Herb Strentz reflects on the transfer of power and the reaction from leading Iowa Republican politicians. -promoted by Laura Belin
While President Donald Trump engaged in no traditional “welcome” protocols to greet his successor at the White House, he left something even more important for President Joe Biden and for the sake of the nation. What Trump left us is a bestowal of relief, of trust, of hope and of opportunity that could serve us all well for years to come.
Marina Hyde, a columnist for the Guardian in the United Kingdom, made that clear in a 900-word blistering indictment of Trump and his four years in office.
Another international publication out of England, The Economist, noted that in his 2017 inaugural address Trump promised to end “American carnage.” His presidency ended, however, with carnage of his own making when he urged “a mob to march on Congress—and then [praised] it after it had resorted to violence.”
But no easy road awaits the Biden administration, The Economist observed in the next edition, because naïve views of how democracy works should have ended with that mob action of January 6. The magazine said getting democracy back on track can be “successful only if countries [nurture] democratic institutions by guarding against inequality, ensuring voters have access to objective information, tame money in politics and reinforce checks and balances” of accountability in our system of government.
To move from British observations to the homefront, that’s a lot of nurturing. Our track record in recent years is far from encouraging.
Consider the behavior of Iowa’s governor and U.S. senators.
When it comes to “access to objective information,” the postings of Bleeding Heartland editor Laura Belin have documented the failings of Governor Kim Reynolds and her administration in that regard — including their knowingly posting inaccurate information about COVID-19 on government websites. The governor’s communications director, Pat Garrett, rarely answers and often does not even acknowledge inquiries about Reynolds’ actions.
Partly because of such behavior, reporters who routinely cover the capitol created the Iowa Capitol Press Association in November “to promote transparency in government” — something the state legislature and others thought we had accomplished with an updating of the Iowa law on access to public records in 1984, almost 40 years ago.
(Curiously, the bylaws of the new press association would not welcome membership by the likes of Belin, who covers state government better than just about anyone else. So one can fault the news reporters as well as government intransigence.)
When it comes to holding government accountable through a system of checks and balances, the Iowa record of late is even worse than what we’ve been doing with regard to government transparency.
Reynolds lamented that Iowa did not sign on with eighteen other pro-Trump states to the appalling lawsuit out of Texas to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. Hey! When you’ve already lost millions of dollars in lawsuits condemning actions by government employees — as Iowa has — what’s wrong with wasting thousands more?
Happily checks and balances did work out, as the lawsuit and its legal siblings were readily dismissed by scores of federal and state courts.
Checks and balances may become the order of the day as Republican Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst in the coming weeks will raise more challenges against and criticisms of President Biden and the Democratic-controlled Congress than they did in four years of fealty to Trump.
Ernst, still in the campaign mode of slinging mud, declared Democrats only want to “further divide the nation” by impeaching Trump.
With regard to such claims, The Economist noted that Trump’s supporters
argue that impeachment is divisive just when America needs to become united. That is self-serving and wrong. Nobody has sown discord as recklessly as Mr Trump and his party. You do not overcome division by pretending that nothing is wrong, but by facing it. Were Mr Trump to be convicted, the healing might genuinely begin.
For his part, in a weekly phone call with Iowa journalists, Grassley did chime in, post-election, in criticizing Trump for granting ethanol waivers that would aid big oil and hurt Iowa’s biofuels industry.
As the Iowa Capital Dispatch reported, Grassley said, “I don’t know if I feel betrayed, which is your word, but I surely don’t agree with the decision, particularly after last week…“It’s ironic. I just got done complimenting (the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) last week, for not (approving) any new waivers.”
That’s about as harsh as Grassley has been about Trump. He gave a strong endorsement two days before the election: “We need FOUR MORE YEARS of PROMISES MADE, PROMISES KEPT!”
An email response from Grassley last March was typical of his responses to his silence on Trump’s recklessness. Grassley made an irrelevant reference to name calling. He also has said his job is to serve Iowans, implying that making Trump accountable was not serving Iowans. From that 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 so I try to lead by example instead of contributing to the problem. While inflammatory comments always get more media coverage, when I think there is something productive I can add to the conversation, I do not hesitate to speak up.
After the election, Grassley refused to say Biden had won, saying the Constitutional outcome spoke for itself. Speaking to reporters this month, Grassley temporized on the future of Trump: “Right now, there’s very little opportunity for him to lead the Republican Party.”
Given his past support and his silence on Trump’s record, does Grassley hope for a Trump revival, if not “right now,” than sometime soon?
For sanity’s sake, it is better to put one’s hope on the equity of trust and hope that Trump forfeited, but bestowed upon Biden.
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: Screenshot from C-SPAN’s coverage of the first televised debate between President Donald Trump and Joe Biden.