My cheeky sons created a shocking display under the Christmas tree and waited to see us react. It was a collection of books about politics, parenthood and such pulled off our shelves. None was X-rated but their authors included Mark Halperin, Al Franken, Bill Cosby, Roman Polanski and Bill Clinton.
Seeing those men’s names together like that felt sickening at first. Then it drove home how our household has contributed to the fortunes of such high-profile men now accused of sexual abuses. And it made you wonder about other people we read, watch, get the news from and laugh with. Who are they, really?
The offenses involving prominent people have ranged in egregiousness, but all crossed lines that shouldn’t be crossed. If abuses like those are as ubiquitous as the disclosures prompted by the #MeToo movement in 2017 suggested, then every one of us has had some kind of relationship with an abuser, even by having a president who’s been named as one by some women.
Now at the dawn of 2018, “who are we?” is a question many of us find ourselves asking more broadly. How did we, America, get to a place where an independent investigator is needed to probe if a foreign government — Russia, no less — was invited to tamper with our presidential elections?
And how, more than 150 years after the Civil War ended, do white nationalists, Klansmen and neo-Nazis feel emboldened to put their racial hatred on menacing display in a march in Charlottesville, Va., that turned fatal? Why did the president minimize it, at first assigning blame equally to counter protesters standing up against racism?
When our head of state thumbs his nose at the liberty and justice for all we pledge allegiance to, sides with the alleged child molester running for Senate and pardons the former Arizona sheriff sentenced for illegally profiling immigrants, are we responding with requisite outrage? And when the federal tax law serves up massive tax cuts to the rich, adding $1 trillion to the federal debt, do we normalize that in our minds?
Who are we as residents of a state if we don’t stand up for children’s safety, clean drinking water and adequately funded public schools? Those were once things we all agreed on, regardless of political party, before special-interest money and the courting of ideological constituencies had leaders sacrificing the public interest to put core priorities at risk.
How did we get to a place where it is legal to have loaded guns in childcare centers as we now do in Iowa? The governor’s office here even blocked common-sense safety regulations proposed by the state Department of Human Services, like barring loaded weapons from vehicles transporting those young children or requiring guns in centers to be locked and separated from ammunition, or notifying parents they’re there. Why on Earth do we need guns in childcare centers?
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said she wants “all stakeholders” at the table before requiring such measures. By which I assume she meant gun manufacturers, distributors and lobbyists more than childcare workers and parents. Legislation signed by her predecessor already allows children of any age to use handguns under adult supervision. Between that Stand Your Ground law and the laughable 40-minute online handgun-use training course you can doze your way through and still pass in Iowa, all Iowans, especially young ones, are at risk.
Where are our priorities? While putting toddlers in danger in day care, the state has put more children at risk in their homes by cutting staffing at the Department of Human Services even as caseloads have risen and children have died. The Legislature in 2017 turned away $2 million in federal Medicaid funds for family planning just to spite any agency that offered abortion — even though the money wasn’t going for that. That forced Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, which used the money to pay for birth-control services for moderate-income Iowans, to close four clinics.
What are our priorities — as states, as a nation, as individuals? And if they don’t match the leadership’s, what are our obligations to children, the abused and the at risk? If we learned anything this past year, it’s that you can’t leave critical decisions in the hands of politicians bent on advancing their careers, satisfying their bases or abiding by some political doctrine any more than we can trust prominent media personalities to treat women with respect.
So whatever our politics, our party, our race or our gender, let’s not normalize or make excuses for aberrant behavior or actions by a co-worker, a mentor, minister, movie star or elected leader. Let’s resolve in this new year to remember our better selves when things are said and done and decisions are made that go against what we know to be right.
Happy New Year.
Rekha Basu is a columnist for the Des Moines Register. Readers may send her email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.