The rise of industrial agriculture, the collapse of rural America, and the rise of Donald Trump

Would you be surprised if I told you that industrial agriculture was the cause of Donald Trump?

That’s the claim, anyway, of a new article published in the Good Food movement’s flagship magazine publication, Civil Eats.

Here’s a recap of its central points:

  • Rural, white America is angry—and this anger is why it is supportive of Donald Trump.
  • This angry rural demographic was forged in the aftermath of the 1950s-80s collapse of traditional American agriculture.
  • The support for Trump results from widespread economic problems plaguing rural communities.
  • 46 million Americans still live in the countryside.
  • In the post-war years of the 1940s-70s, farmers could eek out a reasonably good living by producing good quality food.
  • The era of the small American farm ended in the 1980s.
  • The collapse of America’s rural heartland was the direct result of government policy, starting in the 1950s.
  • This government policy aimed to eliminate a third of all farm families and increase the size of the average farm.
  • The number of farms dropped from 4.8 million in 1954 to 2.1 million in 1990.
  • When the implications of the policy came to a head in 1980, the USDA requested that foreclosures be accelerated, some illegally.
  • Reagan made deep cuts to price supports and rural development programs; he would “keep the grain and export the farmers.”
  • Suicides, spousal abuse, and other violence spiked in the rural population.
  • In 2016, midsize family farms continue to go out of business.
  • In 2012, 4% percent of farms produced 2/3 of agricultural value.
  • Trump’s agricultural advisors are top industrial agriculture advocates, who will in turn magnify the very damage that has resulted in Trump’s support base.

A link to the original story:

Now, I got a secret to tell: I’m a big fan of the Orange Man. I have a heart for all underdogs, and I gleefully troll well-educated coworkers with my declarations of half-hearted support for The Donald. (I just conceal the half-heartedness in my best facade of Socratic dialectical trollery.) And I just do that because I’m so dissatisfied by Hillary. (I was a big Bern fan.)

But ya gotta admit. No matter what your political persuasion, the collapse of American rural communities1 is heartbreaking. And no matter what policies you support, ya gotta admit: the rise of the Trump is pretty damn scary.

Even if he loses, we may be feeling the effects for years down the road. If another candidate steps up with the same message, more polish, and less of the dirt, Heaven help us.

But if Civil Eats is right, a Trumpish outcome for this country may be just one more awful thing to add to the list of awful achievements… the great and awful achievements… of U.S. industrial agriculture.

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  1. Perhaps best described in J.D. Vance’s book Hillbilly Elegy, released this year: