How the big sign came to be and the issues behind the slogan
It took a group of family friends four nights to paint the enormous “Farmers for Trump” sign on Route 211 at Massies Corner. “Painting the plastic was very challenging. The paint wanted to slide right off,” said Mike Massie, farmer and proud owner of the two-tiered hay bale sign. “It took a lot of touching up.”
A couple weeks after the sign was unveiled, the Rappahannock County Zoning Office received a single complaint that it was too big to be in compliance with the county’s sign ordinance. Zoning Administrator Michelle Somers told this newspaper that she and the county attorney would look into it, but that political signs of this nature are not permanent.
Massie himself comes from a long line of Rappahannock County cattle farmers and he is, as his sign suggests, a big fan of Donald Trump. “I think Donald Trump, in his first three years with his economic policies, empowerment zones in the inner cities and bringing back a million manufacturing jobs, allowed people to achieve the American Dream,” he said.
Quoting the hit TV series Yellowstone, Massie told this newspaper that the mindset of an American cattleman could be summed up in a few words: “Dear Lord, give us some rain and a little luck and we’ll do the rest.”
The coalition of farmers for Trump may appear like an organized effort, but Massie said it is “very grassroots. I think I saw a ‘Farmers for Trump’ sign somewhere and liked it, so I emulated it.”
Indeed, “Farmers for Trump” signs can be found all over not only Rappahannock County, but the entire nation. Despite Trump’s aggressive trade policies that have prompted China to implement retaliatory tariffs on American farm products, support for Trump among farmers remains by most measurements widespread.
At the end of August the independent Farm Journal released national polling data that showed 82 percent of farmers said they plan to vote for the president in the 2020 election, compared with a mere 13 percent who say they will vote for Joe Biden.
So what’s driving farmers to gravitate towards Trump in spite of the trade war with China? There are several possible reasons.
Though one local farmer told the Rappahannock News he believes farmers “are pawns in his [Trump’s] trade wars and we have lost markets overseas that we will never get back” and that “a few payments to pacify his base that helped drive up the deficit won’t help us in the long run,” it seems many farmers disagree.
“We believe that [Trump is] trying to stand up for Americans whether they be farmers or Main Street,” said Dr. Brooke Miller, a third-generation farmer in Rappahannock.
“Nobody has stood up to China . . . and China has actually taken advantage of the United States in a lot of trade deals. I think President Trump is doing an excellent job . . . and I think it will pay big dividends in the future. We can’t worry about short-term losses when we’re looking to the long-term.”
Plus, it doesn’t hurt that the federal government is making massive payments to farmers to stem those short-term losses. According to a Politico analysis, federal agricultural spending has increased from $11.5 billion in 2017 to $32 billion and counting in 2020, “amounting to about two-thirds of the cost of the entire Department of Housing and Urban Development.”
Massie said the farmers he knows were prepared to endure short-term pain for long-term gain regardless of whether or not they received government aid and the payments were “just icing on the cake.”
Another reason some farmers support Trump? The promise of fewer regulations. “We’re basically over-regulated,” Miller said. “Over-regulation favors big multinational corporations where they have economies of scale and hurts small independent producers . . . if we can decrease regulation and make it easier for small, independent packing facilities to exist and to thrive, then that will in turn help family farmers to make a living wage.”
Massie expressed frustration not only with meat packaging regulations, but also with environmental legislation imposed on farmers by politicians in Washington. “For a while the big thing was building fences to keep cattle out of the rivers and the streams,” Massie said.
“But before there were cows, there were buffalo doing the same thing. Nature has ways of dealing with that … it’s like [lawmakers] don’t understand that the nature of our work necessitates that we take care of our land.”
(Note: scientific studies have shown that bison and domestic cattle do not use riparian lands in the same way and therefore impact ecosystems differently. It is well documented that whereas bison are better adapted to dry climates and prefer to spend less time grazing in wetlands, domestic cattle have a far greater impact on rivers and streams because they prefer to linger in wetlands. Still, Massie believes nature has ways of resolving such issues on its own.)
Finally, farmers for Trump may support the president because they share a worldview with conservative rural voters, having less to do with the ins and outs of the farming business and more to do with the rural way of life.
“I think for the most part if you live in the country you want freedom, you want independence, you want self-sufficiency, you want self-reliance . . . and you’re willing to do with less as far as [government] services,” Miller said.
“Farmers are very patriotic. We don’t believe the United States is the terrible place that Democrats make it out to be. We love our country,” Massie said, adding that the Republican National Convention painted a much more positive picture of the nation than its Democratic counterpart.
“People don’t want to feel helpless,” Massie continued. “We want to feel like if we do the right thing, if we get up and go to work every day, we have a chance to achieve the American Dream. And that’s why people vote for Donald Trump.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story mistakenly reported that Mike Massie hired men to paint the “Farmers for Trump” sign on Rt. 211. The story has been changed to reflect that family friends volunteered to paint the sign.
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