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Rants & Reason

Democracy should not be a spectator sport

10/2/2019

President Trump being “completely rational” just does not compute.

At this stage, it makes no sense to make fun of Iowa’s U.S. Senator Joni Ernst for her late-August comment in Spirit Lake that Trump is “completely rational” — at least in her conversations with him.

Given all the evidence to the contrary, it is too easy a step to lump Ernst’s characterization of rationality with, say, what members of the Flat Earth Society preach or with the conspiracy advocates who say the six moon landings by 12 astronauts are all hoaxes.

But Trump being “completely rational” just does not compute. Perhaps that is because it misses the point in terms of the dynamics between him and his supporters and the far-fetched notion that impeachment or voting him out of office in 2020 would be a quick fix to much that ails our nation.

Better perspectives on Trump are offered in at least three recent commentaries: James Poniewozik, chief TV critic for the New Yok Times, is the author of “Audience of One: Donald Trump, Television and the Fracturing of America.” The book is summarized in the Times’ Sept. 8 Sunday Review in “The Real Donald Trump Is a Character on TV.”

Democracy, self-governance, should not be a spectator sport. Yet Trump and TV have turned it into precisely that.

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Those who think Trump is a short-term aberration might take a look at “We Will Never, Ever Be Rid of Donald Trump,” by Frank Bruni in the Times of Sept. 11.

A good religious perspective on Trump — “The president is correct: There IS an insanity gripping our nation” — is offered at BaptistNews.com by Robert Sellers, a theology professor at Hardin Simmons University in Abilene, Texas.

You might also keep an eye out for the documentary film “Raise Hell: The Life & Times of Molly Ivins.” Ivins (1944-2007), a witty political commentator, wrote many things pertinent to today’s politics including, “Polarizing people is a good way to win an election and a good way to wreck a country.” (As of this writing, a person at Fleur Cinema says “Molly” is not on their schedule; nor does the Iowa Civil Liberties Union report plans to sponsor a showing of the documentary, even as a fundraiser.)

But back to Iowa’s Ernst and her colleague Sen. Charles Grassley.

The coverage of Ernst’s “completely rational” wishful thinking came in an article by Pat Rynard in the online Iowa Starting Line. As Rynard reported, Ernst said when Trump makes an inflammatory comment, she is often asked, “What are you going to do about that?…The only person in this United States I can control is me. And, so, it is my job to carry myself and carry myself well, but treat others with dignity and respect.”

The “dignity and respect” approach apparently is an update on Ernst’s 2014 campaign vow to castrate Washington, D.C. But I find her to have disagreed with Trump more often than Grassley has — even given his line that Trump had “screwed” the ethanol industry and farmers by granting waivers to small petroleum refineries exempting them from having to use more ethanol in their products.

As Ernst’s go-to line on Trump is to “carry myself well,” Grassley’s is that he was elected to serve Iowans and cannot neglect that duty by being caught up in personality conflicts with Trump.

Here’s part of Grassley’s response to an email: “I believe very strongly in exercising Congress’s power of oversight and I have exercised vigorous oversight over the actions of all administrations of both parties since I have been in Congress. However, that does not include getting into a war of words that solves nothing…I don’t find it productive
to get in a conflict of personality with President Trump. I continue to believe that doing so would be unproductive and not advance the interests of Iowans.”

Grassley, as Iowans know, is easy to reach and prompt to respond to constituent concerns. But on Trump, it just seems that a) the interests of Iowans are well-served by holding Trump accountable and b) anyone voicing concerns about him is almost certain to be involved in a personality conflict because — at least in Ernst’s absence — Trump is not “completely rational,” if rational at all. ♦

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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