Does character no longer count in the state of Character Counts?

Jim Chrisinger is a retired public servant living in Ankeny. He served in both Republican and Democratic administrations, in Iowa and elsewhere. 

Character once counted in Iowa Republican politics. We could take pride in Governor Bob Ray, U.S. Representative Jim Leach, and the early U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley. They led with integrity. They willingly crossed the aisle to achieve bipartisan goals. They served as role models for our children, standing up for democracy, truth, and accountability. Our state enjoyed a reputation in public administration circles as a “good government” jurisdiction.

Donald Trump has upended all this. He is the antithesis of character. He’s the skunk at the church picnic. He lies incessantly, bullies, commits fraud and adultery, sexually assaults women, mocks wounded veterans, and cheats contractors. He’s a racist. He puts his attempt to overthrow a free and fair election at the center of his campaign. Donald Trump is everything we don’t want our children to be.

In this historic moment, Iowa’s representatives in Washington—Chuck Grassley, Joni Ernst, Ashley Hinson, Mariannette Miller-Meeks, Zach Nunn, and Randy Feenstra—are failing the character test.

Instead of insisting on character, they cower, deflect, and engage in false equivalencies for Donald Trump. They refuse to defend democracy and the rule of law. They refuse to reject Trump’s Big Lie about the 2020 election that undermines confidence in all our elections. They refuse to stand up for a justice system trying to hold Trump accountable. Their behavior normalizes Trump’s behavior.

Iowans deserve better than this.

Our state’s members of Congress set highly visible examples. Their reactions to Trump set the tone of public discourse, especially among Republicans. If they impose no consequences, they excuse. In his Letter from the Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King Jr. said “we will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”

When truth is no longer the foundation upon which public life is based, we lose trust in our government and each other. Telling the truth and not tolerating Trump’s lies would powerfully show Iowans that character counts.

Standing up to Donald Trump and his MAGA followers takes courage, which appears to be in short supply in today’s Republican Party, including in Iowa. Liz Cheney’s is a lonely crusade because, as British statesman Benjamin Disraeli wrote, “courage is the rarest of all qualities to be found in public life.” Maybe so, but Iowans should still demand and expect it.

Our children, grandchildren, and their children will judge our federal representatives harshly, and rightly so, if they continue to sacrifice our democracy on the altar of Donald Trump. He is a false god if there ever was one.

Top photo was first published on U.S. Representative Ashley Hinson’s official Facebook page on February 28, 2023. Front, from left: Hinson, Senator Chuck Grassley, Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks. Back, from left: Representative Randy Feenstra, Senator Joni Ernst, Representative Zach Nunn.

About the Author(s)

Jim Chrisinger

  • No title

    Yes, Mr Chrisinger, our representatives in Congress have lost their way. I grew up in a Republican family in Iowa in the 50s and 60s. My grandfather was a friend of Robert Ray and of Harold Hughes. Politics were not often discussed at the dinner table except for an occasional word about Grandpa’s work in Des Moines for Ray and Hughes. We respected the Presidents (Eisenhower and Kennedy) and didn’t dare say nasty things about either. When we went to Thanksgiving dinner at our Grandparents, we would see pictures of Grandpa with Ray and Hughes and see the Christmas cards from both men, hand signed, on the mantle. We even included them and the Presidents in grace before dinner. When Grassley took over HR Gross’s spot, our elders were happy that someone would be watching out for us in Washingtonne

  • Continued

    Character did count then. But then Trump convinced thousands of people they had been wronged and disparaged for years and they needed a champion and he was happy to be that person. Yes, his character was shady, but he was on television and he was rich and he brought a large group of disenfranchised people together. They joined with Evangelicals and became a powerful voting bloc. Now, Republicans don’t have the backbone to stand against him because they are afraid that bloc will not back them in their next run for power. They believe (incorrectly IMHO) that standing up for what is right will never garner them enough votes unless they have the Trumpicals on their side. So, what did they do? They gave up their character, morals and ethics in their quest for notoriety.. Nothing matters now but the win. How many Iowa state representatives saw the Governor punish those who refused to kowtow to her desires and decided they wouldn’t face that fate? What will it take to get us back to those times when character did count? Sometimes, I am happy that I am old and won’t have to watch this spectacle much longer. but then I think of my grandchildren and want to fight another day.

  • Do Iowans deserve better than this?

    I share Jim’s antipathy for Trump and the MAGA culture that follows him around. The picture of the six politicians that Iowans have elected to represent us in DC is a revolting reminder that the wheels are off the cart. Add Reynolds and her growing majorities in House and Senate and the picture is bewilderingly bleak. The fact that the majorities are growing is horrifying beyond belief. I’m not sure these people or their characters are salvageable, nor do I want to salvage them. But I do want to replace them. Iowans will have to want better before it will be better. When Reynolds squeezes the last dime out of public schools, and locals no longer have their Friday night footballs games, we’ll see change. Can you imagine Ankeny without the annual face off between the two high school teams? That’s coming, folks, just after marching band, choir, and dance are gone, and every school is under the purview of 22-year olds and their retired parents, like a Target Store with an electronic device providing lessons. The candidate with the most votes wins. If we want better, we’ll have to earn it at the ballot box.

  • Character counts

    Add to your already long list –

    Incites violence whether in an auditorium or at a speaker’s lecturn.

  • Character counts

    Oops – thought of another one –

    No respect for the rule of law or the judges who oversee it