Las Vegas Sun

May 23, 2019

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EDITORIAL:

USDA economists are the latest casualties of Trump’s war on truth

A leader retaliates against government staffers for revealing facts that directly contradict his propaganda.

This is the stuff of a dictatorship. And it recently happened in the Trump White House.

As reported recently by Politico, at least six economists in the U.S. Department of Agriculture quit their jobs after claiming that their department was punished by the Trump administration for issuing reports saying farmers were being hurt by his tariffs and the Republican tax overhaul.

The economists worked in the USDA’s research arm, the Economic Research Service, which has been targeted for staffing cuts of 50% and is being moved out of Washington, D.C., to a location in the interior of the country. In addition, Politico reported that the staff was ordered to add disclaimers to its reports saying their findings were “preliminary” and “should not be construed to represent any agency determination or policy.”

In other words, the economists were ordered to devalue their work, their department was gutted and the staffers who remain are getting banished to the hinterlands.

And keep in mind, this is all just for stating the obvious. There’s no question that the tariffs are harming farmers — even farmers who support Trump acknowledge that this is true. Farm income had already fallen 50% since 2013, and the decline has accelerated since Trump made the disastrous moves.

It’s hurting farmers coming and going. Not only have total U.S. agricultural product sales to China cratered 45% in the first quarter of this year due to the tariffs on soybeans and other crops, but the prices of farm equipment have risen due to the tariffs on steel and aluminum.

Meanwhile, as the Economic Research Service economists noted, the tax overhaul is only helping the wealthiest farmers. Again, no surprise there — it’s exactly the same in other sectors. Republicans know that middle- and low-income Americans realize they’ve been had with the tax plan, which is why GOP candidates made practically no mention of it during the 2018 mid-terms.

But none of this matters to President Donald Trump. What matters to him is maintaining his lie that the tariffs and tax plan have supercharged the economy and been terrific for all Americans.

It’s a truly dystopian situation — a leader manipulating facts and silencing those who would question his word.

It’s a tremendous disservice to the nation’s agriculture producers as well. They deserve valid information from expert, independent economists, not propaganda from an entirely self-serving president and the sniveling cowards who surround him. And make no mistake, the economists who quit knew their stuff — they had more than 50 years’ experience between them.

“Controlling ERS would stop unflattering news about federal farm subsidies favoring high-income, high-wealth farm households from reaching the public,” said the service’s former director, Susan Offutt, to Politico. Incidentally, Offutt oversaw the research service under both Republican and Democratic presidents.

Of course, the administration denies any retaliation, claiming instead that the move was done simply to cut costs and make the office more attractive to job recruits who might not want to live in D.C.

Don’t believe it.

Trump has run roughshod over agencies that would get in the way of his destructive agenda, and this is a clear example of it. Others include purges of environmental scientists, OSHA investigators, immigration moderates and many more.

His actions against the Economic Research Service move our nation further down a path toward a post-fact era and a government weaponized by a leader.

Voters can stop this. And in the meantime, here’s a show of support to the devoted government staffers who are continuing to do their jobs or who are blowing the whistle when they’re treated unfairly.