Government

U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack worries about the future of democracy

Former college prof thinks Americans could lose faith in their government

U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, greets an attendee at a Dec. 9 Democratic Party function at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Cedar Rapids. Loebsack, a former college professor, said Wednesday he worries Americans, especially younger ones, will lose faith in government, opening the door for “a strongman or a strongwoman” to upend democracy. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, greets an attendee at a Dec. 9 Democratic Party function at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Cedar Rapids. Loebsack, a former college professor, said Wednesday he worries Americans, especially younger ones, will lose faith in government, opening the door for “a strongman or a strongwoman” to upend democracy. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Back in the day when he taught courses in Third World politics, Professor Dave Loebsack lectured on “legitimacy engineering.”

As African and Asian nations emerged from colonialism to self-rule after World War II, they had to try to engineer legitimacy “not only for themselves, but for the system itself,” said Loebsack, who as a Cornell College political science professor for 14 years didn’t anticipate it would be an issue for the United States.

Now, in his 13th year as a member of Congress, U.S. Rep. Loebsack, worries that if the nation continues on its present course, Americans will lose confidence in government and question its legitimacy.

While voter frustration with government may not be without some basis, Loebsack thinks congressional accomplishments such as appropriations bills and a two-year budget deal that covered defense and nondefense spending often are overlooked or ignored.

“If we cooperate, which many of us do on a daily basis, we don’t hear about that very much,” he said.

Loebsack isn’t talking about gridlock, which may be “exceptional” now, but has not been unusual throughout history.

His biggest fear for American democracy “is if we get to a point where the younger generation, in particular, decides this isn’t working, that this is frustrating, that we can’t get anything done, and they say they’re just not going to participate anymore.”

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That could happen if the federal government continues along the path it has been on for some time, Loebsack said Wednesday in his Iowa City office.

He warned of one-party rule — where the president is from the same party that controls the House and Senate and there is a filibuster-proof Senate majority — adding, “That’s not going to happen any time soon.”

Already, he said, some people question the legitimacy of Congress and find the president “and maybe even the presidency illegitimate because of the way people act when they are in those positions, especially Donald Trump.”

The political wrangling over Supreme Court nominations makes some people see the Supreme Court as politicized, so they don’t consider it legitimate.

“What worries me more than anything, quite honestly, is if people consider the entire system to be illegitimate,” he said.

Loebsack’s concern is with “not just those who voted for Donald Trump because they were so fed up with everything that they wanted to overturn the system,” but that younger voters will give up on the system.

“If they do, that’s when I think democracy in America is in real trouble,” Loebsack said. “Then there is potential for a strongman or a strongwoman to come in and upend the system and attempt to rule in an undemocratic way.”

Loebsack shared those concerns with Big Ten student government leaders who were meeting at the University of Iowa earlier this summer.

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As Loebsack looks ahead to retirement when this term ends in 2021, he thinks he would like to return to the classroom “so I can share not only my experiences, but plead with them on a daily basis not to leave the system, not to bug out.”

“That will contribute to the end of our system,” he said.

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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