Scott Cawelti

About Scott Cawelti -

Scott Cawelti was born and raised in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He taught writing, film, and literature at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) from 1968-2008, and has written regular opinion columns and reviews for the Waterloo / Cedar Falls Courier since the late 1970s.  He played for years in a folk duo with Robert James Waller and still regularly performs as a singer/guitarist/songwriter. Scott continues to teach as an adjunct instructor at UNI.



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  • Thankful for Small Hope at Thanksgiving

    • Posted on Nov 23, 2014 by Scott Cawelti
    Today's Courier column--seems like a dark time, so finding hope is both a challenge and a necessity.  

    I manage to get Joni Ernst, Bruce Braley, Jon Huntsman, Dave Loebsack, Jeff Danielson, and the UNI Concert Chorale and Marching Band all together in one place.  That's never been done.   
    Anyone who’s lived slightly past adolescence has had this experience.  You 
    want to exercise (or whatever), you set up a routine, stay with it, then it all goes away.  A week or a month later you’re back to no exercise (or whatever).

    Good intentions are no match for time passing and a powerful default position.  
    So too with current politics.  We want a working, effective, problem-solving government.   We want gridlock to go away.  We vote for candidates hoping they’ll work together.  “Voters want us to break out of gridlock,” candidates assert before and shortly after getting elected.

     A week later, they’re gridlocked tighter than ever, the airwaves ruled by threats and counter-threats.   Abandon hope, all ye who enter politics.   

    Yet that way lies madness, or at least utter dysfunction and long-term failure,  as Iowa Senator Jeff Danielson pointed out in last Sunday’s Courier.   He asserts, “We will need a new ethic of political leadership.  One that emphasizes the skills of bridge leaders and problem solvers, rather than partisan hacks who’ve gotten really good at divide-and-conquer tactics.”  

    He’s right, and offers a ray of hope in a dark, frozen political landscape. 

     It’s clear to Danielson and others close to current politics that no one wants where gridlock leads.   And our problems are only getting bigger. Ignoring them won’t make them go away.  

     Maybe because it’s Thanksgiving, I’m thinking not all is lost.   Consider:

    1.   Republicans have risen to real political power, so they must discover how to say “yes” to action that will solve problems.   If they’re not suicidal as a party, they know that oblivion awaits those with nothing but “no” on their lips.   They hate Obama and his immigration plan, so they have to offer a viable alternative.  Same with Obamacare.  These alternatives must be acceptable to at least a few Democrats and the President.  Can they manage to come up with genuinely viable, workable plans acceptable to people beyond their base?                                                                                                                  
    We’re waiting.   

     2.   The emerging generation.  Young adults will become our leaders sooner than we think, and I find them committed, lively, savvy, and engaged. Last week I attended a UNI concert chorale performance as they prepare for a goodwill musical tour of Estonia next month.  They made excellent music, and just as excellent ambassadors of what we’re really all about.   You can’t feel hopeless around these students, and the same with members of the UNI Marching Band, off to London to march in a huge British Christmas parade.  As long as they’re going into the world with their enthusiasm and commitment, all is not lost.  

     3. The “No Labels” non-profit organization.  Here’s a recently formed group that’s taking direct action to get both conservative and liberal political leaders together, discussing issues and trying to resolve differences.  Remember when members of both parties chose to sit together at a State of the Union address?  That was a small initiative from this group.  

     Two recent books explore and explain what they’re doing and why:  “Just the Facts,” by the No Labels Foundation, subtitled “The First Step in Building a National Strategic Agenda for America,” and “No Labels, A Shared Vision for a Stronger America.”  

     As Jon Huntsman, one of the founders of “No Labels” puts it, “No Labels would respect the two-party system, embracing the most stalwart Republicans, the most ardent conservatives and the most passionate liberals.  Everyone would have a place at the table, as long as they were committed to putting their country first and working in good faith with the other side.”  

     We non-politicians can join and support their initiatives, and even become part of their discussions. Check out for how.  Incidentally, Representative Dave Loebsack has joined, as has Bruce Braley.  

    Oh yes, and Joni Ernst. 

    Hope does spring eternal.  Let’s give thanks for that.  
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  • HAPPY BARTOLOME DE LA CASAS DAY--the Oskar Schindler of Columbus's Time

    • Posted on Oct 13, 2014 by Scott Cawelti
    Today, October 13,  is Columbus Day, the day we celebrate the enslavement and subjugation of the Indigenous peoples of the Americas--or rather, the start thereof, by 
    one Christopher Columbus.  

    Columbus is a hero to the subjugators, namely we Europeans who took over, but
    there's another side that we shouldn't forget. 

    That's why we should also celebrate Bartolome de La Casas, a Spanish priest who arrived not long after Columbus, and was horrified by how the natives were wanton slaughtered and treated essentially as animals, and enslaved at will.  Here's a bit 
    of information on him from Wikipedia, and I've boldfaced key ideas:  


    Bartolomé de las CasasO.P. (c. 1484-1566), was a 16th-century Spanish historian, social reformer and Dominican friar. He became the first resident Bishop of Chiapas, and the first officially appointed "Protector of the Indians". His extensive writings, the most famous being A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies and Historia de Las Indias, chronicle the first decades of colonization of the West Indies and focus particularly on the atrocities committed by the colonizers against the indigenous peoples.

    Arriving as one of the first European settlers in the Americas, he participated in, and was eventually compelled to oppose, the atrocities committed against the Native Americans by the Spanish colonists.
    In 1515, he reformed his views, gave up his Indian slaves and encomienda, and advocated, before King Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, on behalf of rights for the natives.

    In his early writings, he advocated the use of African slaves instead of Natives in the West-Indian colonies; consequently, criticisms have been leveled at him as being partly responsible for the beginning of the Transatlantic slave trade. Later in life, he retracted those early views as he came to see all forms of slavery as equally wrong.  In 1522, he attempted to launch a new kind of peaceful colonialism on the coast of Venezuela, but this venture failed causing Las Casas to enter the Dominican Order and become a friar, leaving the public scene for a decade.

    He then traveled to Central America undertaking peaceful evangelization among the Maya of Guatemala and participated in debates among the Mexican churchmen about how best to bring the natives to the Christian faith. Traveling back to Spain to recruit more missionaries, he continued lobbying for the abolition of the encomienda, gaining an important victory by the passing of the New Laws in 1542.

    He was appointed Bishop of Chiapas, but served only for a short time before he was forced to return to Spain because of resistance to the New Laws by the encomenderos, and conflicts with Spanish settlers because of his pro-Indian policies and activist religious stances. The remainder of his life was spent at the Spanish court where he held great influence over Indies-related issues. In 1550, he participated in the Valladolid debate in which Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda argued that the Indians were less than human and required Spanish masters in order to become civilized. Las Casas maintained that they were fully human and that forcefully subjugating them was unjustifiable. 

    Bartolomé de las Casas spent 50 years of his life actively fighting slavery and the violent colonial abuse of indigenous peoples, especially by trying to convince the Spanish court to adopt a more humane policy of colonization. And although he failed to save the indigenous peoples of the Western Indies, his efforts resulted in several improvements in the legal status of the natives, and in an increased colonial focus on the ethics of colonialism.

    Las Casas is often seen as one of the first advocates for universal human rights.

    Las Casas, to me, is the Oscar Schindler of Columbus's time, and deserves recognition as a hero.  The least we can do is mention him in connection with Columbus Day, since he did the right thing centuries before anyone knew it was the right thing.   



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