Economists are now fleeing the Agriculture Department's research arm, indicating they've been retaliated against for publishing reports on how Trump administration policies have severely impacted the Heartland.
According to Politico, six economists at the Economic Research Service (ERS) resigned last month, and more are expected to leave shortly.
The departure wave comes after ERS economists published new findings that showed debt-fuelled tax cuts, Trump's trade war, and other policy decisions have financially harmed American farmers.
Heartland voters were Trump's top supporters in 2016, and if more negative ERS reports circulated into media or even into Democratic strategist hands, that could spell disaster for Trump 2020 in several battleground states.
The report outlines the continued deterioration under Trump administration's watch in farm income, which has plunged 50% since 2013.
"The administration didn't appreciate some of our findings, so this is retaliation to harm the agency and send a message," said one current ERS employee, who asked to be anonymous.
We recently discussed how farmers are defaulting and missing payments at alarming rates, forcing regional banks to restructure and refinance existing loans.
Trade wars, depressed commodity prices, natural disasters, and a synchronized global slowdown have brought many farmers onto the edge of bankruptcy.
Several months ago, we reported that federal data showed the number of farmers filing for bankruptcy has climbed to its highest level in a decade.
Our coverage on the surge in farm bankruptcies and the collapse in personal income is very similar to the ERS report. But as explained by Politico sources, the Trump administration has retaliated against ERS economists because the content doesn't fit agenda.
Current and former agency employees tell Politico that the Agriculture Department Secretary Sonny Perdue has been extremely frustrated with its economist for publishing reports about the developing farm crisis.
Last summer Perdue sent an internal memo directing ERS economist to include disclaimers in their peer-reviewed reports stating that the conclusions were "preliminary" and "should not be construed to represent any agency determination or policy" -- a move that will allow the Trump administration to suppress information if it doesn't fit the "Making America Great Again" narrative.
Sources told Politico that non-retirement departures from the agency have doubled this year on an annualized basis compared to the previous three-year average.
Here is what Perdue told Politico on April 30 about his frustrations with ERS economist:
"In USDA, we want good scientific discovery," Perdue said, when asked about the mandated research-disclosure language. "We want peer-based evidence there. We know that research, some has been found in the past to not have been adequately peer-reviewed in a way that created wrong information, and we're very serious when we say we're fact-based, data-driven decision makers. That relies on sound, replicatable science rather than opinion. What I see unfortunately happening many times is that we tried to make policy decisions based on political science rather than on sound science."
Perdue and Trump made it evident in their budget request in March that they wanted to wind down ERS, and eliminate "low priority research" into politically sensitive areas. Trump has called for a 50% reduction in ERS staff, cutting the total number of positions from about 329 to 160.
Former ERS Administrator Susan Offutt, who worked under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, told Politico that the agency's report reveals how farm-subsidy programs disproportionately benefit wealthier farmers - has been a "perennial irritant" to influential lobbying groups, but an "over-the-top reaction" by the administration to suppress such reports would be unprecedented.
"Of course, this is not the story the farm lobby wants to tell about struggling farmers," said Offutt. "Controlling ERS would stop unflattering news about federal farm subsidies favoring high-income, high-wealth farm households from reaching the public."
The Trump administration made a great mistake by launching the trade war at the expense of the American farmer. With many farmers on the brink of bankruptcy in the heartland, the administration appears to be actively trying to suppress information about the developing farm crisis before the 2020 election year.