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.
All the hoopla about next year’s Iowa Republican party caucus, now scheduled for January 15, suffers from at least two delusions.
One delusion is that former President Donald Trump, the current odds-on favorite to win the Iowa caucuses, is qualified to be president or, for that matter, hold any position of public trust and service.
The other delusion is that the rest of the nation should even care about the caucus outcome. We don’t warrant such status or consideration right now.
The first Republican president was a compassionate, humble man who rallied the nation to unite and live up to aspirations of 1776—or as Abraham Lincoln put it in November 1863, when delivering his Gettysburg address: “Four score and seven years ago.”
In contrast, at the upcoming precinct caucuses, Iowa Republicans are expected to rally around the shame of a former president who is scheming, arrogant, and divisive. Further, Trump now faces more than “four score and seven” federal and state civil and criminal charges in three indictments and many more civil suits.
Not so long ago, Iowa Republicans championed family values and the importance of having individuals chart their own role and contributions to society, not burdened by government decree.
In next year’s caucuses, Republicans will applaud their legislature in seeking to ban all abortions and all but banning transgender children from medical care and society at large. Not only that—hooray!—books that might give transgender kids and other youths any remote hope or reassurance will be banned from school classrooms and libraries.
The list of contrasts between what teachers once allowed or even encouraged and what is now prohibited could go on and on and might be too much for readers to stomach.
But thousands upon thousands of Iowans cannot just walk away from the suffering their governor inflicted on them, aided by GOP legislators who rubber-stamped a reactionary agenda, ignoring well-established legislative protocols and courtesies.
And if that weren’t enough, since the legislature adjourned, Governor Kim Reynolds took a page out of the novel 1984 and the Big Brother slogans of “War is Peace,” “Freedom is Slavery,” and “Ignorance is Strength.”
On July 18, Reynolds rolled out her own version of “Ignorance is Strength.” Despite the many punitive actions she and the GOP-controlled legislature enacted, she proclaimed the new state slogan would be “Iowa, Freedom to Flourish,” replacing “Iowa, Fields of Opportunity.”
Columnist Todd Dorman of the Cedar Rapids Gazette offered this reaction to “Freedom to Flourish”:
We’re a deep red state that champions abortion bans, prohibits transgender kids from getting gender-affirming care and targets diversity, equity and inclusion efforts at state universities. […]
Maybe, instead, we should just play it straight and honest.
If you face a deeply personal decision about abortion, you have the “Freedom to Anguish.”
If you’re on a long waiting list for mental health care, you have the “Freedom to Languish.”
If you need food assistance and have too many assets, you have the “Freedom to Malnourish.”
If you don’t like some books in the school library, you have the “Freedom to Banish.”
If you’re a transgender student who doesn’t want to be outed by school officials, you have the “Freedom to Vanish.”
Other critical takes on the nature of Iowa these days suggested the “flourish” slogan should carry an asterisk, noting that the “Freedom to Flourish” was limited to persons of a certain race, sexual orientation, and income level.
Thankfully, local elections for Iowa school boards and city councils on November 7 will precede the caucuses scheduled for January 15.
Iowa voters then might carry to the polls these words from Lincoln’s Gettysburg address and demonstrate we may not be that delusional after all:
“We here highly resolve that…this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth,” nor from Iowa.
Top image: On left, Alexander Gardner portrait of President Abraham Lincoln from November 1863, available via Wikimedia Commons. On right, cropped image from official portrait of President-elect Donald Trump from December 2016, available via Wikimedia Commons.