Thursday, October 21, 2021

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Rants & Reason

Hoover, Truman, Orwell


Antidotes to Trump (and Reynolds)

If you seek respite from the madness and despair inflicted by Donald Trump, you’re fortunate to have two “safe
houses” within a few hours of Des Moines.

One is 125 miles east of town, in West Branch, and is called the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum; the other is 190 miles south in Independence, Missouri. It’s called the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum.

They’re great places, too, if you love the nation and its promise, regardless of Trump.

Another way to find escape, solace or understanding is to read again George Orwell, particularly his essay on
“Politics and the English Language.”

The visits and Orwell are the best prescription this doctor can order, albeit a PhD doctor instead of an MD, DO or PharmD.

Prep Iowa

Consider Hoover, an orphaned Iowa kid, among the most diverse talents ever to serve as President. He is credited with saving more lives than anyone else in history — given his leadership in food and refugee efforts in the
aftermaths of World Wars I and II. Not for nothing is he called “The Great Humanitarian.”

Along with displays of his accomplishments, the Hoover Museum offers through Oct. 28 the exhibit “Tallgrass to Knee High: A Century of Iowa Farming.”

Like the Truman Library and Museum, the Hoover Museum is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. most days of the year. The libraries and museums are among the 14 — for every president from Hoover forward — operated by the National Archives and Records Administrations. The Hoover and Truman places seem more “down home” because of their staffs, and because they were established before such edifices began to be more in the way monuments — sort of U.S. Great Pyramids for our pharaohs instead of our public servants.

The Truman Library and Museum is offering a series of exhibits and programs marking the 70th to 75th
anniversaries of his presidency (1945-1952). The current feature, through Dec. 31, is “Heroes or Corpses: Captain
Truman in World War I.” That’s the story of Captain Harry, who sort of forced his way into serving his country in 1917 despite poor eyesight, and age (33) that exempted him from military service and other ready exemptions.
(There was also his devotion to Bess Wallace; they were married on June 28, 1919, 53 days after his discharge.)

It’s part of the story of a public servant of integrity, honesty and decency — like Hoover.

(Upon leaving the White House, Truman turned down high-paying corporate positions, saying, “You don’t want me. You want the office of the President, and that doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to the American people, and it’s
not for sale.”)

A novel idea!

Which brings us to Orwell and his concern that “the slovenliness of our language [or tweets?] makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts” and justify awful actions. Orwell warns “political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible.” Hence the motto of Big Brother’s fear-driven nation of Oceania in Orwell’s novel 1984: “WAR IS PEACE FREEDOM IS SLAVERY IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.”

Orwell and language came to mind when Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds introduced Mike Pence, then vice president for all of 15 months, by calling him “The best vice president this nation’s ever had.”

Yes, that is political hyperbole, but think of all the ways Reynolds could have introduced Pence before going berserk and hailing him as the best vice president ever — someone more suited to be president than, to name a few, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush.

Small wonder Reynolds isn’t to be trusted when she talks about Iowa’s health care, environment, support of
education, etc. Trump, Pence and Reynolds, however, might have the support of Lenina Crowne.

In Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World,” Crownerejoices, “I don’t understand anything.” She advises Bernard Marx, the book’s troubled figure, to stop paying attention because then “… instead of feeling miserable, you’d be jolly. So jolly.”

Doctor’s advice: Forget about being “Jolly.” Restore your faith by visiting the Truman and Hoover memorials. Get as weary and fearful of nonsensical speech as Orwell was. ♦

Herb Strentz is a retired administrator and professor in the Drake School of Journalism and Mass Communication and writes the monthly Rants and Reason column for CITYVIEW.

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