In last November’s presidential election, Trump swept rural and small town America with nearly 60 percent of the vote to Clinton’s 34 percent. During the campaign, Trump spoke to the concerns of rural Americans about ongoing economic struggles with promises of a revived coal industry, a resurgence in factory jobs and fewer regulations.
Setting the feasibility of these campaign promises aside for a moment, it’s clear the Trump agenda has morphed into something decidedly anti-rural—particularly on energy, development and agriculture. The needs of the rural voters who elected him are being sacrificed for corporate gain—and in some instances the administration’s spin machine is even trying to assert that these pro-corporate decisions will benefit rural America.
Here are the worst insults Trump has leveled (or proposed) against rural voters:
- USDA's Budget
Trump’s proposed budget for 2018 would cut nearly 21 percent from USDA’s budget—the third largest percentage cut for any agency—and completely eliminate the Rural Development program which provides for important advances in infrastructure and technology in rural communities. The budget proposal also calls for reduced staffing at USDA service centers around the country. These local offices, the only federal government presence in many rural counties, allow farmers and communities easy access to USDA programs like the Farm Service Agency.
- Water Infrastructure
Trump’s proposed budget would eliminate a program designed to help small rural communities improve water and sewer infrastructure. The Government Accountability Office has estimated the cost of replacing rural water infrastructure at nearly $190 billion in the coming decades, and in many cases, small rural communities do not have the number of users needed to improve infrastructure while maintaining affordable rates. In these cases, communities depend on federal grant and loan programs to make upgrades. The administration insists the program was duplicative because of other programs dedicated to improving water infrastructure generally. However, this was the only program specific to rural America—where small communities are rarely able to compete with larger cities for grants, loans or private financing.
- Agribusiness Mega-Mergers
The Trump Administration’s approval of the mega-merger between Dow and DuPont is bad for our food system, but it’s a particularly raw deal for farmers—many of whom are likely to see their income fall for the fourth straight year in 2017. The number of major seed and chemical companies will be reduced from six to five which means less competition—and a near certain rise in prices farmers pay for seeds and chemicals. Farmers are sandwiched between monopoly markets—they’ll have fewer options for purchasing inputs like fertilizer and seeds, and they’ll have fewer options for selling products.
- Economic Development
Trump’s proposed 2018 budget would zero out funding for the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Delta Regional Authority and the Northern Border Regional Commission which have long supported some of our country’s most vulnerable rural populations. These three agencies have a long history of success in creating economic opportunity, providing workforce development and funding infrastructure improvements throughout the northeast, Appalachian and Mississippi delta regions. Eliminating these three commissions affects 698 largely rural counties; the loss of more than $175 million will also impact regional efforts to support a just transition away from dirty energy and toward a more sustainable future.
- Promoting Fracking
An increase in natural gas exports, the cornerstone of Trump’s shortsighted and dangerous energy plan, will sacrifice rural America for corporate profit. The construction of pipelines necessary to bring this gas to market—big ones like Keystone and Dakota Access, and countless thousands of smaller ones—will turn our nation’s farmland into a tangled web of dirty and dangerous pipes. Trump’s postponement of an Obama-era rule limiting the release of methane and smog-forming pollutants from oil and gas wells was just blocked by a U.S. District Court, but you can bet the Trump Administration will keep trying. Delay of the methane rule will subject rural communities—where the vast majority of oil and gas development occurs—to higher levels of this dangerous and toxic pollutant. Recent studies in the Marcellus Shale basin have shown methane levels more than 50 parts per billion higher than would otherwise be expected in rural areas.
- Corporate Trade Deals
Instead of using renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) as an opportunity to overhaul the agreement to advance the interests of workers, communities and the environment, Trump plans to use the renegotiation to slide corporate-written provisions from the doomed Trans Pacific Partnership into NAFTA. Early indications are that Trump’s goals for renegotiation are focused on what corporations want, even though he’s selling it as a gift to rural America. The dairy war Trump is trying to start with Canada is a perfect example. Canada has stopped accepting imports of ultra-filtered milk from the U.S. because of concerns that oversupply will negatively impact the livelihoods of Canadian farmers. This has left many Wisconsin farmers without a buyer for their milk. But blaming Canada is fake news—and ignores a long-running crisis in the U.S. dairy market caused by years of bad policy that encourage dairy farmers to keep overproducing milk, flooding the market and destroying their prices. Instead of worrying about what Big Ag wants in a revised NAFTA, what we really need is better U.S. farm policy and a trade agreement that puts farmers and communities first.
- Doubling Down on Fossil Fuels
Trump is in hot pursuit of false solutions like coal and natural gas. Rural America is on the cusp of a just transition away from dirty energy and toward a more renewable future. Trump’s energy focus is one giant step backward for rural America—one that will sacrifice countless thousands of acres of farmland for temporary fossil fuel infrastructure instead of encouraging rural communities to be part of the shift to wind, solar and other renewable energy sources that they are well suited to produce. The election rallying cry that a resurgence of the coal industry would save rural areas was also fake news—and just days after Trump’s election coal state lawmakers began to walk back that narrative. Reliance on dirty and backward fossil fuels won’t save rural America. We need to move toward 100 percent renewable energy like our lives depend on it—because they do.
- Rolling Back Farmer Protections and Organic Standards
Trump’s USDA has delayed implementing rules meant to protect farmers from unfair contracting and marketing practices used by the major poultry and meatpacking companies. Under the current interpretation of the law, farmers have to prove that alleged unfair practices they experienced harmed the entire industry — an impossible burden. Trump has also twice-delayed new organic rules which would have required outdoor access for all animals, set indoor and outdoor space requirements for chickens and added transport and slaughter standards. The delay of these standards, which have been developed with years of input from organic farmers, undermines the organic label and puts the livelihoods of U.S. organic farmers at risk.
Six months into the Trump Administration it’s become clear where his allegiances lie. He’s broken promise after campaign promise to the voters who helped propel him to victory. It’s become clear that all the rural campaign stops in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Nebraska and elsewhere were only a smokescreen for a corporate-driven agenda that will sacrifice the interests of rural America for the benefit of Wall Street.