What in the world has gotten into us?
Through the years, we poured ourselves into political campaigns, put out yard signs for our favorite office-seekers, and held “coffees” to encourage our friends to back our candidates.
It wasn’t unusual for our views to be at odds with those of our friends. But that was the beauty of the American way of government.
Our political differences did not rise to the level of personal animosity.
It was that way back in Bloomfield when I was growing up. When the election was over, win or lose, I knew Ruth Swaim, a rabid Republican, and Shirley Smith, a die-hard Democrat, would put the campaign aside and go on with just being friends who lived three houses apart.
It was the same with two of Iowa’s members of the U.S. House of Representatives during that era. Democrat Neal Smith of Altoona and Republican John Kyl of Bloomfield were friends, even though they disagreed on various issues.
The 1970 census cost Iowa one of its seven seats in the House, and the new congressional district map had Smith and Kyl in the same district for the 1972 election.
The two were friends before, during and after that campaign, and their wives, Bea Smith and Arlene Kyl, drove back to Iowa together several weeks before the election.
That civility has been disappearing since then. We have reached the point where candidates are not content simply to win on Election Day and thank their opponents for giving voters a worthy choice.
We now have candidates talking openly about the need for their opponents to be jailed.
There certainly were people who thought Richard Nixon deserved to be prosecuted for his role in the Watergate scandal in the 1970s. Many of those people were angry when Nixon’s successor, Gerald Ford, granted him a full pardon after Nixon resigned as president in 1974.
Ford’s guidance is just as important now as it was 45 years ago: “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works. Our great republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule.”
The Constitution can work through an impeachment process or through an election.
During the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump did not remember Ford’s eloquent guidance from a generation ago. Trump took glee in hanging the “Crooked Hillary” nickname on his opponent and did nothing to discourage chants of “Lock her up!” that became a fixture at his campaign rallies and at his rallies as president.
Democrats derided Trump for encouraging the criminal prosecution of Hillary Clinton. But too many Democratic leaders today fail to remember their party’s criticism of Trump for encouraging the belief that Clinton deserved to be jailed after the election.
We now have some leading Democrats advocating that Trump should be jailed for his actions before, during and after the 2016 campaign.
Do we really think encouraging the criminal prosecution of the president is going to help the United States get back on its feet in the midst of the turmoil we are living through these days?
Do we really think putting handcuffs on Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump is going to recapture the harmony and prosperity in the United States in the years since World War II?
Do we really think sending Trump off in an orange prison jumpsuit or Hillary off in a black-and-white striped prison pantsuit will heal the divisions in our nation? Or will that just inflame animosities even more?
After all of the strong comments that were directed toward Clinton by Trump and his supporters, one would like to believe Democrats would take a hands-off attitude toward similar treatment of Trump.
But Sen. Kamala Harris (D-California) apparently did not get that memo. Nor, apparently, did House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
During a recent appearance on a National Public Radio podcast, Harris was asked whether she would want to see Trump prosecuted for obstruction of justice if she were to defeat him in the 2020 election. Harris was quick to say “yes.”
“There has to be accountability,” she said. “The president is not above the law.”
Pelosi was blunt. She reportedly told fellow House Democratic leaders in a private meeting that she did not want to see Trump impeached. She wanted him in prison.
But the decision to prosecute someone should not be based on political considerations.
Criminal charges should not be a political weapon — regardless of whether it is a Republican or a Democrat who talks about wielding that weapon.
Gerald Ford was correct.
You are not going to end a long political nightmare in a criminal courtroom. The voters will end it — at the ballot box.
Randy Evans lives in Des Moines where he is the executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council. He may be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com.