The first part of this isn’t true. Trump imposed tariffs on products coming from China, a tax paid largely by American consumers. The second part, though, is true: This tax was then redistributed to farmers who had been targeted by reciprocal tariffs from China.
That redistribution was facilitated through the Agriculture Department’s Market Facilitation Program. According to data obtained by the Environmental Working Group through a Freedom of Information Act request, that program disbursed more than $23 billion in the 2018 and 2019 program years.
One result was that the share of farm income coming from direct government payments is likely to make up more than a third of total income this year.
It’s impossible to separate this generosity from the political nature of the places where the money went. Preliminary information provided to The Washington Post in 2019 indicated that 9 out of every 10 counties that voted for Trump in 2016 received some support through the program. The new data indicates that 91 percent of the money disbursed through the program went to places that supported Trump four years ago. Only 9 percent went to places that had voted for Hillary Clinton.
What’s more, counties that flipped from blue to red in 2016 received an average of nearly $3 million more than ones that backed the Republican presidential candidate in both 2012 and 2016. Counties won by Clinton received an average of $5.7 million. Counties that voted Republican in 2012 and 2016 received an average of $8.4 million. Counties that flipped got an average of $11.1 million.
It’s important to note that it is not necessarily the case that the money received in a county was then used solely within that county. The data is organized based on the location of the entity receiving the check, meaning that a large agricultural company located in a red county might actually be doling out its receipts to a broader range of places. But, again, Trump won rural areas by 27 points, and rural areas are, for obvious reasons, more likely to have farms.
That said, the overlap of distribution and politics is obvious. If we map where the money went, we see it was mostly centered in the Midwest, running up the Mississippi River. There are other pockets: Washington, South Texas and California’s Central Valley. No county received more than Cass County, N.D., where the city of Fargo is located.
If we consider only per capita disbursements, the map shifts a bit. The Mississippi River region received far less money per person than did the Plains states. The county that received the most money as a function of population was Steele County, N.D., where the amount of money provided by the Market Facilitation Program neared $15,600 per person.
Here, again, there was a disparity that fell along political lines. Counties that voted for Clinton received $16.68 per person. Counties that voted for Trump received $157.83 per person, while the average per-person amount in counties that flipped from blue to red in 2016 was just over $163.
That’s the cumulative amount across all of the counties. Individual counties that backed Clinton got an average of $224 per person, while those that supported Trump received an average of almost $756 per person.
That this disparity falls so heavily along political lines is a function of the likelihood of rural voters to support Trump, certainly. But that doesn’t detract from the point that this was nonetheless a massive redistribution of money to places that supported Trump. Places he was eager enough to please that he asked President Xi Jinping of China to increase Chinese purchases of agricultural products, according to his former national security adviser John Bolton, in an effort to bolster his reelection bid.
It’s as though a Democratic president decided to tax Americans broadly to send billions of dollars to the country’s largest cities. The recipients would overwhelmingly be members of his or her own party.