August 3, 2016

A 1941 International firetruck graced a summer field adjacent to U.S. Highway 30 here in western Iowa.

Surely it summoned smiles from passersby, many of whom no doubt can remember the old fighting-red rescue vehicle.

For my part, I loved seeing the truck, and our Carroll Daily Times Herald story promoting a town celebration, the 100th anniversary of the Arcadia Fire Department, a wonderful volunteer organization.

Yes, America, after two weeks of rancor in Cleveland and Philadelphia, small-town Iowa can still come together.

The nation is not always, as my friend, the author Bill Bishop wrote, “A Big Sort” — like-minded people clustering together, unable to bear the thought of neighbors with different political opinions. Recyclers, Seattle is for you. Hunters, head to Texas.

No, thank you, Mr. Doom, Mrs. Gloom, we’ll celebrate rural Iowa right along with Arcadia. And for the most part, of course, we did.

But over the weekend, Daily Times Herald reporter Matt Rezab showed me photos he snapped at the parade featuring a float with a man inside fencing and barbed wire, a makeshift jail, wearing an orange jumpsuit, and a Hillary Clinton mask. The float had a sign, too: “Hillary For Prison.”

“It was my idea,” Kyle Julin of Manilla told Rezab. “Pretty much me and Josh (Reetz). It took us about a day-and-a-half to build.”

Julin tells us he, Reetz and Adam Corky (the Clinton impersonator) are not affiliated with any official political organization.

People cheered, threw water balloons at the Clinton-costumed man.

So this is what it’s come to?

Yes, Clinton, a former U.S. secretary of state, mismanaged her emails on a private server.

Here’s what FBI Director James Comey, a Republican who served in President George W. Bush’s Justice Department, said on July 5: “We did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information; there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.”

That considered, challenging Clinton on this matter is both fair and responsible.

But displays suggesting Clinton go to prison, and the associated ugly imagery, the involving of kids and the water balloons, smacks of

Third World kangaroo courts. I immediately thought of the 17th century Salem witch trials.

We are nation of elections, not coups. This float celebrates the latter.

Even if you think Hillary Clinton risked national security, and deserves prosecution, the fact is she’s not facing charges. And she is the duly selected nominee of one of our two major political parties.

Clinton haters can’t, on the one hand, stand with the police and tell Black Lives Matters protesters to respect the justice system, work within it, and then cheer as an innocent woman, one of our leaders no less, is essentially hung in effigy, symbolically tarred and feathered in a grotesque public display. something you’d expect to see in backwater Mississippi in the 1950s, or Henry VIII’s England.

“I thought it was a disgrace that they were throwing water balloons at a potential commander in chief,” said Sac County Republican Dan Dirkx, a former candidate for the Iowa House, and easily one of the more conservative candidates I’ve ever covered.

And Dirkx also told me this: “That’s kind of below-the-belt.”

Yes, it is.

American politics is a rough-and-tumble business. It is messy. Always has been.

But there’s a time and a place, right? (Don’t parents still teach that?)

We ought to have some basic decency and decorum in town-wide celebrations in Iowa. We should respect the candidates who have the courage to campaign, to spend their weekends in these parades and at other events.

Rural Iowa’s community gatherings shouldn’t descend into cheap jokes, mean-spirited antics and self-appointed judge-and-jury commentary on who should be in jail. Do we really want mobs and the masses sorting out who’s guilty?

What’s next, mock lynchings at the Iowa State Fair?

Is this Arkansas?

Or, worse yet, is it Donald Trump’s America?