On an Australian travelogue and Iowa travesties

Herb Strentz contrasts charming Australia molehills with troubling American mountains.

While spending a month in Australia, I found some charming molehills. Sadly, though, the "molehills" did not provide needed diversion from the troubling mountains of discord and lies in Iowa public life.

Way back in 1989, in a PBS program, "The Truth About Lies," Bill Moyers asked, “…can a nation die of too many lies?” A reprise of that program today might straightforwardly declare, “Our nation is dying of too many lies.”

Chief among the lies is that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump. Prominent Iowa Republicans have never contested that lie, which is passionately held by the Trump cult with disastrous results for the country.

Aussies have those neighborhood traffic monitors that tell motorists what the speed limit is and how fast they are going. In the U.S., such signs post the speed limit, say 35, and also the speed of your vehicle, 33, 36, 37 or more miles per hour.

In Australia, if you’re going the speed limit or slower, you are rewarded — not with a report of your law-abiding speed — but with a happy face that indicates everyone is proud of your driving. An antidote to road rage? At least it’s a “Thank you!”

In the U.S., being pleased with one another is in short supply, as is holding others accountable and having a sense of community. Americans are more likely to “Look out for number one.”

Iowa's Republican leaders have shown this legislative session that they were not pleased with school teachers, public education, transgender people and others. In contrast, they apparently have no problem with Trump's lies and nonsensical comments, or the asinine perspectives of U.S. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia.

Seeking re-election for the umpteenth time, U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley casts himself as the influential, respected elder of the GOP. Yet he said last year it "wouldn't be too smart" of him not to accept the disreputable Trump's endorsement. You have to wonder what it would take for Grassley — if he has the influence he boasts of — to try to bring some sanity back to nation’s political arena. Maybe he would be outraged if Trump or Taylor Greene misspelled ethanol.

In search of other diversions, one might observe that in the U.S. we have signs that command motorists to “YIELD,” as in Arthurian times: “Yield or die, thou craven knight.” The comparable red and white triangles in Australia suggest it would be nice for us to “GIVE WAY” to others.

Iowa lawmakers at the state and federal levels want none of that. That was evident when Grassley chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee and slow-walked President Barack Obama's nominees but fast-tracked Trump's.

Speaking to a Republican gathering in Carroll in April, Grassley boasted, “Together, President Trump and I cemented a conservative 6-3 majority on the Supreme Court.”

The word choice of “cemented” is troubling, given our constitution’s provision for an independent judiciary and a check and balance relationship among the three branches of government.

Another version of that threat was underscored when Governor Kim Reynolds said at a recent campaign gathering that she wants voters to provide her “own” attorney general and state auditor—presumably so she can govern with no oversight or accountability.

The Democratic Attorney General Tom Miller and State Auditor Rob Sand, who will both be on the November ballot, have rightly questioned some of Reynolds’ actions. Miller determined in a 2017 opinion that Reynolds did not have the authority to appoint a new lieutenant governor. Sand warned the governor in 2020 that spending $21 million on a contract signed before the pandemic would not be an allowable use of federal COVID-19 relief funds.

In one final area of contrast, when eating out in West Australia, before being seated, signs tell would-be restaurant patrons they must wear masks, show proof of COVID-19 vaccination, and offer photo IDs. As far as we could tell, few object to this regional law by asserting, “I can do what I want. This is as free country.” Mask compliance seemed 90 percent or better outdoors, too.

One Australian sign, however, offers an idea free for the taking by Iowa. You've seen those diamond-shaped signs warning motorists to be mindful of the presence of children or road hazards. Some suburban Aussie neighborhoods have signs that might serve seniors like me well: “AGED.”

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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