 20 arti­cle Why Farm­ers Aren’t Going To Aban­don Trump Over The Trade War” is chock full of gaslight­ing good­ies. For exam­ple, Krumholt claims Chi­na is buy­ing less soy­beans from the U.S. because their pig pop­u­la­tion is being dec­i­mat­ed by African Swine Fever. Well, actu­al­ly, Chi­nese soy­bean imports are sur­pris­ing­ly robust. It turns out numer­ous Chi­nese farm­ers noto­ri­ous for feed­ing their pigs table scraps are turn­ing to soy­beans. Chi­na is still buy­ing plen­ty of soy­beans … from South America.

Krumholt also puts the blame for farm­ers finan­cial prob­lems on the pre­vi­ous Admin­is­tra­tion. Krumholz says Barack Oba­ma’s mon­e­tary poli­cies kept inter­est rates low: Too many farm­ers took on too much debt, dan­ger­ous­ly overex­tend­ing themselves.” 
I can trace farmer cash flow prob­lems back to 2013 when huge corn and soy­bean crops reduced farmer’s bot­tom lines. That, far more than low inter­est rates, is at the root of farmer woes.

• Flat­tery. Gaslighters’ stock in trade is to tear down vic­tims, build them up, and repeat. The idea is to get vic­tims used to being torn down. The POTUS has con­stant­ly told farm­ers they need to take one for the team because it will all even­tu­al­ly work out, like this May 14 tweet: Our great Patri­ot Farm­ers will be one of the biggest ben­e­fi­cia­ries of what is hap­pen­ing now. Hope­ful­ly Chi­na will do us the hon­or of con­tin­u­ing to buy our great farm prod­uct, the best, but if not your Coun­try will be mak­ing up the dif­fer­ence based on a very high Chi­na buy……”

• Words v. Actions. A gaslighter likes to talk … and talk … and talk. The hope is to over­whelm the vic­tim’s real­i­ty. But the words mean absolute­ly noth­ing. Time and time again (and there are far too many to list here) the POTUS has told farm­ers that things are going swim­ming­ly in the Chi­na war when noth­ing is fur­ther from the truth.

Okay. Deep breath. Let me be blunt. All this gaslight­ing behav­ior demon­strates a pro­found lack of respect for the U.S. farmer. And for the most part, farm­ers sup­port of POTUS has­n’t eroded.
In fact a pro­duc­er sur­vey from the Pur­due Cen­ter for Com­mer­cial Agri­cul­ture released in ear­ly August showed a record-high 78% of farm­ers believe the POTUS trade war will ulti­mate­ly ben­e­fit U.S. agriculture.

It reminds me of the fra­ter­ni­ty haz­ing in Ani­mal House: Thank you sir, may I have another.”

But times they may be a‑changing.

At last, indi­vid­ual farm­ers are pub­licly announc­ing their increased frus­tra­tion with the 19-month Chi­na trade war. A small sam­ple just since Aug. 1:

US farm­ers are slam­ming Trump — say­ing trade pol­i­cy is not a game’ and Chi­na tar­iffs will plague ranch­ers for decades’”

Farm­ers’ Frus­tra­tion With Trump Grows as U.S. Esca­lates Chi­na Fight”

Truck­ers and farm­ers who vot­ed for Trump are start­ing to blame his poli­cies for their eco­nom­ic woes”

And then there’s this aston­ish­ing exchange between farm­ers and USDA sec­re­tary Son­ny Per­due from an August Farm­fest event in Min­neso­ta. Try­ing to deflect intense crit­i­cism from farm­ers toward the end of the event, Pur­due offered this up: I had a farmer tell me this in Penn­syl­va­nia,” Per­due told the audi­ence at a lis­ten­ing ses­sion host­ed by House Agri­cul­ture Com­mit­tee Chair Collin Peter­son (D‑MN). He said What do you call two farm­ers in a base­ment?’ I said I don’t know, what do you call them?’ He said A whine cellar.’”

Call­ing farm­ers a bunch of whin­ers prob­a­bly won’t keep farm­ers on board the Chi­na-trade-war express.

Here’s a truth. The POTUS won the White House by the hair of his chin­ny-chin-chin by win­ning Wis­con­sin, Michi­gan, and Penn­syl­va­nia by a total of 79,646 votes.

Could that many farm­ers stay away from the polls in 2020 if they are not made whole by the Chi­na trade war? You bet they could.

The Mid­west Cen­ter for Inves­tiga­tive Report­ing is a non­prof­it, online news­room offer­ing inves­tiga­tive and enter­prise cov­er­age of agribusi­ness, Big Ag and relat­ed issues through data analy­sis, visu­al­iza­tions, in-depth reports and inter­ac­tive web tools. Vis­it us online at www​.inves​ti​gatemid​west​.org

Dave Dick­ey spent near­ly 30 years at Uni­ver­si­ty of Illi­nois at Urbana-Champaign’s NPR mem­ber sta­tion WILL-AM 580 where he won a dozen Asso­ci­at­ed Press awards for his report­ing. For 13 years, he direct­ed Illi­nois Pub­lic Media’s agri­cul­ture pro­gram­ming. His week­ly col­umn for the Mid­west Cen­ter cov­ers agri­cul­ture and relat­ed issues includ­ing pol­i­tics, gov­ern­ment, envi­ron­ment and labor.

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