(Editor’s note: QuadCities.com is proud to publish this guest editorial by Tony-nominated playwright Sarah Ruhl, whose parents grew up in Davenport. Ahead of the Nov. 3 election, former vice president Joe Biden will visit Iowa Friday, though further details were not yet available. According to his campaign, he plans to discuss “bringing Americans together to address the crises facing the country and win the battle for the soul of the nation.” It will be his first in-person trip to Iowa during the general election. He last campaigned here ahead of Iowa’s Democratic caucuses in February.)

By Sarah Ruhl

At this time of year, I can’t help but reflect on my childhood, remembering the Thanksgiving table in Davenport, Iowa, where large quantities of food would be eaten, and politics fervently discussed.

What, I can’t help wondering now, would my four Iowan grandparents have thought of Trump and Biden? What would they be saying around the dining room table? They are no longer here for me to ask, so I can only speculate. I’ve decided that though my grandparents were conservative, they would have found a kindred Iowan spirit in Biden.

My grandfather, Dr. Joseph Kehoe, an Irish Catholic, would have understood the term “malarkey,” though he would have been more likely to use a more vivid term that starts with “bull.”

Sarah Ruhl

My grandfather’s advice was to work hard, keep your head down, and help your neighbors. He did not enjoy a man who praised himself, often in the third person. My grandfather, a pediatrician, often said, “I didn’t praise you kids” (he had five) “because I didn’t want you to get swelled heads.”

I can picture Biden happily tailgating at a Hawkeye game on a freezing cold day; I picture Trump repairing to a private trailer with a heated toilet.

Like Joe Biden, my grandfather married his college sweetheart, remaining married until death took one of them. My grandfather worked at the University of Iowa student union as a waiter to pay his way through school. He once saw my grandmother there and made her a hamburger in  the shape of a heart.

He would go onto medical school, supported by the G.I. Bill, after serving in WWII. Joe Biden co-sponsored a bill to extend the G.I. Bill for veterans post 9/11, saying, “We owe you guys big.” Trump, on the other hand, said at a military cemetery, that veterans were “losers and suckers.”

My grandparents often talked about the trials of the Depression; my grandfather survived hunger as a child by shooting squirrels and eating them. With only an outhouse at home, he joined a sports team in order to shower at public school. He said people got through the Depression by shouldering the hard times together.

At the outset of this pandemic, I hoped that our leaders would emphasize unity through hardship. Instead, Trump has denigrated public health professionals, calling Anthony Fauci a “disaster.”

Recently, my mother ran into someone from the Quad-Cities who said she thinks of my grandfather every year on her daughter’s birthday. Apparently my grandfather diagnosed her baby’s meningitis, saying, “I want you to go home now, take care of your older children, and pray for your baby.” The baby pulled through.

Prayer, for Donald Trump is a photo opportunity. Prayer, for my grandfather, was a balm to be used along with scientific medicine—pairing grace with medical facts. The baby survived.

The great state of Iowa may well help determine the outcome of this election. And I fervently hope that this year Iowa votes for decency, and votes for Joe Biden.

Sarah Ruhl is a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist as a playwright. Her mother Kathy Kehoe Ruhl and her father Patrick Ruhl grew up in Davenport.

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