“We the people” or “We the phonies”?

Herb Strentz: Thanks to lockdowns and self-isolation, we don’t have distractions or escape mechanisms to help us cope with COVID-19 and Trump-45. -promoted by Laura Belin

One of the “curses” or “blessings” of the novel coronavirus pandemic is that we may be reading and thinking more. Either pursuit can be unsettling, nerve-wracking, or even hopeful–but it’s the best we have going for us.

Thanks to lockdowns and self-isolation, we don’t have distractions or escape mechanisms to help us cope with COVID-19 and Trump-45. We have no “bread” — like restaurants to go to, libraries and museums to visit, performances to attend. We have no “circuses” — like televised sports, the I-Cubs at Principal Park, or similar diversions.

The questionable impact of such bread and circus diversions hit home with the “insight” or fear that Abraham Lincoln’s “government of the people, by the people, for the people” is perishing—giving way to President Donald Trump’s “government of the phonies, by the phonies, for the phonies.”

Yes, the “phonies” bit is like red-meat rhetoric on the campaign trail. But, what other parallel construction resonates when you think of a president essentially calling for the overthrow of or liberation from state governments in Virginia, Michigan, and Minnesota?

Have we forgotten how the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner was to bring peace to the Middle East, justice to the Kurds, and a well-managed response to COVID-19, missions Trump assured us were in the greatest of hands?

And how does one square us having a “government of the people,” with so many voters being disenfranchised and our own state ranking 50th in the nation in terms of returning the vote to ex-felons who have served their sentences in prison?

Or how government funding decisions manage so often to give billions to the haves and peanuts, at best, to the vulnerable have nots? The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., had a line for that, saying the U.S. had socialism for the wealthy and rugged individualism for the poor.

Okay. Enough of the woeful supposed evidence of a “government of the phonies.”

Perhaps aware of such concerns, author Jon Meacham wrote the essay “Great Leadership in a Time of Crisis” in a recent edition of The New York Times Book Review.

The essay focused on British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s decision-making in May 1940, when the question was whether to end almost two years of warfare and seek a truce with Adolf Hitler, and President John F. Kennedy’s decision-making in October 1962, when Soviet nuclear missiles had been deployed in Cuba.

Another U.S. president enters the discussion of leadership during a crisis and that, of course, is Franklin Delano Roosevelt. During the Great Depression, FDR rallied the nation in his first inaugural address, “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.”

So we have had presidents who have led us though crises.

Enter Donald Trump!

But first, a word from President Dwight D. Eisenhower, “Leadership consists of nothing but taking responsibility for everything that goes wrong and giving your subordinates credit for everything that goes well.”

Exit Donald Trump!

Okay, so if Trump is a no-go when it comes to uniting us, maybe we can get Iowa’s U .S. Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst to talk some sense into him.

Grassley’s best response to why he doesn’t hold Trump accountable came in an April 15 email:

I am never shy about offering criticism of any president when it is warranted. But I do not believe that engaging in name calling or unproductive attacks will help work toward policy that addresses the problems facing Iowans and the nation […] (W)hen I think there is something productive I can add to the conversation, I do not hesitate to speak up.

So Grassley is just waiting for Trump to do something outlandish or unpresidential.

As for Ernst, she and Grassley both applauded Trump’s move in in January to roll back some federal water pollution regulations.

The BBC reported, “Under the new regulations, landowners and property developers will be able to pour pesticides, fertilisers and other pollutants directly into millions of miles of the nation’s waterways for the first time in decades.”

In a March 3 email, however, Ernst wrote:

This is a huge win for folks in Iowa. But there’s still more we can do in Congress to ensure this rule does not get overturned by future administrations. Under this president […] we’ve fought to get the government off the backs of farmers and small businesses.

Environmentalists do not see it that way.

Regardless, neither senator from Iowa seems likely to hold Trump accountable, unless, of course, he…

Beats me what he has to do. At a 2016 rally in Sioux Center, he mused, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, okay, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, okay?”

We may just have to wait until November 3 to see if “We the people” or “We the phonies” carry the day.

Herb Strentz was dean of the Drake School of Journalism from 1975 to 1988 and professor there until retirement in 2004. He was executive secretary of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council from its founding in 1976 to 2000.

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