Radical Conservative Jan Mickelson Suggests Enslaving Illegal Immigrants in Iowa



by Adam Staley Groves

The history of civil rights in the US, Midwestern state of Iowa, was something Iowans could once feel good about. You see, in the early 19th century slavery was rejected by the Iowa Supreme Court decades before the American Civil War. Some ten years later, interracial marriage was affirmed. A few years after the Civil War, public school segregation was shot down and continued to be worn away by the Court’s decisions through the 1870s. In the 1850s, racial discrimination in “public accommodations” was ended.

All of these decisions presaged the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the same issues by multiple decades. There are many more decisions made by the Iowa Supreme Court, well documented, that lay out a tradition of progressive foresight in terms of civil rights and minority enfranchisement. This was certainly on many Iowan’s minds in 2009, when the State Supreme Court found the state’s prohibition on gay marriage unconstitutional. Finally in 2015, the US made gay marriage legal nationwide.

The point is, Iowa could be considered a world leader in terms of civil rights. There are many reasons for this. One might say it is attributable to a highly educated public; populist temperaments of the Midwest; political party parity; and an informed citizenry. All of these things lead to a happy face provincialism, this so-called “Iowa Nice.” These characteristics are the supposed reasons for Iowa’s ‘first in the nation’ presidential caucuses, where the dominant political parties must win in order to gain momentum in subsequent key states thus obtain their party’s nomination.

Now it seems the state’s radical conservatives are degrading the historic, populist-provincial mentality of Iowa; they are revising the state’s legacy within the broader historical context of national politics, a national politics that has had, by extension, influence on the rest of the world in terms of civil rights. For just a few weeks ago it was suggested by conservative radio talk show host, Jan Mickelson, that illegal aliens in the state should be enslaved, thus become “state property” if they do not leave the Iowa upon a 30 or 60 day warning issued by state authorities. This was developed in stride with Republican hopeful Donald Trump’s idea of making foreign governments pay for a security wall on the nation’s southern border. Here is an idea without precedent, for it does not accord with the state’s juridical tradition of progressive, populist civil rights or general enfranchisement.

Sounds shockingly abhorrent, doesn’t it? It is paradoxical, no doubt. For the only way Iowa retains its foresight or global leadership in terms of civil rights is to champion “compelled labor.” It is the perfect, potential, populist manipulation. Now one has to only think of civil rights as a neutral category, that is a civil rights without human dignity, a de-anthropocentrism of sorts. You see, minorities have all the rights (on paper), gays can get married; they just need to be citizens. How else would a hand-to-mouth employee of Wal-Mart or any convenience store feel good about his or her “career?” Slave labor would dismiss the real populist, progressive notion that they are indeed at the bottom and could ask for more! They would first mumble to themselves, and then rejoice over cheap beers “at least I am not a slave!”

The probable truth is most professionals already feel this way about precarious workers in their midst. I can tell you, personally, not a day passes that I feel gratitude for escaping the depressing reality of life in Iowa today. Moreover on a near daily basis, I am the recipient of warm smile or two from Bangladeshi construction workers here in Singapore. I am the recipient of an irrepressible dignity, a lesson I may have yet to learn again. The depressing reality of Iowa’s decline lies specifically in a shift in the means and ends spectrum of the working poor and the dissolving middle-class. This is Iowan’s awakening to the rest of the world system and a particular phase of global integration. In fact, it may be the case that most of the world is far ahead of the authoritarian, slave-state, fantasy bubbling from the lips of that historical neophyte named Jan Mickelson.

Iowa needs to fully embrace its decline and hopefully have enough left in its collective brain-tank to rid itself of the likes of Mickelson. Should those who have the resources and power, money and clout, care enough about the dignity and nature of humanity they would take this man off the air and then some. Yet it’s not just one man. It’s a collective decline, a genuine Midwestern atrophy. If there were draconian measures to enact it would be to immediately raise the minimum wage, make college free and set standards for housing and safe neighborhoods. Yet such a change seems immense and improbable. There seems no way around it. Ah, yes, Bernie Sanders you say…?

I do recall taking caution at the self-actualizing bumper stickers with the outline of the state of Iowa and the slogan “native” that were popular when I last lived there. Indeed, there were plenty of Native American slaughter for that signifier. I remember prior to that, a decade or more, when I played music in the DIY world; I remember how regionalization became popular, when young kids were organizing themselves by the commonality of their area code. The point about self-awareness of this type regards what is particular to the provincial-romantic or the reactionary as we see them today. For it is more a media event rather than an event among human communities. Accumulating fans and likes, perpetuating mindless chatter and memes, posting cat pictures and thug life references—an eternal joke on the way down. Where is there an event that arises out of common needs that is a clear recognition of repression, where one sees the end of humanity in someone other than themselves? Our language, our ability to copy one another, is tied up in the productive forces of media representations. Politics is encompassed by social media technologies, as such technologies penetrates our entire organism: memories, creativity, silence, love, beauty. We are estranged from our humanity as these technologies grasp us and generate an affect beneath reason itself. We don’t know how to counteract it. We read of these things through tweeting and Instagram. Irrationalism flourishes in novel mental environments stripped of historical context. Our educational necessities are overlooked; resources remain the source for administrative banality. This world is one of creative irrationalism, yet our technical skills perpetuate the decline of empathy. The event in its most broad context is a humanity without humanity. This is the ground for this century. This is the legacy of the “greatest generation” and the “boomers” they created. We do not understand how to read our media. We don’t even have the chance to ignore it.

There is another lingering ugliness in Iowa. White Iowans dominate the power structure in a state where blacks comprise 23% of the incarcerated population and only 3% of the state population. Hispanics comprise 8% of the incarcerated population and 5% of the state population. Whites comprise approximately 94% of the total state population and are underrepresented in prison population. Not that I think more people should be in jail, but in terms of the numbers there is something amiss and it’s not the soft core prison state of the service worker indentured by student debt. Where is Iowa’s progressive temperament on this issue? Where is its precedent setting in terms of this ugly truth? No one cares. When it comes to stumping in Iowa’s relatively inexpensive media market, say test market of ideas no presidential candidate cares about those who cannot vote. Perhaps illegal immigration and the labor it provides suffers the same fate as those current prisoners? Perhaps those working-poor and middle-class aspirationals will vote to move themselves one notch up from America’s real slave economy. Perhaps the appeal and power of Mickleson’s statement is to forge the bond over recognizing our slave economy? For no longer is it NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) or Pakistani soccer balls made by nimble fingers. No longer would child labor be a mere externality, or a market solution to wage increases. Let’s face it; we lack the ethical capacity for our increasingly irrational affect. And I have now come to realize Iowa won’t save us.

Cover image by Richard Smith.

About the Author:


Adam Staley Groves is a postdoctoral fellow with Tembusu College, National University of Singapore, where he currently teaches the Humanities of Climate Change and Biomedicine. Adam holds MA and PhD degrees from the European Graduate School, and is pursuing a second PhD with the Centre for Modern Thought at the University of Aberdeen. His research engages poetry and technology. Co-editor and contributor with the online journal continent., Adam’s investigation of politics seeks the dignity and nature of human imagination to confront our technological age.