Art Cullen is editor of the Storm Lake Times in Northwest Iowa, and is author of the book “Storm Lake: A Chronicle of Change, Resilience, and Hope from a Heartland Newspaper.”
STORM LAKE, Iowa
The Mueller report landed with a ho-hum as the good people of Storm Lake, Iowa, prepared for the reenactment of the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday evening at the Methodist church. That drama was much more on the minds of men who would dress up in robes and sandals that night, no doubt, than the 400-some pages of details surrounding events already detailed in public for more than two years.
It certainly was not top of mind for John Snyder, farmer and plumber, who is itching to plant corn with his brother, Tom, right after Easter. The soil temperature recently was 39 degrees — that’s what we’re talking about around here — and it needs to climb into the high 50s to plant. Forecasts of highs in the 70s help him relax, what with the stress of low commodity prices and crazy floods.
Snyder said he hadn’t thought much about the Mueller report. He knows enough about Washington. “I don’t think they even know we’re out here,” he said, as Congress dithers over flood disaster aid. “They don’t know corn from beans.”
People in this meatpacking and college town of about 10,000 to 15,000 — nobody really knows how many, because so many are immigrants — are worried more about whether they’ll get deported than how that Trump Tower meeting went down. The “dreamers” show up as the Democratic presidential hopefuls stream through town asking when they might find relief. Health care is the talk over coffee with candidates. Farmers want to know when we can seal a trade deal with China, because they’re getting walloped in the soybean markets.
You just don’t hear that much about President Trump and the Russians even in those stump settings. It is just assumed, the context of everything, the predicate: Some of his most senior aides and his former personal lawyer have been sentenced to prison. Everyone knew going in that the operation was at least unseemly.
The Mueller report confirms the obvious in the minds of most: Trump is unworthy of the office, or he may be a charlatan, but he is our charlatan. And he did not collude.
It has all been reported by The Post and the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal: Trump wanted dirt on Hillary Clinton, and his lieutenants went to any lengths to get it — even to the point of trading information with Russian intelligence operatives. (Yes, the newspapers were right, the report confirms. No thanks necessary.)
To Rick Peterson, that’s all been baked into the market, as he would have said as an investment adviser before his recent retirement. He also is a CPA and a Sooner by education, but he has become a FAR (Fallen-Away Republican). He said the religious right drove him off from a caucus several years ago by intimidation and rigidity.
“I don’t need to read the Mueller report to come to the conclusion that Trump’s a crook and a liar, and that you can’t trust him as far as you can throw him,” said Peterson, who spends his days sizing up the Democrats who parade through town almost by the week.
Larry Phillips works to golf. He used to own the Sugar Bowl gift shop on Lake Avenue downtown and used to be a Main Street Republican. He says he has friends at the country club whom the Mueller report will not faze. There was no collusion, they will say, nor obstruction of justice in the eyes of an expectedly servile attorney general.
“It doesn’t make any difference,” Phillips said. “People have made up their minds. I made up my mind when Trump mocked that reporter with the disability. That’s when I became a Never Trumper. I don’t think this report changes the calculus at all.”
He, too, is perusing the Democratic field. So is his brother, a Husker fan who lives in Nebraska and is no longer wed to the GOP.
Asked if he had heard much about the special counsel’s report, Spud Spudafore, the head cook at Better Day Cafe, said, “Yeah. I heard jokes about it.”
Whitney Robinson, our 20-something sales manager at the local paper, didn’t pay the redacted volumes much heed, either. She is completely focused on who can beat Trump. She understands that impeachment isn’t in the cards with Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) running the Senate. She was ready for selfies when Beto O’Rourke swept into the office recently. “It’s all about the election. Absolutely,” she said.
Grassley was in western Iowa on Thursday when the color-coded report finally hit the streets. Not long after, Grassley tweeted about his lunch at McDonald’s in Carroll. By mid-afternoon he wrote off suspicions of collusion as hysteria, praised the attorney general’s transparency and encouraged an investigation into the investigation. The question of what to do about Russian meddling in our democracy, which disturbs everyone, is left for another day and maybe a committee hearing. So it is written.