Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman didn’t pull any punches in his latest New York Times column, pointing out what has become obvious: President Donald Trump rode to victory in 2016 on the backs of rural voters in farming states and now he is destroying their livelihoods.
As Krugman summed it up: “Trump is inflicting the greatest harm on the people who supported him most” before adding that it “isn’t an accident.”
“Donald Trump is unpopular, but he retains the loyalty of some important groups. Among the most loyal are America’s farmers, who are a tiny minority of the population but exert disproportionate political influence because of our electoral system, which gives 3.2 million Iowans as many senators as almost 40 million Californians” he reminded readers before making the case that it was only natural that farmers would see him as someone who shares their values as evidenced by his simplistic populist rhetoric.
“The demography and culture of (white) rural America make it fertile ground for politicians promising to restore traditional society, and especially traditional racial hierarchy,” he lectured. “But farmers’ financial distress should also have been predictable: While rural America may dislike and distrust cosmopolitan elites, the U.S. farm economy is hugely dependent on global markets, and it has inevitably been a major victim of the Trumpian trade war.”
According to the economist, Trump skillfully played upon the deep-seated racist leanings in predominately white-populated communities which struck a chord with rural whites who make up his base.
“Rural America, with its still tiny immigrant population, was a receptive audience for his fear-mongering. More generally, Making America Great Again — which was basically about setting back the clock racially and culturally — was a message that played well in places that still tend to think of themselves (and are told by politicians to think of themselves) as the Real America, as opposed to the big metropolitan areas where most Americans actually live,” he wrote.
But what they didn’t see coming is that Trump has no idea how global trade works — and now they are paying the price in ways that may cause them to lose their livelihoods.
“Here’s the thing: It shouldn’t have been hard to predict that Trumponomics would be bad for farmers. Trump’s desire for a trade war was out in the open from the beginning; protectionism is right up there with racism and anti-environmentalism as one of his core values. And a trade war was bound to hurt farm exports,” he wrote before posing the question: “So what were farmers thinking?”
In a word, rural voters who bought into Trump’s rhetoric got suckered.
“Trump seemed like their kind of guy. He certainly seemed to share their dislike for urban elites who, they imagined, looked down on people like them. So they convinced themselves that he knew what he was doing, that he would win his trade war and that they would be among the victors sharing the spoils.”
According to the columnist, farmers who jumped on the Trump bandwagon may be so heavily invested in supporting his nationalistic pitch that they don’t know how to quit him.
“So what will happen as the trade war drags on? Don’t expect farmers to suddenly exclaim en masse, ‘Hey, we’ve been had! Real life doesn’t work that way. But they have, in fact, been had, and they may finally be starting to realize it,” he concluded.
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