The President of the United States violates every principle of honesty and exploits every crevice of divisiveness he can find. He trades in fear, bigotry, deception, and alternative worlds. He is a carrier of a malignant virus. If he were an animal in the Iowa of my childhood, he would have been tested for rabies.
Dwight D. Eisenhower was president, I was 13 and in civics class, second to last in the row of desks closest to the hallway door, a farmer’s daughter who had been taught your word was your bond and that we depended upon each other to bring in the harvest.
In that seat, I had an “aha” moment that Iowa was quintessentially the safest and most American state, or at least the Midwest was the most American area, and because Iowa had corn we had the edge even there. I also found it boring, which made me secretly a little ashamed of myself. How could I reject such luck to be born in Iowa?
We were at the heart of the light of freedom for the world. Each generation would have it better than the last. There was only one direction to go and that was up.
Central to this belief was the touchstone of honesty. Even our soil was honest, it showed you exactly what it was. Cows, pigs, chickens, they showed you if they were healthy or not, liked you or not. The sky was clear and endless. The wind and rains and snow were honest, taking their turns to show us exactly what they were and what their power could do and how we needed them.
And Christianity for the most part was honest in its values, though it wasn’t tested except inside one’s self. When farms were lost, some farmers shot themselves in their cellars by putting the shotgun in their mouths and pulling the trigger with their big toe. That was how I first learned women are usually better at managing crises than men. I’m not sure how much of that had to do with a woman’s Christianity or her tenacity.
I secretly found Bible stories to be fairytales but I knew the feel of good hearts and solid folks. They were my neighbors, whom I did not find boring. I found them quirky and strangely diverse, but pulled together by bonds of mutual respect and interdependence.
Christianity, however, did not discuss social issues and my civics class did not discuss minorities. There were no minorities in Iowa, so we set up our divides between Protestants and Catholics, and town folks and farm folks.
The desire to believe you are the people who are right, better, finer, closest to your sect’s chosen god is a pernicious virus.
So let’s come to the sorrowful point of now:
The President of the United States violates every principle of honesty and exploits every crevice of divisiveness that he can find. He trades in fear, bigotry, deception, and alternative worlds. He is a carrier of a malignant virus. If he were an animal in the Iowa of my youth, he would be tested for rabies.
He would have been isolated. No farmer would have worked with him because he was not to be trusted. He would not respect the farmers who rented instead of owned. He would not have paid his bills and that would be the end of that for him.
He would have been ostracized across counties. The word would have gone out among the people when the children were not listening. He would have been a fraud in a place where your word was your bond, where honesty was in the land.
They would have compared his hair with straw, but not in front of the children; they would have laughed behind the barn about his small hands.
Now, it turns out, these people voted mainly for him. Our farm was 18 miles from Mason City, the River City of “The Music Man.” The town folks were huckstered in the musical, but that at least was about trombones.
Times have changed, but that Iowa dirt is still in my heart. It demands truth, and it is not alone. It feels like one handful of loam in a field, a plain, of people rising across the United States reclaiming the heartland of who we are:
O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, for purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain!
America! America! God shed his grace on thee, and crown thy good with brotherhood (and sisterhood) from sea to shining sea!