Congressman Blum, I Too Am America
Originally published in Iowa Starting Line.
Congressman Rod Blum has caused quite a commotion among many of his constituents, both Republicans and Democrats, for his response to being asked about holding public town hall meetings in his District. Rep. Blum, with an alarming casualness, brushed off the requests claiming that realAmericans don’t ask him about town hall meetings.
He went on to point out that his Republican colleagues have been holding meetings and getting yelled at by constituents, who I presume are upset about the way they’re being represented in Congress. While it is troubling that Mr. Blum fails to realize that Iowans are upset for legitimate reasons, what is even more troubling is that he only feels accountable to those who agree with him.
Rod Blum can add his name to the growing list of Republican elected officials who are actively ducking an age-old tradition in American politics, all to avoid answering to their constituents. According to Merrill Fabry of Time Magazine, the first recorded town hall meetings were held in Dorchester, Massachusetts in 1633. Even the early colonists understood the wisdom of regular meetings to discuss the state of their community. It is a shame that 384 years later, a member of the United States House of Representatives in his second term is blind to the wisdom of this most fundamental and necessary part of our democracy.
In fairness to Mr. Blum, his office has recently announced a series of public town hall meetings, acquiescing to public pressure. And while this is a good thing, the congressman should not be rewarded or patted on the back for doing his job and making time for the people he serves.
Mr. Blum’s comments suggest something more nefarious and corrosive brewing at the core of the Alt-Right and New Conservative movement here in America: the idea that only some people qualify as real Americans. Those people with different opinions, skin colors, religious beliefs, sexual identities, and political affiliations are left wondering, who gets to decide who the real Americans are and if it is determined that some of us are actually fake, what does that even mean? Must we eat in the kitchen now when company comes?
This sort of language is not new. Dog whistle politicking is as old as the country. It played a prominent role in the 2008 presidential campaign. When Sarah Palin talked about real Americans, riling up primarily white audiences, she was sending a very clear message: if you’re not like us, then you don’t count. While this divisive language may be a successful tactic for Republicans now, they should understand that pitting people against people is not only ethically questionable, it is not a sustainable strategy.
America is changing and becoming more diverse, and the real American of the nostalgic Mayberry variety is a mythic ideal manufactured by Hollywood. As our country changes and younger generations come of age, these images will become a distant memory, and there will be an entirely new construct of the real American trope; a construct dramatically different from the “Leave It To Beaver,” mythology of the times past. Today, our kids are growing up in blended families, living in renovated condos carved out of abandoned warehouses, with heroes who identify as queer and some of the most powerful computers ever created in their pockets. The times, they are a-changing.
Rural America is changing too. As the agriculture and manufacturing industries become more sophisticated, the need for high-skilled workers has increased, which means more and more companies are investing in education, infrastructure, and closing the digital divide, all of this in rural communities. Racial and ethnic minority groups are growing in these communities as well, causing some rural areas to become majority-minority. We are all more connected, our worlds collide a bit more, and there are fewer barriers – real or imagined – between groups of people that prevent us from recognizing our shared humanity.
The real American language is meant to convey a feeling that the other can’t possibly understand the struggles of hardworking, blue collar people living in towns – and not cities – in middle America. However, the truth is that Americans of all stripes and geographic locations are struggling in the New Economy, and Americans in our rural communities have similar hopes and dreams as those in our urban communities. People want to feel safe in their homes, they want to be able to work a good job, support their families, and give their children the best shot at success. This American Dream is desired by all people.
The very word representative is defined as a person chosen or appointed to act or speak for others. If Rod Blum wants to know what all of his constituents are truly feeling, if he wants to know what problems they’re struggling with, if he wants to know their hopes and dreams, or their opinions on policy then Rod Blum should start viewing all of his constituents as real Americans, and not just those constituents who share his views on the issues.
Mr. Blum’s comments were not a gaffe. Instead, they were a clear illumination of his way of thinking. They were dismissive and dangerous; an unethical political tactic used to sow division by forcing people of a certain political persuasion or demographic to see any person who objects as lesser.
If Rod Blum cannot carry out the basic duties of the job he swore an oath to perform to the best of his abilities, then I would encourage all Iowans in the First Congressional District to find a new representative, one who recognizes and celebrates the inherent worth and value of all their constituents.
Mr. Blum, I too, am America.