Iowa, Unions, And The Right Wing Propaganda Machine

attribution: earlG at democraticunderground

Yes, last year on his radio show, Jan Mickelson said “what’s wrong with slavery?” and nobody thought a thing about it. Well, some bloggers did, and a few national “elitist” progressives, but not your average Joe Iowan. Like the proverbial boiling frog, we’ve gradually gotten used to the crazy talk. We tell ourselves it doesn’t affect anything, we just have to work around it.  But we are going to have to confront this elephant in the room sooner or later.

I wrote this for the January 2017 edition of The Prairie Progressive newsletter. See below for PP subscription information.


White, rural voters had a hand in electing Donald Trump and the takeover of the Iowa legislature. Many articles are calling them moronic, racist, rigid, fundamentalist Christians. Some are. But some are merely misguided, poor, struggling, and can’t keep up with the complexities of policy and politics.

I grew up in white, rural Iowa, but I am a progressive Democrat and not religious. Someone asked me recently how that was. I was surprised by the question, but as I thought about it, I came up with two things that were different in the rural Iowa I knew growing up, and the rural Iowa of today.

The first is unions.

Where I lived, in a small town, most of the primary wage earners (men) were employed in a union plant such as John Deere or Firestone. Being in a union meant my dad belonged to something larger than himself. I clearly remember the pride he took in keeping his picket line duty schedule when they were out on strike during contract negotiations. Sometimes the strikes were long and I remember “commodities,” huge cans of peanut butter that we subsisted on, and powdered milk.

Being in a union is not just about wages and benefits. It is about a collective identity, being a full-fledged member of the middle class, a participant in the American dream, defined as a good job, a house, maybe even college for your kid if you were frugal enough. You were a part of America. You had someone fighting for you and you shared in the fight. You may not be rich, but being in a union meant you were not “poor.” Back in my day in white, rural Iowa, a union job gave you a sense of community, dignity, and satisfaction in living a simple life. You didn’t have to hate others for having more than you did, because you were doing okay for yourself. You had value. You belonged.

If there had not been that union job for my dad, our family would have just been poor and there would have been shame in that. I think that’s where it is today. The good union jobs are gone, and the shame of being poor is back.

Enter the right-wing propaganda machine, the second thing that is different today, with its massive reach, telling you exactly who is to blame for jobs being gone, telling you everything the Democrats are trying to do to help you, is actually hurting you. Immigrants are stealing your jobs, your president wasn’t born here, is a traitor. And on and on. From our privileged view, with college educations, we can’t imagine being taken in by such obvious lies. Why don’t people just inform themselves better? But it is incumbent upon us to educate ourselves about the reality of life for many in rural Iowa.

The right-wing propaganda machine in Iowa takes the form of the dominating presence of conservative talk radio. NPR exists, but trying to get facts to the people is like shouting into a hurricane.

“The Telecommunications Act of 1996 provision that greatly expanded the number of stations that one individual could own was devastating to free speech. Clear Channel (Now I Heart Radio) owned around 40 stations then. Within 2 years CC owned 1200 stations. Other networks also expanded. Once they controlled all those stations and could program each station from one location, the fate of talk radio was doomed to be conservative. Because that is what the owners wanted it to be. Today, 91% of the messages getting out to the people are filtered through conservative talk show hosts.”

“Every day 2700 hours of conservative diatribes against health care, against energy policies, against programs to get people back to work are balanced by only about 254 hours of messages on the truth of what the [Obama] administration is doing for the people.“ –

In Iowa, at least 700 hours a week of right-wing propaganda is being broadcast on the AM dial.

The following list has been updated as of December 25, 2016:

Iowa commercial radio stations that broadcast multiple hours a day of conservative talk are:

KCPS Burlington 12 hrs/day,

KBUR Burlington6 hrs,

KXEL Waterloo-CF12 hrs,

WOC Quad Cities11 1/2 hrs,

WHO Des Moines 11 1/2 hrs,

KSJC Sioux City13 hrs,

WMT Cedar Rapids 8 hrs,

WDBQ Dubuque, 6 hrs,

KILR Estherville15 hrs,

KGLO Mason City9 hrs,

KFJB Marshalltown, 3 hrs,

KASI Ames, 6 hrs, and

KICD Spencer, 5-6 hrs.

This massive amount of false information being pumped into our communities, solely for profit, divides us and makes democracy unsustainable. Climate change, health care, social justice issues, and the economy cannot be even talked about when citizens hold two opposite versions of reality. The unions going away and the onslaught of right-wing radio are two things that have done devastating harm to our political discourse.

Unless we take time to more fully understand the enormity of the loss for rural Iowans caused by the destruction of unions, coupled with the daily tsunami of right-wing radio delivering a fictional version of reality, we are not going to be able to re-connect with rural voters in Iowa or throughout America.

–Trish Nelson grew up in Marion County, Iowa

Prairie Dog

Reprinted with permission from the January 2017 issue of  The Prairie Progressive, Iowa’s oldest progressive newsletter, available only in hard copy for $12/yr.  Send check to PP, Box 1945, Iowa City 52244.

This entry was posted in 2016 Election Campaign and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.