Perspectives on our election, our future

Herb Strentz reflects on Donald Trump’s ongoing influence over the news media and his “cult” of supporters within the Republican Party. -promoted by Laura Belin

As the electoral college has done its work, joy and relief at the outcome of the 2020 election is tempered by recollections of the 2008 and 2016 elections and three recent commentaries in the Des Moines Register and the New York Times.

For 2008, one might recall news coverage of the Obama victory celebration in Grant Park in Chicago, in which our news media reported that the election of a Black president signaled the end of racism in America. (For the press, spur of the moment commentary almost always is presented as truth for the ages.)

For 2016, it was not truth for the ages, but at least prescient that Donald Trump back then told the Iowa GOP that its caucus results should be thrown out because only voting fraud could explain why he finished second to Senator Ted Cruz. (The results were not thrown out, but no Iowa Republican leader dared to mention the 2016 farce in defending Trump’s absurd challenges of the voters’ decision in 2020.)

Also in 2016, we had the gut-wrenching observation of CBS Chairman Les Moonves that Trump’s presidential candidacy might not be making America great, but it was great for his company in terms of profits and ratings: “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”

The news media’s moth-and-flame relationship with Trump continues, of course, as evidenced by this December 12 headline in the New York Times: “The Fate of the Republican Party Appears to Rest on What Trump Decides to Do Next.”

Huh?  Look, Trump lost the popular vote by more than 7 million votes and the Times, among others, is still fascinated by “What will Donald Trump do next?”

That is a terrifying thought. Our nation’s fate is to be determined by what outrage Trump perpetrates next to promote his own interests and salve his wounded ego?

Republican incumbent Herbert Hoover lost the 1932 presidential election by a bit more than 7 million votes and he was anathema to the GOP for years, even though the cause of his loss — the Great Depression — began only seven months after his inauguration. And Hoover had a great record as a public servant and global-wide recognition as a great humanitarian, thanks to his food relief efforts before, during and after WWI.

Trump loses by 7 million — a lot, even considering the much larger 2020 electorate — and his cult still embraces him. And the press dubs him as the leader of the Republican Party?

The impact of the Trump cult is reflected in two pieces recently published in the Des Moines Register: a letter from U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley and an op-ed piece by David Oman, a former co-chair of the Republican Party of Iowa and chief of staff for Governors Robert D. Ray and Terry Branstad.

The 157-word Grassley letter is taken from remarks the senator delivered on the Senate floor. Grassley is outraged by what he sees as the news media and the Democratic Party ignoring his concerns about the financial dealings of Hunter Biden, the president-elect’s son.

Perhaps Grassley’s concern has merit, but it is worth pointing out that the outrage expressed in his l57 words well outweighs any concern — perhaps even collective concerns —  he has expressed in the past five years about Trump’s thousands of lies, countless vulgarities, and Trump’s sowing divisiveness and hatred across the world.

In response to emails about his silence on the damage Trump has done to the nation domestically and internationally, Grassley usually says he has responsibility to serve the citizens of Iowa. Performance of that duty, in his eyes, would be sidetracked, if not harmed, by getting involved in the fireworks set off by Trump’s antics. 

And it wasn’t just a matter of not holding Trump accountable. Grassley was obedient to Trump when it came to judicial appointments and his service as chair of the Senate Judiciary committee for four years. The partisan nature of Grassley’s committee work was been pointed out in research by Carl Tobias, a professor in the University of Richmond School of Law, previously discussed at Bleeding Heartland.

So Grassley remains a partner in the Trump Cult, despite Trump’s undercutting whatever accomplishments Grassley can point to in his 40 years in the Senate. Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank took note of that in a May column about the president’s attacks on inspectors general.

[…] the Iowa Republican has been a champion of accountability, defending the oversight that exposes government corruption. But now the 86-year-old is watching, weakly, as President Trump shreds Grassley’s life’s work.

The characterization of Grassley as a “champion of accountability” is echoed in Oman’s essay. But while defending Grassley and Senator Joni Ernst for their minimal efforts to hold Trump accountable, Oman criticizes a Register editorial that he says faults the senators for not hopping on the Biden bandwagon.


The newspaper’s December 2 editorial faulted Grassley and Ernst for their silence on Trump’s egregiously phony claims of election fraud.  The headline and sub hed of the editorial:

Silence on election ‘fraud’ is wrong —
Grassley, Ernst should’ve pushed back by now on Trump’s unfounded claims of misconduct

Further, in the upcoming Congress, Oman sets the bar pretty low for evaluating Grassley’s work:

Grassley, as a member of the U.S. Senate majority or minority, will do his constitutional duty to constructively work with that president, and in turn, help 330 million Americans and 3 million Iowans.

Promising that members of Congress will do their “constitutional duty” really is not asking much.  Although maybe in the wake of the Trump administration that would be a marked improvement.

For the most part, Oman’s essay strikes a hopeful note and is free of the Trump cult rhetoric often heard from Iowa’s governor and other leaders of what used to be a well-respected political party.

Let’s go back to that New York Times headline — “The Fate of the Republican Party Appears to Rest on What Trump Decides to Do Next.” The better hope for us is that “The Fate of the Republican Party Rests on What People Like David Oman Do Next.”

There are lots of Republicans like Oman in Iowa, outcasts by the Trump cult, and we need them now, more than ever.

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.

Top image: A November 14, 2020 protest march in Washington, DC supporting Donald Trump’s false claims of voter fraud. Photo by “bakdc,” available via Shutterstock.

Maintenance Notice - As of November 14, 2023 we are still seeing issues with replying to comments...Thanks for your patience, this will be restored.