By Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa
As we approach Independence Day, let’s remember why we celebrate and defend our blessings of freedom, liberty and justice for all. In these uncertain times, America’s promise is more important than ever.
There’s a saying among the faithful that God won’t give us more than we can handle. Arguably, 2020 is putting this message to the test.
When Iowans rang in the New Year, no one realized the nation’s historic employment, wage growth and record-setting economic expansion would be uprooted by a pandemic, causing historic unemployment and more than 122,000 American deaths — so far.
The public health emergency disrupted society in almost every way imaginable. And yet, hope springs eternal.
Americans in the private and public sectors pulled together. Congress passed historic relief to triage the devastating economic fallout, pumping more than $3 trillion into the economy to help Americans pay their bills, put food on the table and deliver a lifeline to hospitals and small businesses to survive.
Lawmakers listened to feedback from millions of small businesses who received funding from the Payroll Protection Program. Congress increased the loan forgiveness period from eight weeks to 24 weeks and expanded flexibility for loan forgiveness. Giving America’s engines of economic development and job creation greater flexibility to reopen and rehire their workforce will help accelerate the recovery.
As vaccine development for COVID-19 and the economic rebound show signs of promise, the horrific killing of a Black American in police custody added yet another test to America’s resilience and social cohesion. George Floyd’s murder has captured the world’s attention and inspired hundreds of thousands of people to exercise their constitutional rights to assemble peaceably. It’s wrong that looters, arsonists and vandals hijacked this moment with criminal violence. Riots sow discord at a time when Americans of all backgrounds are coming together, calling on America to, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., "rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal."
Congress must build on public policy to end racial inequality, such as my bipartisan work to support education opportunity for all children and help black farmers more than a decade ago who were discriminated against in the Pigford v. Glickman settlement. Most recently, I secured landmark bipartisan criminal justice reform with passage of the First Step Act, voted to create Opportunity Zones that foster entrepreneurism and job creation in disadvantaged neighborhoods, and reintroduced the Walter Scott Notification Act that would require states receiving federal law enforcement dollars to report details involving officer-related shootings. As former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I’ll represent Iowans during the ongoing debate on policing reform.
Recently, the Iowa legislature unanimously passed policing reforms. Washington should take a cue from Iowa leaders and pass urgently needed changes to our law enforcement system. I’ve co-sponsored commonsense legislation authored by Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina. The JUSTICE Act improves accountability and increases transparency in policing across the country. It also includes many bipartisan proposals, such as designating lynching as a federal hate crime and penalizing states for allowing police to use chokeholds. Americans across the country have made their voices heard and demanded action. Congress must rise to the occasion.
In times of hardship, history shows Iowans plow ahead to cultivate peace and prosperity. Just during my lifetime, Iowans have survived financial collapse in the Great Depression and the 1980s farm crisis; catastrophic natural disasters, including the 1993, 2008 and 2019 Iowa floods; five pandemics; dozens of wars and military conflicts to combat tyranny and terror; and, civil rights movements that have changed the course of history.
A century ago, the United States ratified the 19th Amendment, affording women the right to vote. My mother was among the first women in Iowa to cast her ballot. Home to the nation’s first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses, Iowans appreciate that our system of self-government and way of life are on the line every Election Day. Earlier this month, Iowa voters set a statewide turnout record in the June primary.
Despite the challenges knocking at our door in 2020, I have great hope for America.
Our republic is built to last. It’s up to each of us to keep it. For generations, Iowans have built institutions and organizations that strengthen family and civic life. The pandemic and protests for racial equality challenge us to keep building.
With open minds and open hearts, we can listen and lift up one another to overcome the stain of racial inequality and "form a more perfect union."
Iowa tilled the soil of freedom 181 years ago with a landmark ruling delivered on Independence Day, July 4, 1839. The Territory of Iowa’s Supreme Court declared a former slave, Ralph Montgomery, a free man. The court affirmed human liberty, writing the laws "should extend equal protection to men of all colors."
Together, Iowans will meet these historic challenges and till the soil of freedom, equality and prosperity for all. How we choose to respond to this moment in 2020 will shape how our children and grandchildren celebrate Independence Day and strengthen America’s promise for generations to come.