Iowa is facing a crisis. Ever since Donald Trump announced his candidacy for the White House in 2015, instances of public racist and bigoted attacks in Iowa have soared. Hispanic Perry basketball players mocked at a game. High school students in Creston dressed up in KKK outfits. An Ames high school locker room vandalized with racial slurs. Racist online attacks against a Clear Creek Amana student who kneeled at a game. High school basketball radio announcers making outrageously racist comments during a game.
And earlier this week yet another one was reported: students at Buena Vista University were targeted with racist slurs written on their dorm room doors. The n-word, “illegal,” “KKK” and swastikas were scrawled on African American and Hispanic students’ doors.
News of that incident comes on the heels of Congressman Steve King’s most recent bigoted tweet that set off a firestorm of controversy last week. “Diversity is not our strength,” King stated in a tweet, sharing a story quoting his favorite European white nationalist leader, Viktor Orban.
Governor Kim Reynolds said at her weekly press conference a few days ago that she “strongly disagrees” with that sentiment, but that she’ll keep King on as one of her campaign co-chairs.
Come on. We’re getting to the point where it’s pretty obvious that there is literally nothing that King could do or say that would cost him the unwavering support of Reynolds and state Republicans. A little bit of chiding and distancing from him in the press means little when he still has speaking slots at her campaign events and holds a spot on her leadership team.
Indeed, the utter lack of consequences only seem to embolden King. The Trump Administration’s apparent instructions to the CDC to ban words like “diversity” and “science-based” made news just days after King’s “diversity” tweet. Reynolds’ distancing from his comments clearly did not make him think twice about doubling-down on the language, as he tweeted this out Sunday evening:
Doesn’t look like the Trump Administration thinks “diversity is our strength” either. No report of POTUS banning “assimilation”. https://t.co/1xGtOPdZN7
— Steve King (@SteveKingIA) December 18, 2017
Reynolds tried to pass off her decision to keep King in his role as simply part of a regular campaign process. She noted that she has 3,500 other co-chairs of various levels for her campaign, and that she obviously won’t agree with everything they all say.
But this is one of those instances where politicians these days keep going through the same old motions of campaign strategy without understanding the new reality. In most cases for a high-profile statewide candidate like Reynolds, you naturally give all the major office-holders of your party in the state symbolic leadership roles on your campaign, whether they actually do anything with those roles or not.
But we live in a different world now. People of color in Iowa are being targeted and terrorized by racist scumbags. Many of the those impacted are high schoolers. As they decide whether or not to stay in Iowa for college or for jobs, how many of them are we driving away by not more forcefully punishing racist actions and words? What must they think when their governor keeps a man who says diversity is a bad thing on as one of her campaign co-chairs?
Of course, those who have lived in Iowa a while know that we’ve had a long, quiet problem with subtle and pervasive racism in all corners of the state – not just King’s northwest neck of the woods. Many know that the “Iowa Nice” attitude that people from outside of Iowa like to talk so much about is too often simply a pleasant facade that hides people’s darker personal opinions. Sometimes those views are kept to their own dining room table conversations; other times they’re directed openly at neighbors who don’t look like them.
Still, as I’ve written before, the more those views can be shamed into silence, the less likely they are to spread. Radio broadcasters casually going into racist rants about high school basketball players is still damaging, but at least their firings should make others think twice about be being so brazen.
There are no such consequences for Steve King thanks to Kim Reynolds and other Republicans’ weakness on the matter. That has the effect of normalizing that behavior, of making it more likely that some idiot college student will go and write the n-word on a young African American woman’s dorm room door.
And King’s actions have gotten increasingly dangerous. The “cantaloupe calves” comment of years’ past was disgusting, but allying with European white supremecists and promoting their political world views is particularly disturbing.
With Republicans doing nothing to stop this path that King is on, it’ll be up to the voters and the Democratic candidates challenging him to put an end to it. But it shouldn’t have to be that way. A sitting member of Congress in Iowa shouldn’t be able to get away with blatant racism. Thanks to Trump’s own racist administration and Reynolds’ refusal to step up, he doesn’t.
At the end of the day, it’s one more failure of leadership from Iowa’s governor that’s having a severely negative impact on the state. That’s another problem voters can fix.
by Pat Rynard