Government

In UI speech, Sen. Ben Sasse slams American politics as broken, foreign leadership as slipping

'I don't think we're going to fix our politics by our politics'

Republican U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse (Neb.) speaks during the University of Iowa’s lecture series at the Iowa Memorial Union in Iowa City, Iowa on Thursday, Oct. 25, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Republican U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse (Neb.) speaks during the University of Iowa’s lecture series at the Iowa Memorial Union in Iowa City, Iowa on Thursday, Oct. 25, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY -— When asked during a visit to the University of Iowa campus Thursday whether President Donald Trump bears responsibility for fostering an environment conducive to political violence — referencing pipe bombs mailed this week to high-profile democrats — U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse avoided a direct answer.

“There is no place in America for a phrase like ‘the press is the enemy of the people’,” Sasse, R-Nebraska, said, referencing a common Trump attack on the media, along with iterations of different attacks such as “fake news.”

“That is very unhelpful rhetoric, and all 320 million Americans should join together in condemning political violence,” Sasse said during a nearly hourlong speech to a crowd of hundreds.

When pressed by Iowa Public Radio host Ben Keiffer, who was reading questions from the audience and social media, “So he does bear some responsibility for creating a hostile environment?” Sasse repeated his first answer that labeling the press as an American adversary is unhelpful.

Sasse, following his talk centered on the importance of America’s leadership on a global scale, addressed divisiveness at home by blaming a heightened role of politics and media in daily life. He pointed toward increased attention on smartphones. He also said that people have fewer community commonalities — even mentioning the loss of popular television shows everyone use to watch together.

“Family, friends, work, and religion — these four things drive us to happiness, and all four of them are being undermined by a digital revolution,” he said. “We’re allowing politics to fill the vacuum of a collapse of thick and bodied local tribes, and when that happens we act like politics might have a solution.

“I don’t think we’re going to fix our politics by our politics,” Sasse said.

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But he does foresee unity on the horizon — coming in one of two ways. Either by calamity that unites the country or by a rediscovery of rootedness in what makes us human and Americans.

He urged the country to avoid the more dangerous global calamitous path by retaking the reins of its international leadership post. The United States has been retreating, it has been isolating, and Sasse said history teaches it cannot if it wants to sustain global peace.

When America leads, prosperity follows, he said.

“But there is no destiny we will lead,” Sasse said. “We must renew it every generation. And we haven’t been doing this work.”

He argued America has been emboldening its enemies and alienating its friends, and yet still retains the values its widely heralded for — the reason oppressed from countries around the globe flee to the United States.

“We believe in dignity of every human being,” he said.

Looking forward, Sasse urged four takeaways from the history and present moment in U.S. foreign policy.

“We know we cannot avoid global problems by avoiding global responsibilities,” he said. “And we know that alliances matter.”

He praised free trade as a “tool of American power,” heralding American economic freedom as the third lesson to take forward from our past.

“And we need a clearly shared vision of America’s role in the world with our allies so they can know that they should trust us,” Sasse said. “We have increasingly been emboldening our enemies, we have alienated our friends, we have sacrificed much of our influence, and we have increasingly confused our people. This is unsustainable.”

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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