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Photo: Dorothea Lange, National Archives

The Washington Post reported yesterday on the travails faced by one farm family that's going through some very hard times. Andy and Anne Lee are dairy farmers in Berkshire, New York -- the Real America, upstate part of the state -- and they've seen their income decline significantly in recent years, mostly due to a steep drop in milk prices but it's been made a lot worse by Donald Trump's trade wars.

The story is a sympathetic slice-of-life portrait of a family struggling to get by, focusing mostly on Anne's attempts to keep her family fed on a very tight budget. She reluctantly makes a first-ever trip to a food pantry -- in another town, hoping she won't be recognized -- and even applies for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), aka food stamps, though she's so worried about the shame of it, and doesn't want to tell Andy about either. She's struck by the irony of it all, telling reporter Annie Gowen, "We're supposed to be feeding the world, and we can't even put food on our own table," and saying she'd told Andy, "This is what need feels like."

And yes, of course they both voted for Trump, and still support him. He's doing the best he can to fix things. Like cutting SNAP benefits by 14 percent, eliminating benefits for three million people (a third of them children), and for good measure taking away free school lunches for half a million kids.


The story points out that rural New York's dairy farms were already hurting before Trump took office, due to overproduction of milk worldwide, and the fact that Americans just aren't drinking milk like they used to. Federal stats show the state has lost over 1,100 dairy farms since 2012, and then on top of that, there are the retaliatory tariffs on milk put in place by Mexico and China, which have resulted in losses of $125 million to New York farmers.

The Lees have gotten a very small slice -- $4,100 in 2019 -- of Trump's bailout payments to farmers hurt by the trade war, and they appreciate the help, although Anne says it didn't do a lot to offset the $4,000 per month decline in their income from milk. And the story points out that the $28 billion bailout program doesn't seem to be aimed at helping peons like the Lees anyway. The bailout program

has been criticized for benefiting large operations over family farms. A study by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group found that 60 percent of the money that flowed to New York state went to the top 10 percent of farmers.

But the Lees are still behind Trump. They voted for him in 2016, because he's totally on their side:

Like many farmers, they think their taxes are too high, their creeks and streams are over-regulated and that Trump still has their best interests at heart.

"We've had unfair trade for years and years. Somebody had to fix it, and he's trying to fix it," Anne said.

"I know a lot of people don't like it but, you know, this was going to have to happen in order to make U.S. products become more competitive," said Andy. "It's going to hurt for a while."

While it would be easy to dismiss the Lees as foolish for thinking that Donald Trump gives a rip about them, I'm enough of a liberal sap to think just mocking them as idiots who can't see their own interests clearly would be a mistake. I'm in one of my "God damn it, you've got to be kind" moods, I guess, and thinking about how to connect to people, who tend to be pretty complicated.

I don't have any illusions that Democrats would win their votes by trying to convince them their prospects would be a lot brighter if they had universal healthcare or free college for their kids, although yes, those would definitely be good things for all families. To win elections, those of us on the leftish side of the political divide need to focus on getting our own communities and allies to the polls, and not go chasing after white rural voters who may never come any closer to a Democrat than being interviewed by reporters from New York and Washington. In the class war, they're still willing to fight on the side of the billionaires, go figure.

But for the long term, there's something to be said for at least communicating more effectively about policy with families like the Lees. As with discourse on climate change, one of the few strategies that seems to have some chance of success is finding the personal connections that we share, like caring about our kids and our communities and the future. Lots of us have had trouble making rent or putting food on our families, and maybe that's a place to start talking.

[WaPo / Guardian]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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