By Jerry Bowen
Flyover Country, IA, USA
Gully-whomper thunderstorms soaked our corner of flyover country this spring. Then the early summer heat kicked in to bake the corn and soybean fields of west central Iowa under endless Technicolor blue skies and impossibly huge cumulous clouds. A parade of puffy floats.
“Now that looks like a jet liner with fat wings!”
“What about that huge hog over there? Wait. It’s changing. It’s a buffalo now.”
And so on. Bucolic scenes that belie a puzzlement on the ground.
This is the America where motorists (mostly in pickup trucks) stir up dust on the gravel roads and give a friendly wave over the steering wheel to approaching vehicles. Out here where everyone seems to know everybody else it is a neighborly gesture. And yet there is reason to wonder at some point if that comforting waving hand won’t come with an extended middle finger over the next hill.
|Road to the Bowen Farm|
Here, where the pace of life is about as slow and relaxing as slow and relaxing can be, old friends and extended families are at odds over the new President. Having a hard time discussing the man and his daily impact on the country. Donald J. Trump is a living, breathing Rorschach test. Testing assumptions and relationships. People who have known one another for entire lifetimes feel as though they don’t know each other anymore.
Trump’s oft times belligerent, frequently boastful tweets are seen as appalling or affirming. His arms-length relationship with truth and reality viewed as damning or just “The Donald” telling it like it is. The reality TV that launched him has spawned a virtual reality with fake news and alternative facts that stifle honest conversations. Where and how does that discussion begin?
Our neighbors a mile to the south of us struggle with what to make of it all. How to talk about it with family. Relatives who voted for Trump. And our neighbors are salt of the earth, easy to get along with folks.
Mike is a third-generation farmer who jokes the biggest move he ever made in life was from his bedroom in the family home to his parents’ bedroom at the end of the hall when they moved out and he took over the farm. He and Susan raised five children here. They are a thoughtful couple who want to understand. Not accuse. And they are a minority.
|The Bowen Farm|
Iowa voted heavily for Trump and the Congressional District where they live is represented by Steve King. He is a Republican notorious for his caustic observations about immigrants, especially undocumented immigrants. Trump’s “beautiful wall that Mexico will pay for” struck a chord among many voters here. And yet it seems to make little sense.
Immigrants are essential to Iowa’s billion-dollar agricultural economy. They take the dangerous packing plant jobs and labor intense dairy farm positions that locals won’t. There are several small towns that have survived because of this influx. Hispanic families especially ... a population that is growing and staying. Not moving away.
The town of Denison, population 8,400, has a high school marching band, concert band, pep band and ... a mariachi band. The first in the State. A recognition of the changing culture and times. Iowa. Field of salsa dreams. Go figure.
Our friends Mike and Susan would like to know what their relatives see in the new President that they do not. Trade for example. Changing NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, as Trump now demands. A step back from scrapping it as he initially promised.
It is in no small way because of NAFTA that Iowa’s farm economy does as well as it does. Mexico is a major customer of the field corn grown here. Hog producers also have a big market south of the border. And yet Trump received support from Iowa’s farmers. And some of them seemed surprised now that he meant what he said. Stunned too that Mexico is making noises about buying their corn from South American producers if Trump really plays tough.
Trump promises to make America great again, but based on his budget proposals, it will be on the backs of country’s neediest. The Obamacare do-over will leave tens of millions of the poor and elderly without health insurance. The food stamp program will be cut substantially. It will hurt Iowa’s poor and elderly too, and some of them are struggling in the small towns that dot the rural county roads.
Proposed tax cuts will benefit the very rich in an effort to stimulate the economy. Middle and lower income families will supposedly be enriched by trickle down income from the newly stimulated economy. The problem is the idea has not worked before. Why would it work now?
The conversation about these ideas and why Trump voters voted for him is difficult to have. Even in the most respectful tone of voice it questions the thinking of the cousin, uncle or sister-in-law. It challenges their choice and their judgment. “Well you sure couldn’t trust Hillary!” is not a response that leads to a constructive exchange.
So there is little talk about the election of 2016 here in flyover country, except among kindred spirits. Safer that way, though no less passionate.
|Evening in Bowen Flyover Country|
And folks are still waving in passing over those dusty country roads ... all five digits on display as far as we know.
And those amazing cumulous clouds keep rolling along too.
“Look at that one! Can’t be! Oh me oh my! Looks like a puffy comb forward!”
All those clouds. Another storm can’t be far off. You can almost hear the rumbling now.
Jerry Bowen is a three-time Emmy Award-winning news correspondent now in retirement after 33 years with CBS Network News. He lives in Los Angeles but escapes regularly to commune with the coyotes and cougars on his family farm in southwest Iowa.