By Gary Truitt
This was not the commentary I was going to write this week. I had one all planned. It was a light-hearted look at the smells of the Indiana State Fair. Some smells make people happy, while others make people retch; some smells make people hungry, while some foster feelings of nostalgia. But I scrapped all that as a situation that smells much worse made the headlines.
Over my nearly 40 years as a journalist, I have seen a lot of political leaders say some really stupid things. This past week, however, may have been a new low. Most of the time I let these incidents roll by without comment; but, when it involves disrespecting the American farmer, it really gets my dander up.
First President Trump, who is in the White House in no small part because of the support of farmers, made fun of wheat producers and belittled wheat exports to Japan, “They send thousands and thousands — millions — of cars. We send them wheat. Wheat. That’s not a good deal. And they don’t even want our wheat.” Mr. Trump went on to say, “They do it because they want us to at least feel that we’re okay. You know, they do it to make us feel good.” Like most Americans, I have become accustomed to his outlandish quotes and bold statements, but this one is just indefensible.
While Trump administration policies have done many good things for agriculture, to throw farmers under the bus especially during a time of low prices and falling farm income is inexcusable. Undersecretary for Trade at USDA Ted McKinney has made several trips to Japan trying to work on a trade agreement that would boost U.S.-Japanese trade. Perhaps Mr. Trump thought he was putting pressure on Japan by saber rattling on autos, but to do so by bashing farmers was insensitive and in extremely poor taste.
Speaking of poor taste, Ag Secretary Perdue showed some poor judgement when he told a joke at a farm meeting in Minnesota that referred to farmers as “whiners.” This on the heels of a USDA report that many growers feel is grossly inaccurate and responsible for pushing market prices even lower.
Most in agriculture understand that our leaders and elected officials are out of touch with the reality of running a farm. We really don’t expect them to know a lot, but you would think they might try to look informed and at least caring. Indiana Senator Braun, a member of the Senate Ag Committee, admitted to a group of corn and soybean farmers this week that he had not seen nor was even aware of the August crop report and its impact on the market or implications for farm income. Then White House trade adviser Peter Navarro claimed this week that the Trump administration’s trade aid package is “making farmers whole.”
So if you, as a farmer, are feeling misunderstood, unappreciated, and disrespected, you have a right to be. This year has been challenging enough without this kind of twaddle from elected officials who should know better or at last act better.
Now before you Trump-lovers start sending me hate mail and you Trump-haters start sending me love notes, let me state that this is not a political issue or supporting either side. Stupid and insensitive remarks have been made by both sides, and neither side should be excused. We need a little more civil discourse and a whole lot more common sense from our leaders today.