It would be easy to listen to quotes from Iowa Representative Steve King (R) and make a lot of assumptions about the district that he represents. Yesterday Rep. King sent out a tweet saying that we can’t “restore our civilization with someone else’s babies.” (https://twitter.com/SteveKingIA/status/840980755236999169). That’s a quote from a sitting United States congressman. It is not the first racially-charged comment that he has made. Rep. King has questioned whether any “subgroup” has contributed more to civilization than Caucasians. When speaking of immigrants he said, “for everyone who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there that–they weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.” He also proudly displays a confederate flag on his desk (http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/politics/2016/07/18/steve-king-creates-uproar-salute-to-contributions-of-white-people/87270220/). Steve King is who you think he is. Noted white supremacists such as David Duke (https://twitter.com/DrDavidDuke/status/840991087959379969) and Richard Spencer (https://twitter.com/RichardBSpencer/status/841090733918511104) quickly came to his defense this weekend. Steve King really is who you think he is.
What about the people in his district? What does it say about them that they have elected him to congress eight times? This district, to the surprise of no one, is 93% white. It is a little older and it is more rural than most of the rest of the country. I have lived in Northwest Iowa and I have many friends and family from Northwest Iowa. They aren’t bad people, but they long for a different time in America. The faces around them are changing. As those faces change a guy like Rep. King shows up and talks about American values. As he talks about those American values he throws in buzzwords “subgroup” and he talks about how much Caucasians have done for civilization. Borrowing from Aaron Sorkin, whatever the problems of Northwest Iowa are, Steve King isn’t the least bit interested in solving them. He is only interested in two things, making them afraid of it, and telling them who to blame for it.
He has tapped into the fear of decent people. I have no idea what is actually in Rep. King’s heart. He may actually believe the racist things that he says, but the sad truth is that, through his white supremacist rhetoric, he has painted his whole district as a safe haven for people who believe the things he says. We aren’t born wanting to hate. We aren’t born intolerant. We are taught to hate and we are taught intolerance. Steve King has helped to teach people to be afraid of those who are different. In the musical South Pacific, a soldier says something very wise, “You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear, you’ve got to be taught from year to year, it’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear, you’ve got to be carefully taught.” Voices like those of Steve King find a home in a place like Northwest Iowa because the world is changing fast and it is easy to be afraid of the unknown. Family farming will never look the same again. The manufacturing sector will never look the same again and it helps to have someone to blame for those changes; Steve King knows that.
David Duke seems to be encouraging intolerant people who are afraid of a world that is changing rapidly to head to Northwest Iowa. I think they would be disappointed. The truth is that the people of Northwest Iowa are hardworking people who are trying to figure out what to make of this changing world. I believe that they will soon discover that Steve King is on the wrong side of history. When hate and fear are replaced by education and an appreciation for the unique perspectives that come with more diversity, Rep. King’s rhetoric will cease to resonate. The people of Northwest Iowa are good people who want what we all want; they want to be safe, they want to be prosperous, and they want to leave their corner of the world better than they found it. That is exactly what my immigrant forbearers wanted for their family, and it is exactly what our newest American families want as well.
The president in the movie “The American President” says, “We’ve got serious problems, and we need serious people.” This is a time for serious people, and Steve King, your fifteen minutes are up.