Gerald Ott of Ankeny was a high school English teacher and for 30 years a school improvement consultant for the Iowa State Education Association.
Former President Donald Trump came to Iowa on March 13 and was supposed to give a talk on education policy. That proved to be false advertising.
A glowing Governor Kim Reynolds was there to do the welcome. When the man finally appeared from behind the curtain, he looked a bit like a grizzly bear just coming out of hibernation. The governor was rewarded with a hug and a smooch, quite a trick for a 76-year-old orange hulk—one who’s waving his hand, trying to appear athletic and still stay erect. Give the man credit where due.
I listened to his whole (and I mean 90-minutes whole) speech on C-SPAN, waiting to hear how he’d make every kid an Einstein, but with no luck. Not even close — except (as per all red states) to put education in the hands of parents and ban any sexual, race-based or political content from being taught in schools.
After his lengthy homage to his alleged accomplishments for farmers, Trump opened up for questions shouted from the audience. A voice, a man self-identified as a member of the conservative book-banning organization Moms for Liberty, asked about education, saying first, “Seems like schools have become indoctrination camps where they’re focused on sexualizing our children and it’s just not right. How do we get back to the basics in the classroom? Teaching, reading, writing…”
To the question, the ex-president said,
Actually, it’s a voice [referring to the man in the audience] of common sense, and with education almost in many ways easier than other things. We have to get back to common sense, and that is reading, writing, arithmetic. What they’re teaching in schools today is insane. And most people understand it. Even the people that want it, they understand it. So we’re going to do something.
And a lot has to do with your governors and your people that are leading your states, and they’re going to be given free rein to do what they want to do. You happen to have a great governor that’s very much into it and she’s taken the state so far, and we’ll have other governors doing the same thing. And it’s a really great question. Thank you very much. Thank you.
I’m sure the Iowa GOP will give him a mulligan on policy. Looking on fondly were Republican Party of Iowa state chair Jeff Kaufmann and his son Bobby Kaufmann, who serves in the state House as well as being a Trump campaign operative. A lineup of other state legislators looked on, which seems risky, given unsettling news coming from the mainstream media. But, as the ex-president said, the “fake news” reporters will say anything.
I’ve been tired of Trump since he snubbed Olympian Shawn Johnson on his TV show “Celebrity Apprentice.” A “gross show,” said Des Moines Register opinion writer Daniel Finney at the time, who added that the program “trades in manufactured drama, cruelty and dishonorable behavior.” I watched the episodes in 2015. Finney nailed it. Cringeworthy. A prototype for his eventual administration, in my view.
You would have thought Obama-loving Iowans would have been repulsed. But we all thought Hillary Clinton had it nailed down, so worried little about the likes of a reality-show comedian. Since college, I hadn’t given any thought to the word “authoritarian.” And, the term “America First” seemed no more innocuous than any moniker for his campaign
In early March, attendees at CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) named Trump their favored 2024 presidential candidate. Not ironically, the like-minded election-denier Kari Lake seemed to be their preferred VP.
The most news worthy moment at CPAC was when the ex-prez came out on stage (all on C-SPAN) to declare, “I am your voice. Today I add, I am your warrior, I am your justice, and, for those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution. I am your retribution.” Even at the metaphoric level, the image should have put the CPAC assemblage back on their heels. Instead, it put them on their feet shouting “USA, USA, USA.”
The image is horrifying. Setting the stage, it would seem, for another illiberal authoritarian regime. Attila the Hun comes to mind.
According to NPR, Trump also told his peeps at CPAC, “We had (in 2016) a Republican Party that was ruled by freaks, neocons, globalists, open borders zealots and fools but we are never going back to the party of Paul Ryan, Karl Rove and Jeb Bush.”
With a wild swing like that, he narrowed his list of supporters to the MAGA crowd, of which there are many. He had already counted out the staunch conservative Liz Cheney and U.S. Senator Mitt Romney of Utah. I guess Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has added himself to the list too.
In Davenport this week, Trump pitched his accomplishments, mainly to farmers, a declining breed of voters if you just count family farms. He reminded his audience of his $28 billion bailout amidst the self-imposed trade war with China, which had cut off American farmers from one of their most important export markets. At the time, farmers seemed less enthralled with a cost-covering bailout than the profitable free trade they’d enjoyed in years prior. Yet, they continued their support. Head scratcher, I know.
At the time, Trump defended his program, saying in September 2019,
I sometimes see where these horrible dishonest reporters will say that ‘oh jeez, the farmers are upset.’ Well, they can’t be too upset, because I gave them $12 billion and I gave them $16 billion this year (2019) …
I hope you like me even better than you did in ’16.
Also during this week's Iowa speech, Trump criticized the Biden administration over the new Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, which will expand protections through updates to the Clean Water Act. Critics like the Farm Bureau complain the rule allows regulation of ditches, ephemeral drainages and low spots on farmlands and pastures. Trump has a long history of amplifying their misleading claims.
The long-held Republican argument is that the WOTUS regulations are an environmental overreach and burden to business. It’s hard for me to understand why urban dwellers in Iowa are not up on their haunches with worry about clean water, given the amount of animal waste regularly entering ditches and on into streams, rivers, and lakes putting health at risk.
As the Cedar Rapids Gazette reported, the lines that drew the loudest applause were:
- Trump said he would “stop the invasion at the border.”
- Sign an executive order to cut federal funding for any school that’s “pushing critical race theory”
- “Keep men out of women’s sports.”
- Cut federal funding to “schools with vaccine mandates.”
- Break up the U.S. Department of Education.
On Tuesday the Des Moines Register carried 28 pictures of Trump’s visit to Iowa. I’m sure there’ll be a gallery of a 1,000 pics in the newspaper when the courts finally slap an indictment on him. At CPAC earlier this month, Trump told reporters he would not drop out of the 2024 presidential race even if he were indicted for his crimes: “I wouldn’t even think about leaving.”
I, for one, hope the U.S. Department of Justice can wait until after March Madness to drop the hammer. I know he’s innocent until proven guilty. But I can’t get out of my mind the images of that scaffold his people erected outside the Capitol on January 6. Gotta think it’s on Mike Pence’s mind too.
Top photo of Donald Trump and Kim Reynolds in Davenport on March 13 first posted on Reynolds' political social media feeds.