• The Word for 2017

    • Posted on Feb 26, 2017

    Sun. 2-26-17

                  Every year for me has a guiding word. 2015 was “gratitude,” thanks partly to my colleague Len Froyen’s engaging book by that title.  It offered a needed reminder that we’re here and carry on thanks to the love, kindness, and generosity of dozens of people. Gratitude always applies.  

                  Last year was “balance,” since many of us seem to be (desperately?) seeking it, especially after the election. 

                This year a new word has emerged, and I offer it here for reflection and use. 

                But first, a story. 

                There once was a very rich man who grew ever more wealthy, as the rich are wont to do.  He knew how to buy low and sell high, how to persuade people to trust him, how to pay as little as possible, and how to avoid paying if he could get by with it.  He employed a whole firm of lawyers.

                This wealthy old mogul had a son who adored and worshipped him. The old man left his son millions, so the son stepped easily into his father’s footprints. Even more so.      

                The son loved amassing money and bragging about it.  He especially loved the admiration and seeming loyalty that accompanied vaults of money. 

                The young now-mogul realized that his unusual wealth meant that he could do no wrong. He admitted only admirers into his circle.

                He also possessed an unusual gift:  His presence and unspeakable riches put people into a trance. When he entered a room, they fell into a hypnotic state, and soon began chanting his slogans, praising him to the skies.  All of which made the young mogul ever more certain of his goodness and rightness.

                So it went, slogans to more trance, trance to more slogans.

                Predictably enough, as the young mogul grew older he sought political power, since wealth alone didn’t satisfy his endless need for adulation.  Before long he had mesmerized millions of people, making him certain of his importance to the universe.

                However, a strange thing happened.  A few members of his own circle noticed that he actually did very little but rally followers and rail at enemies.   They muttered that his leadership had become like a rocking horse: creaking loudly and moving, but not going anywhere.

                They began asking pointed questions, such as “where’s the evidence?”  And, “Why hasn’t anything really changed?”

                His advisors sneered, “He is not to be questioned,” but members of his own party questioned anyway.

                They even called the mogul “Sound and Fury,” because he signified nothing. 

                More followers awakened, and felt amazed and ashamed of having fallen so deeply under the mogul’s spell.  Once awakened, they realized he was merely a pitiful old man, slavishly following his father’s footsteps, seeking only wealth and adulation in ever-increasing waves.   

                Once awakened, former followers sought a real leader and dismissed the poor rich man.  To everyone’s surprise, he felt secretly relieved.  Maintaining adulation required real work, far more than merely amassing wealth. 

                So that’s my truthy story, illustrating the guide word for 2017:   






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    • Posted on Feb 24, 2017


    Friday, Feb. 24, 2017

                Arrived at the Parkersburg Civic Center around 7:15 Friday morning; highway patrol, local police, and the Butler County Sheriff’s Office were there in full force—probably six total, some wearing bulletproof vests, many carrying sidearms.  Ready for anything, I guess.

                Since it was so early, only ten or fifteen early risers occupied the room, which would hold maybe 100 at the most.  But by 7:45 it was jammed, and many more waiting outside to get in. 

    By 8:00 the room was completely full, and they moved tables out of the way to make room for more chairs. I would estimate 150 people showed up, and they were ready to ask questions.

                I had prepared eight questions and made copies, but none were needed; there were plenty of eloquent questioners, and a wide variety of topics, which Grassley dutifully wrote down in a show of concern at the beginning.

    My questions: 

    1      President Trump recently asserted that the media is the “enemy of the people.” Do you agree with his assertion? 

    2      Where do you stand on climate change?  What is America’s current role in the world climate change movement to stop greenhouse gas emissions?

    3       Many Iowans have asserted that you were derelict in your duty as Senator when, as Chair of the Judiciary Committee, you didn’t hold a hearing for Merrick Garland, who was nominated in March of 2016. How do you refute that assertion?

    4      Major inconsistencies exist between President Trump’s assertions and those of his cabinet members and vice-president.  (on climate change, the wall, Muslim ban, etc.) Whom do you most believe?

    5      Do you support a bipartisan investigation of the Flynn/Russia/Trump involvement in in our election?

    6      Where do you disagree most with President Trump? 

    7      What can you say to help calm citizens who feel serious anxiety about President Trump’s insistence on repeating lies—as in the size of his inauguration crowds and the “three million illegals” who elected Hillary? 

    8      Yes or No:  Should President Trump be required to release his tax forms for the last three or more years? 

                Grassley did answer #1:  NO, he said emphatically, the media/press is NOT the enemy of the people, and he made a strong statement about that, for which he deserved, and received, applause. 

                No answers on the other questions, though most were asked, some several times.

    A few takeaways:

    • The VAST majority of the crowd was actively and vocally hostile toward Grassley and Trump, especially Betsy DeVos.   Very few of those in the room supported him and his positions. One or two who did were roundly denounced. 
    • To be fair, Grassley is showing up.  Rod Blum is not holding ANY town halls, and I'm not sure about Joni Ernst other than she cancelled one for sure.  Neither Blum nor Ernst have published their appearances on their web sites, Shame on them for avoiding constituents. 
    • The first questioner mentioned that he was on the County Board of Supervisors from Waterloo and strongly urged Grassley to hold a town meeting in Waterloo, since so many issues concern Waterloo directly, and more citizens would get heard from Blackhawk County.  For this he was cheered and applauded. 
    • I did not ask any of my questions directly, since most of them were being asked by others.  I do now wish I had asked #6 and #7 above. 
    • High Point #1:  A white-haired, bearded gentleman pointedly and passionately asked Grassley about his “moral and ethical standards.”  In a nutshell, he asked “If you cannot yet condemn President Trump for his moral lapses (and he told of many), where is your line in the sand?  What WOULD you condemn?”  For this he received a standing ovation,
    • High Point #2:  Miriam Tyson, an “old black woman” (self-described) from Waterloo, first praised Grassley for all he had done as a Senator in his 36 years, and ended by ROUNDLY condemning him for not giving Merrick Garland a hearing.  “I am deeply disappointed in you.  I can no longer support you.”  Grassley looked upset, but offered no defense or reply.  He did thank Ms. Tyson for her offering her views.
    • Low point #1:  The Butler County Sheriff began the meeting by reminding the audience of “Iowa nice,” and how we needed to be courteous and respectful.  “And if any of you are paid to be here. . .” he went on.  The crowd erupted in boos and shouts of “That’s an INSULT!”  Later another questioner reminded Grassley that “You’re the only one paid to be here!”  Good point.
    • Low point #2:  many questions were statements disguised as questions—of the “When did you stop beating your wife?” variety.  Grassley, no fool, actually brought that up, offering a reminder that no one can answer such rhetorical questions.  Some questioners needed to be coached on how to ask real questions. 
    • Overall, I can’t condemn Grassley for not listening—he did listen and interact, politely and graciously, and insisted on not talking while people were shouting or clapping.  However, the anger and dismay at the Trump administration in the room was palpable, and I’m sure he will have to deal with that—one hopes constructively.  I do believe that all of his town hall meetings will be similar, and surely he cannot ignore that.   


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