The contours of fascism are becoming clearly visible just two years into the Trump administration.
Its insidious atmosphere of intimidation and fear has reached the American farming community according to an editorial in Kentucky’s Louisville Courier-Journal written by a retired farmer.
The author, Jim Pat Wilson, is speaking up because he says that after his retirement he has less to lose than his fellow farmers whom he says are too frightened of Republican retaliation to speak out against the Trump administration’s brutally harmful tariffs that have decimated their businesses.
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Wilson begins by giving proof of his agricultural bona fides.
“As a third-generation farmer in New Concord, Kentucky, I raised dairy cows and grew tobacco from 1969 until my retirement in 2016. Farming has changed, friends. The small farmer is a dying breed while the large corporate farms continue to feed on information campaigns of fear and folly,” Wilson writes.
“Grocery stores and corporate accounts are full of the fruits of our labor while farmers are frightened that at any moment a flood or political dispute could take everything. This $16 billion bailout that the president has promised comes from the chaos of his own making,” he continues.
The retired farmer makes clear that the agricultural community isn’t looking for charity, but for sensible and sustainable government policies for their beleaguered economic sector.
“Farmers don’t want handouts, they want solutions,” Wilson plainly states.
Wilson goes on to explain that farmers need a long-term trade deal with China, not short-term bailouts paid for by American taxpayers and consumers paying the tariffs through higher prices. Exacerbating the damage to American farmers are Republican proposals to cut the Department of Agriculture budget by 15% in next year’s federal budget, lowering subsidies for crop insurance premiums and for small farming businesses.
Yet despite policies that seem to completely ignore the concerns of rural agricultural interests not controlled by major corporations, Wilson says that farmers are too frightened to criticize the administration’s actions because of a credible fear of retaliation from wealthy Republican landowners.
He gives concrete examples of exactly how this intimidation works to keep farmers from speaking out for their own interests.
“A farmer who wrote an opinion piece early last year in response to farmers’ incomes dropping more than 50% since 2013 and highlighted the increase in farmer suicides due to status-quo policies, lost 300 acres of sharecropped land because word got out that he was a Democrat,” Wilson says in a cautionary tale of politically-motivated revenge.
“Money lenders in agriculture base who they lend money to on more than just financial statements. Lenders make phone calls within the community to understand the “general character” of someone. The idea is to see if the farmer in question is in good standing in the community and doesn’t have anything to “hide.” But rumors spread all the time about certain operations having to file for bankruptcy,” he exlained.
“Farmers already struggle to compete with larger farms that bring in their cloud-connected combines and quote production numbers to landowners that compete for pennies on the pound. Now they have to compete with their conscience as well,” Wilson laments.
As someone focused on seeking solutions, Wilson provides one way for his fellow disgruntled agricultural business operators to claim their own form of retaliation.
“Republicans have divided neighbors, and our farmers who dare to go against the grain are siloed for speaking up; that’s why so many remain silent. Come Election Day, I hope our farmers find the confines of the ballot box a place for their own retaliation,” he concludes his editorial.
Perhaps the conventional wisdom about the unbroken level of support for President Trump in rural America is proving to be not as rock solid as Republicans are trying to make it out to be. If Trump continues his harmful trade war, farmers will have to decide exactly how long they will be willing to remain suffering in silence before switching their allegiance to a candidate more sympathetic to their concerns.
Follow Vinnie Longobardo on Twitter.