# Democracy

Watergate + 50 years = Trumpgate

From left: Margaret Chase Smith, Lowell Weicker, Liz Cheney

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.

In an odd—even terrifying—way to respond to threats to our democracy, The Republican/MAGA Party will offer Donald Trump as its presidential nominee in 2024, the golden anniversary of President Richard Nixon’s resignation.

Nixon left office in disgrace on August 9, 1974, in the wake of Watergate disclosures that would likely have led to his impeachment and removal.

The Republican Party will formally endorse Trump as its presidential candidate at its national convention in Milwaukee in July—despite Trump’s disgraceful behavior before, during, and after his one term as president. He won the electoral college in 2016 while trailing Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton by more than 2.8 million popular votes. Trump lost both the electoral college and the popular vote to Joe Biden in 2020—by more than 7 million votes this time—yet he continues to spread his Big Lie about the supposedly rigged election.

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Wrapped in the flag and waving the Cross

Jack Posobiec speaks at the Turning Point Action Conference in West Palm Beach, Florida on July 16, 2023. Photo by Gage Skidmore, available via Wikimedia Commons.

Jim Nelson is a retired Montana Supreme Court justice.

It has been said that: “When fascism comes to America, it will come wrapped in the flag and waving the cross.”

Early signs are visible in the U.S. right now. For example, at the Conservative Political Action Convention’s recent annual meeting, right-wing conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec proclaimed during a panel discussion, “I just wanted to say, welcome to the end of democracy. We are here to overthrow it completely. We didn’t get all the way there on January 6, but we will endeavor to get rid of it and replace it with this right here.”

Posobiec then held up a Christian cross on his necklace, adding, “That’s right, because all glory, all glory is not to government, all glory is to God.”

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Maintaining a democracy is not a spectator sport

Steve Corbin is emeritus professor of marketing at the University of Northern Iowa and a freelance writer who receives no remuneration, funding, or endorsement from any for-profit business, nonprofit organization, political action committee, or political party. 

Martin Niemöller (1892-1984), a German Lutheran pastor, composed a 1946 post-World War II confessional titled “First they came for the Socialists . . ..” The four-line composition explains, in straight-forward language, how the Nazis rose to power by methodically silencing German intellectuals and clergy.

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum features the prose on one of its walls:

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A Democrat at the Republican caucus?

Republican voters gather for their precinct caucus in West Des Moines on February 1, 2016. Photo by K. Farabaugh/VOA, available via Wikimedia Commons.

Henry Jay Karp is the Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Emanuel in Davenport, Iowa, which he served from 1985 to 2017. He is the co-founder and co-convener of One Human Family QCA, a social justice organization.

Recently, someone suggested that I attend a Republican caucus on January 15 in order to vote for someone other than Donald Trump. Their suggestion was born out of a sincere fear that should Trump win the Republican nomination and general election, it would mark the end of democracy in the United States as we know it—a fear I wholeheartedly share.

Now you may ask: How can I, a devout and registered Democrat, vote in a Republican caucus? Actually, it is quite easy. All one need do is show up at the caucus site and register that night as a Republican.

In fact, I have done so in the past, but for different reasons.

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Biden's message: “Democracy will be on the ballot!”

Gerald Ott of Ankeny was a high school English teacher and for 30 years a school improvement consultant for the Iowa State Education Association.

“Today, we’re here to answer the most important of questions,” President Joe Biden said in Valley Forge on January 5. “Is democracy still America’s sacred cause? I mean it.”

There is that feeling I can get, maybe like a quiver, not something in my head, but in my whole body, when I hear words so striking, so uplifting, so clear in their articulation of truth, that I know I’ve heard greatness and grace at the same time. That’s how I felt watching the president deliver his speech last week.

I hope every American heard the president’s speech at Valley Forge. “This is not rhetorical, academic, or hypothetical,” he said. “Whether democracy is still America’s sacred cause is the most urgent question of our time, and it’s what the 2024 election is all about.”

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Or...we can trust Donald Trump

Bill Bumgarner is a retired former healthcare executive from northwest Iowa who worked in hospital management for 41 years, predominately in the State of Iowa.

Election year 2024 is upon us.

In recent months, some Bleeding Heartland commenters have voiced reluctance to support President Joe Biden in the November election. The reasons, as best I can surmise, are essentially he’s too old or not quite the new shiny object some younger governors and others appear to be.

Well, those outstanding governors are supporting Joe, because they know he offers the best chance for Democrats to retain the White House and continue to advocate for progressive public policy.

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GOP "semi-loyalists" sleepwalking into fascism

Jim Nelson is a retired Montana Supreme Court justice.

I am an outspoken critic of what former U.S. Representative Liz Cheney correctly describes as America’s “sleepwalk” into fascism.

Indeed, Donald Trump has defiantly laid out his plans to become our country’s first dictator. He copied his blueprints from the authoritarian playbook of corruption and venality which has informed and driven tyrants from Mussolini to the present. 

To save our democracy, voters must halt this slide toward Trump’s fascist abyss. But how? Who is responsible? Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt provide some answers in their new book Tyranny of the Minority.

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Book Review: The Hidden History of American Democracy

Paul Deaton is a lifelong Democrat living in Johnson County whose first political work was for Lyndon Johnson’s presidential campaign.

Is democracy the default state of humanity? In The Hidden History of American Democracy: Rediscovering Humanity’s Ancient Way of Living, author Thom Hartmann presents the case that democracy is our default state, overcome only by the intrusion of dictators, popes, and kings using the power of great wealth, control of media, or the force of arms and technology. He explains where society has gone astray and what we can do to restore democracy.

The Hidden History of American Democracy is the ninth volume in Hartmann’s Hidden History series. Like its predecessors, it is accessible and easily readable, especially for readers immersed in the issues it covers. Hartmann creates a narrative grounded in historical documents, yet the interpretation seems fresh and modern.

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Election deniers lost in 2022. What to do next to protect democracy

Bradley Knott is a veteran political consultant.

Like many Americans, I feared for our democracy as the 2022 midterms approached.     

I’ve worked in campaigns for years, at levels where I witnessed the rough side of the business.  But 2022 felt different, more threatening, and more consequential than other elections. The insurrection showed how extreme Make America Great Again was and remains.

Plus, the combination of Donald Trump, foreign intervention, and social media have proven impossible to regulate and very effective in the dark art of misinformation and grievance politics.

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Grassley, Ernst oppose big spending bill but back some provisions

The U.S. Senate completed its work for the year on December 22, when senators approved an omnibus bill to fund the federal government through the end of the current fiscal year on September 30, 2023.

The bill allocates $1.7 trillion in federal government spending ($858 billion for the military, and $772 billion in non-defense spending). The Washington Post broke down the funding by appropriations area.

The legislation also provides $44.9 billion more in aid to Ukraine, and $40.6 billion for disaster aid. It changes some Medicaid rules, which will preserve coverage for many new mothers and children. It also includes some policies not related to federal spending, such as reforms to the Electoral Count Act, workplace protections for pregnant or breastfeeding employees, and a ban on installing TikTok on government-owned devices.

Eighteen Republicans joined the whole Democratic caucus to pass the omnibus bill. Iowa’s Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst were among the 29 Republicans who opposed the bill on final passage (roll call). But they supported some amendments added to the bill on December 22, as well as several GOP proposals that failed to pass.

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This election is saturated with anger

Bruce Lear: Voters must stop reacting to red meat appeals and start voting like compromise isn’t a dirty word.

A few times during my career, a problem-solving meeting morphed into a scene from the Walking Dead

Adrenaline surged and the sides shifted into attack mode. Anger trumped reason. Both sides worked to score a knockout. By the end, no one remembered why we met. Everyone was hungover from anger and worn out from attacks. Nothing was solved.

What happened in those meetings reminds me of what our elections have become. Based on recent polling, it’s not a surprise. 

According to a recent NBC News nationwide poll, 80 percent of Democrats and Republicans “believe the political opposition poses a threat that, if not stopped, will destroy America as we know it.”

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Authoritarian rule threatens America's democracy

Steve Corbin is emeritus professor of marketing at the University of Northern Iowa and a freelance writer who receives no remuneration, funding, or endorsement from any for-profit business, nonprofit organization, political action committee, or political party.        

Never in my wildest dreams did I think America would be on the verge of backsliding from democracy to authoritarian rule. But, overwhelming evidence abounds that some voters and one political party are moving in that direction.

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On cheating in politics

Jim Chrisinger: Cheating by violating the spirit (though not the letter) of the law corrupts our democracy and alienates us from each other.  

Fair play is a bedrock American value. Fair play follows from our egalitarian origins: all persons are created equal and endowed with rights. Fair play means we all play by the rules. Treat others as you want to be treated. Play by the spirit as well as the letter of the rules.  

We feel strongly about fair play because it springs from emotion as much as logic.  

The opposite of fair play is cheating. Cheating shows a lack of integrity and a total failure of character. No one likes a cheater.  

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Who can save the rule of law?

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

As if their strings had been yanked, Donald Trump’s enablers and minions leap to trash the FBI and Department of Justice after the court-authorized search of Mar-a-Lago. They say DOJ and the FBI have been “weaponized,” maybe the searchers “planted evidence,” the FBI is “the enemy of the people” and should be defunded, this may lead to civil war, and we will sic the FBI and DOJ on them when we’re back in power.    

This is a full-on assault on the rule of law.  

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Surprising myself, I favor keeping the Iowa caucuses

Marcia Rogers divides her time between Cedar Rapids and Hyde Park in Chicago. A version of this column was first published in the Carroll Times Herald.

This wasn’t the planned first article of a three-part series I was intending to write. 

After all, what would a 2021 Nobel Peace Prize journalist from the Philippines, or a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and The Atlantic contributor on Ukraine and Russia, along with a former U.S. president — or finally my supremely qualified seatmate — say that would completely upend my opinion going into today about something so very Iowan as the caucuses.

Why would anything these four shared in their remarks during Day 1 of “Disinformation and the Erosion of Democracy” conference at the University of Chicago turn my world of thought on this topic upside down?

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Republicans curtailing press freedom

Steve Corbin is emeritus professor of marketing at the University of Northern Iowa and freelance writer who receives no remuneration, funding, or endorsement from any for-profit business, nonprofit organization, political action committee, or political party.

Most citizens don’t know that Republican leaders in Iowa, Utah, Kansas, and Florida are limiting journalists’ access to open-to-the-public legislature and gubernatorial sessions. Their actions raise the question: “What issues and policies are GOP elected officials trying to hide?”

Furthermore, what is there about the First Amendment to the Constitution – specifically freedom of the press – Republicans don’t understand? Maybe GOP’ers are demonstrating their anti-democracy intentions, giving favor to control the media as witnessed by fascists countries such as Russia, China, North Korea, and Venezuela.

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Needed at Purim: another act of courage

Ira Lacher: Jews have not, can not, and must not support people whose mission is to undermine everything that has made the United States of America a haven for Jews.

The following is a copy of an email I sent to someone I know at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). This organization, which calls itself a “bipartisan American organization that advocates for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship,” recently has become anything but.

“AIPAC slammed for endorsing Republicans who refused to certify Biden’s election,” reported The Times of Israel.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency headlined: “AIPAC’s PAC endorses dozens of Republicans who refused to certify Joe Biden as president.”

And the fiercely pro-Israel Jerusalem Post, owned by the right-wing Murdoch clan that owns Fox News, noted: “AIPAC’s PAC endorses dozens of Republicans who refused to certify Joe Biden as president.” The article, which reported that the group endorsed 59 Democrats and 61 Republicans, included “Jim Jordan of Ohio, was prominent in the events surrounding the Jan. 6 insurrection.”

I know a young man who has a prominent position in AIPAC. I was honored to be present at his bar mitzvah, I remain good friends with his family, and, as such, I had to write him personally about this. What follows is the text of my email to him. I have deleted his name and position because I know that, in this stupid age, people mistakenly believe they have the right to harass someone they disagree with.

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Racism isn't the problem

Sondra Feldstein is a farmer and business owner in Polk County.

It’s easy to call the Republican Party racist and homophobic when all the books they want to ban happen to deal with people of color, members of a minority religion, or LGBTQ issues; when a predominantly Black demonstration is a “riot” and a predominantly white one “legitimate political protest;” when legislation to curb non-existent voter fraud targets voting methods more often used by people of color. 

But white nationalist ideology in its current iteration in the United States is not simply racist. The definition of racism as “belief that another race is inherently inferior” does not begin to explain 21st century white nationalism. It is much more complicated than that.

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"Legitimate political discourse"

Kurt Meyer writes a weekly column for the Nora Springs – Rockford Register, where this essay first appeared. He serves as chair of the executive committee (the equivalent of board chair) of Americans for Democratic Action, America’s most experienced liberal organization.

I have a longstanding appreciation for words and their power, probably not surprising coming from someone who scratches out a weekly column. I recall when we were parents of young children, we often urged our kids to “use your words” in an ongoing effort to determine what they were thinking and feeling. Generally, the parental alternative was guessing… and I’m not an especially good guesser.

Starting in high school, and on into college, I was involved in a student-led organization that used words to create resolutions, outlining what we wanted to see happen, beginning with a series of “whereas” statements and culminating in “therefore, be it resolved…” (followed by several sentences stating the desired outcome). It was using our words to reveal our thinking and to outline an organizational direction. Of course, the action/doing part was always a bit more difficult.    

Last week, the governing body of the Republican Party met and passed a “whereas/therefore” resolution. By voice vote, they censured two Republican members of the U.S. House, Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, who serve on the House select committee investigating January 6 events and related activities. This committee is charged with determining steps that should be taken to prevent future attacks on the Capitol.

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An open letter to Chuck Grassley about Donald Trump

Herb Strentz follows up on his previous post for Bleeding Heartland in the form of a letter to Senator Chuck Grassley.

Dear Senator Grassley:

Thank you for your reassurance that Iowans and the nation have nothing to worry about regarding former President Donald Trump’s activities and what seems like his death grip on the Republican Party. Some even say the GOP is now a “Trump Cult.”

Your letter/email of January 10 thanked me for writing to express concerns about Trump, but pointed out my concern isn’t too relevant because “President Trump has been out of office for about a year.”

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Democracy Diary: What should we DO?

Jonna Higgins-Freese is the author of Democracy Diary on Substack.

For almost a year, I’ve been deeply concerned about voting rights, and waiting for Democrats (and Republicans devoted to democracy, although there are so few of those left) to move swiftly to protect democracy — and speak more publicly and forcefully about the danger of authoritarianism.

States have proposed and passed hundreds of laws to suppress the vote and gerrymander districts. But, in my view, no one is sounding the alarm loudly enough.

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Cartoon: A year after the January 6 insurrection

W.R. Staplin is a former scientist specializing in utilizing molecular biology techniques to investigate RNA plant and animal viruses, research and development of vaccines to protect against infectious viruses; husband to Ruth Ann Sparks Staplin, a longtime SPPG employee and political wonk; father to two independently minded teenagers enrolled in the Des Moines Public Independent School District; cancer and spinal cord disability survivor; and a supporter of women’s reproductive rights, LGTBQ+, and Black and Brown Lives Matter. He is also a full-time greyhound owner and greyhound cafeteria worker.

He was inspired to draw this cartoon to reflect the “paucity of shame, repulsion, and disgust within the submissive Republican Party, especially within Republicans elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate towards a day that truly shall remain in infamy: January 6, 2021.” For Staplin, the reaction to the storming of the U.S. Capitol “shows how dangerously fragile is the democracy our nation relies on.”

Editor’s note: Bleeding Heartland welcomes guest submissions of political cartoons as well as articles or commentaries. Please contact Laura Belin if you are interested in sharing a cartoon with the site’s readers.

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It's time to worry about democracy

Julie Ann Neely: Our democracy is in danger; the basic tenets of our constitution are under attack by the GOP’s authoritarian ideology.

Remember 1984, George Orwell’s dystopian novel about Oceania, where media and educational content were government controlled, and history was rewritten to match the prevailing political climate? 

It was easy to point a finger at the Soviet Union and feel secure and smug, because we had no reason to worry about such things. After all, it couldn’t happen here – we’re a democracy – we are a free country – we have the First Amendment and the Declaration of Independence.

Well – Guess What? It’s Time To Worry.

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The need to heed Benjamin Franklin

Herb Strentz ponders the threat Donald Trump and his cult pose to our republic.

As the midterm election year approaches, we face another test of what might be called “Franklin’s Challenge,” given our nature and television’s penchant to turn everything into a game show.

That’s the challenge Benjamin Franklin — bless him — reportedly put before his 18th century audience and today’s 21st century citizenry.

At the close of the constitutional convention on September 17, 1787, he was said to be asked if our founding fathers had created a monarchy or a self-governing republic.
Franklin supposedly replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

If you can keep it.

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Nine asymmetries that define our politics and hurt Democrats

Jim Chrisinger: These asymmetries reinforce each other, tilting the playing field against democracy.  

Traditionally, both major political parties competed with policies aimed at their core constituencies and persuadable voters. The policy platforms differed markedly, but a symmetry framed the fight. 

No more. Nine asymmetries now define our politics and hand the advantage to Republicans.  

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