Since the beginning of his presidential campaign, Donald Trump has prioritized imposing punitive tariffs on China. In a 2016 Republican presidential debate he said, “I’m totally open to a tariff. If they don’t treat us fairly, hey, their whole trade is tariffed. You can’t deal in China without tariffs. They do it to us, we don’t it. It’s not fair trade.”
True to his word, the Trump administration soon implemented steep tariffs on steel and aluminum, washing machines, and solar panels—specifically targeting China with an escalation of his trade war. Tariffs are bad economic policy—costing ordinary Americans hundreds if not thousands of dollars each year—and lead to predictable retaliation and escalation. In response to Trump’s tariffs on Chinese products, Beijing implemented high tariffs on US agricultural products. While previous executives might have heeded the advice of experts and advisors, Trump has not availed himself of their counsel. That a single political figure can implement such shortsighted, damaging policy is unconscionable.
As a result of the Chinese retaliation, the US agricultural export market faced serious challenges. In an effort to mitigate the self‐inflicted damages President Trump directed the USDA to provide direct relief payments to the American farmers hit hardest by the trade war. This blatant attempt to buy off key constituents generated a predictable backlash. Now, government watchdogs are investigating the bailouts following allegations of improper management and allocation. Congress played no role; instead, unilateral actions of the executive branch directly impacted millions of Americans and spent billions of taxpayer dollars.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Congress acted rapidly to allocate stimulus and relief funding, including funds earmarked for the agricultural sector. However, the New York Times reports that:
Months before an election in which some farm states are major battlegrounds, Democrats and other critics of the administration’s agriculture policies are expressing concern that the new subsidies, provided by Congress with bipartisan backing, could be doled out to ensure President Trump continues to win the backing of one of his key voting blocs.
Between the trade war with China and the coronavirus pandemic, the Trump administration has spent $47 billion bailing out farmers. Time and time again the executive branch uses overly broad powers to implement bad policy and hand out political favors. The decisions on policy are unfortunate; but the blatant disregard for democratic decision‐making is frightening.