Trump Is Trying to Gaslight the Soybean Farmers

Farmer Terry Davidson displays one of his soybeans July 6, 2018, in Harvard, Illinois, the same day China imposed retaliatory tariffs aimed at the US soybean market. - Davidson, 41, is a fifth generation farmer, a Democrat among mostly Republicans. He expects to be farming long after the US-China trade tariffs become a distant memory. 'We've survived since the 1800s and we're still going. So, I think we'll keep going,' Davidson says. (Photo by Derek R. HENKLE / AFP)        (Photo credit should read DEREK R. HENKLE/AFP/Getty Images)
Who are this guy going to believe, the president or his lying profit and loss statement? Derek R. Henkle/Getty Images

American soybean farmers are fretting about becoming a casualty of Donald Trump’s brewing trade war with China, which happens to be their most important export market. Prices for the crop took a dive after tensions between the U.S. and Beijing began to flare up earlier this year, and in June, the People’s Republic finally placed a 25 percent tariff on U.S. soybeans and other agricultural products in retaliation for the White House’s duties on Chinese goods.

The president, of course, is trying to absolve himself of all responsibility.

I don’t usually like to use the phrase gaslighting, because it’s kind of a cliche at this point, but I’m pretty sure this is gaslighting. Trump is right on the narrow point that prices for soybeans have fallen by around half since 2012. But that really has nothing to do with trade barriers by other countries, as he suggests. Crop prices have plunged because of a worldwide boom in farming production that’s led to a giant commodity glut. Meanwhile, exports have actually been a crucial bright spot for American farmers: Measured by tonnage, the U.S. sells a little under half of its total soybean production overseas, with almost 60 percent of those exports headed to China alone last year. Here’s what that growth has looked like over time.

U.S. Soybean Exports
Jordan Weissmann/Slate

U.S. soybean exports to China* were already down 22 percent through the first five months of this year, and the great fear among growers is that they could end up permanently losing market share there as buyers there shift to other suppliers, particularly Brazil, while Trump’s trade conflict wears on. The president wants the farm belt to believe he’s coming to its rescue. Somehow, I doubt farmers are going to buy it.

*Correction July 11, 2018: This post originally stated that all U.S. soybean exports were down 22 percent. They are down approximately 1 percent.