Northern Valley Beacon

News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Monday, July 16, 2018

The legacy of malice

Shortly before I moved to South Dakota, my next door neighbor, who taught law enforcement at a community college, ran for county sheriff.  He was running against a man who was active in politics and was a bit of a character.  The opponent was serving as county coroner and he put emergency lights on top of his car and went buzzing around town as if he was always on his way to an emergency.  It was a joke around town because you don't need lights and sirens for trips to the morgue.  However, aside from such idiosyncrasies,  he had a reputation for being a very nice and energetic man and he was well known throughout the county.

I was a registered Republican at the time,  but not at all active in politics and I never voted straight ticket,  My next door neighbor was running as a Republican and the woman who was serving as party precinct chair lived just down the street and stopped to chat up the party candidates when we met on the street.

My neighbor launched a campaign that had a very negative element, as his ads and statements ridiculed his opponent in an insulting, mean-spirited way.  Most people, including the woman who was precinct chair, thought the negative campaigning was sure to lose the election.  The majority of people reacted strongly to negative, personal insults in campaigns and the conventional wisdom of most was that it reflected low character on the person  who used it and turned people against them.

My neighbor won the election, much to the surprise of most people.  Many political strategists in both parties noted that negative campaigning, particularly of the personally insulting kind, had never worked before and backfired on those who tried to use it, but it seemed to have worked in this instance.  Did it mean that the public had changed?  That negative campaigning would be effectively used?  Apparently so.  That time marked a shift away from campaigns that centered on what candidates would do to campaigns that engaged in personal attacks against opponents.  Since that election, I've seen negative campaigning grow to the point  to where it is considered a necessary aspect of a successful campaign.  Advocates of personal defamation as part of the political process say that it works.  Election results indicate they are right.

The South Dakota GOP finds defamatory campaigning so effective that it has become the major "strategy" in its campaigns.  Defaming and misrepresenting opponents dominates.  On the national level, Trump has turned insult, abuse, and mendacity into a national agenda.  However, if South Dakota can claim national leadership in any area of human endeavor, it is in negative campaigning.  The Daschle-Thune campaign provides the paradigm for using malice as the predominant motive in a campaign.  

The Daschle campaign and the Brown County Democrats ran their campaigns out of a large storefront on downtown Main Street.  The Daschle campaign manager set up a back office he called the "war room."  In it, he posted all the ads and statements that the Thune campaign issued against Daschle.  One newspaper ad pictured Daschle with Osama bin Laden and Iraq's Saddam Hussein with the implication they were all somehow allied.  Another claimed that Daschle abandoned his first wife for a beauty queen.  And there were blog printouts and news accounts of what Thune said at his public appearances.  One of Thune's hired character assassins wrote a book about the campaign which, of course, never admits that the fundamental; strategy of Thune's campaign was to create malice against Daschle and anyone or anything  associated with him.  After the election, a political scientist and some journalists suggested that the campaign materials should be reviewed to analyze how the press was manipulated and responded to the negative materials of the campaign.  Some funds were generated to organize what was titled The Press Project, which was conceived largely as a fact-checking enterprise.    The materials collected in the Aberdeen campaign office provided a substantial start for the review.  A professor of writing and journalism and dean of a program who was on a pre-retirement sabbatical from an eastern university was engaged to set up and direct the project in its initial stages.  Professor John had visited the Dakotas with a close professional colleague originally from South Dakota and for many years they had neighboring summer homes near Detroit Lakes, where he was working on a sabbatical project and where he was directing the startup on The Press Project.  At the very beginning right after New Years in 2005, the friend who had introduced him to the Dakotas died of cancer.  Professor John kept working on the project which had been moved to Fargo for his convenience, but he indicated that he would be able to spend less time in starting up the project than he originally intended.  Initially, The Press Project intended to focus on only the traditional media.  Blogs were very recent and surveys showed that extremely few people were aware of them, let alone read them.  The professor decided that blogs had to be included because they most clearly defined the tenor of the Thune campaign.

He arranged for a young political scientist to work into the directorship of the Project, and turned his attention to his own project and preparing to return to his job for a year before retiring.  Another Project worker was a young woman who was an early contributor to the Northern Valley Beacon.  She reported that the professor had become very dispirited as he analyzed the materials.  After he turned over the project to the political scientist, he commented how demoralizing dealing with the campaign materials was for him.  He said that the misrepresentations and defamations could be fact-checked, but the malice behind them was the dominating factor in the campaign.  They were made with no regard for the collateral damage it did to people.  He commented that what needed close study was the audience that accepted such campaign tactics.

The Press Project came to a halt when the young political scientist quit to join a more prestigious project, stating that what happened in South Dakota was a provincial anomaly of little importance to the rest of America.  (The Trump phenomenon proved him wrong.) So, we packed up the materials in  archive boxes and put them in a storage unit with the expectation that the work would resume.  As time passed The Project receded into the background of political business, and I have lost track of where the materials are.

One of the things that the professor found alarming was that in a state whose media have a notorious "conservative" slant, the Thune campaign contended that it, particularly the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls, showed a personal partiality for Tom Daschle.  The evidence showed that for the most part Thune was, in fact, receiving idolizing treatment from the media, treating him like a "rock star."  In an account by the Aberdeen American News, that term was actually used. 

The late David Kranz was a particular target of the Thune campaign.  I had met him in his professional capacity, but we were remote acquaintances.  He was considered by other journalists and political operatives to have the most extensive, insightful knowledge of South Dakota politics of anyone in the state.  Professor John said that the attacks on Kranz were "malicious contortions" of his work which the Project should expose in detail.  The professor left some analysis of the attacks, but they were never followed up.  Professor John was an expert in writing and rhetoric, but his successor was a political scientist and placed more emphasis on the social effects of the campaign rather than analyzing its truthfulness and defamatory constructs.  The professor noted that the fundamental premise of Thune's campaign was character defamation against Daschle, which included assailing the character of anyone associated with Daschle in a positive way.  Thune's record in Congress was one of fecklessness and indolence in comparison with Daschle's.  Rather than risk comparisons, the Thune campaign carpet-bombed Daschle's character, including that of anyone around him.

Through my associates, I kept hearing that David Kranz was deeply troubled and hurt by the attacks on him, insisting that most of what was said was not true.  And  I heard that he was struggling with health issues.

Professor John said that the Thune campaign left South Dakota with a legacy of malice which will be recorded in the many lives it affected.  Kranz's long-time colleague Kevin Woster brought that legacy up in his lengthy tribute on the occasion of Kranz's death.  He referred to the memorial given at the funeral by former Argus Leader editor Randall Beck, whose tenure at the newspaper included the 2004 campaign cycle.   Beck spoke of "the 'false, malicious attacks on his character' from which, Beck rightly said, Kranz never quite recovered."

Woster writes, "Most of us would have returned fire against such an onslaught. Kranz did not. Could not.  'It was not in him to fight back,' Beck said."

The legacy of malice has not yet been presented in a comprehensive account of the Daschle-Thune campaign.  But it keeps cropping up in the lives of those who were hurt by it.  Much to the discredit of the voters in South Dakota, it works.  And the election of Donald Trump is an indication of depravity in the national population.  Good will is not part of the GOP agenda.

The family and friends who were collateral casualties of the character assassination blitz against Tom Daschle are the evidence of that legacy of malice.  It is one thing to cite negative things when they are true about a candidate.  But contriving falsehoods solely for the purpose of defaming a person in the eyes of the public is decadence that kills off the better angels.  Such tactics leave a trail of distrusting and damaged people.  And that is our legacy of malice.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

The bean counters boot Bob Mercer

The Aberdeen American News announced that Bob Mercer is among seven employees laid off today. Here is executive editor J.J. Perry's explanation:

Bob Mercer’s situation is a little different. He is based in Pierre, and his work is sold by our company to other news outlets in South Dakota. Those subscriptions helped offset some of the cost, but not enough. 
Rather than an immediate layoff, the Capitol Bureau in Pierre will remain open through the end of September. That will give our member papers enough time to decide how to proceed with their coverage, including of our new governor and the legislative session that opens in January. 
My deep hope is that one of the other subscriber newspapers can pick up the Capitol Bureau position, and we can subscribe or otherwise subsidize some version of what the American News has been able to provide for nearly 10 years.
The layoffs come in response to a lack of operating capital.  What is obvious in Mercer's dismissal is that essential journalistic coverage is not much of a consideration.  Bob Mercer and the AP are the only coverage of state government in the state.  If editorial responsibility were a factor in the decision, a first concern would be that state government be covered and kept under scrutiny.  However, such journalistic concerns are not important in the world of bean counting.  In other words the primary reason that the press receives First Amendment rights is dismissed.

The South Dakota press has a reputation for deficient journalism, and the tradition continues.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Can we try again, America?

American literature is not just fiction, poetry, and drama.   It includes all the recording of events and rhetorical exchanges of the founding and development of our country.  It is a unique national literature because it not only recorded the thrust and details of the founding of the United States, but it played a major role in defining and enabling the quest for freedom, equality, and justice.  I have had the privilege of teaching American literature from the early pre-colonial journals of exploration to the poetry of minorities and women in our time pushing to realize full equality and the fiction that satirizes the ignorance and bigotry that blemishes American life.  The force of American life has been to confront the failures of democracy and to work and struggle to correct them.

All four of my grandparents were emigrants from Sweden.  Two of them died before I was born, my father's father died when I was very young, but my mother's mother, who became an invalid after breaking her hip, lived in my family household for 16 years until she died at the age of 98.  She is the only grandparent with which I could talk as I grew up.

There was a strange bit of folklore that floated around some of my aunts and uncles that my grandmother's family descended from royalty.  My grandmother and her sisters emigrated to America as single women, while their brothers stayed in Sweden. Her sisters settled in Minneapolis where they married successful businessmen.  My grandmother was abandoned on the frontier with her eight children who survived infancy.  The family story was how my mother and her seven brothers collaborated to help the family survive on the frontier.  My cousins and I asked my grandmother about the "old country" and if it was true that we were descended from royalty.  (Relatives who checked the genealogy found it not to be true.)  She avoided talking much about the old country and brushed off questions about royalty by saying in her heavy Swedish accent "that's the kind of thing we left Sweden to get away from."  My grandmother found the story of her impoverished struggle on the frontier of far more importance than any memories and connections with Sweden.

I found the reason for her preference of her American story by reading the novel "The Emigrants" by Vilhelm Moberg and seeing its film version.  I used the film as an introduction to the American Literature survey because it provides such a relevant context to the story of America and what motivated its immigrants.  The Sweden my grandmother and her sisters left operated in the feudal tradition.  It offered nothing but a life of serfdom for them.  Their family tried to lure them back with offers of money, but to my grandmother life as a poor person in America was preferable to life under masters in the old country.  That is why she told stories of sending her sons out along the railroad tracks to scrabble for coal that had fallen off the locomotives so they could heat the house and eschewed stories about life in the old world.  She told a story congruent with the narratives in much of American literature.

The American story is one of confronting its moral failures. A lingering failure involves what white immigrants did to Native America.  There have always been people in America who favor depravity over decency.  Slavery was accommodated in the Constitution, but a strong constituency understood the wrongness of it.  Even though he owned slaves, Jefferson warned of the moral decay it threatened to the country.  The country went to war over it, and the side represented by America's greatest president won, and his great intelligence and his monumental words guided the nation through a civil war and its Jim Crow aftermath.  The spirit of Lincoln prevailed throughout the civil rights era, which addressed racial, gender, and religious discrimination.  His actions and words continue to inform and inspire.  His speeches are a part of America's story.   But they have not provided much solace or comfort to Native America.

The nation's struggle to make the principles expressed in its founding manifest in the life of its people is a story of setbacks, but an ineluctable quest for freedom, equality, and justice for all.  

Then came Trump.  Trump is the representative and manifestation of everything that Lincoln worked against.  Lincoln worked to unite the nation under the principles of American democracy, but Trump derides and destroys those principles, and has divided the nation.  That division is along the racial lines of the Civil War.  The latest polls show that 49 percent of Americans recognize Trump's racist mindset.

Trump has defined what divides America.  And what divides America is not political beliefs on how the country should be run.  What divides America is basic moral beliefs.  Support for Trump is an overt avowal of greed, malice, dishonesty, fraud, and cruelty as the preferred traits of American character.  Not a word that comes out of Trump or his administration can be believed or trusted, unless it is a word of insult, abuse, or malice.  Those are traits with which people of decency and aspiration for good cannot reconcile.

There are those who think the revilement of Trump voters will cause a surge of support for him.  They do not understand that submission to their values is a reversal of the democratic progress and the acceptance of degeneration as a condition of life.  Even the conservatives who reject Trump as a legitimate leader are beginning to suggest that mere demonstration against him and verbal protest are not enough.  Stronger measures are needed which could well bring down the country.

Those who truly believe in liberty, equality, and justice may have to regroup and find different circumstances and different places to practice the principles of democracy that they strive for.   Those principles are too valuable and essential to allow to fall into decay by the corruption that Trump and his disciples have injected into America.

The ideas and processes are well recorded and explained in our literature.  We have the stuff with which to try again.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Honors thesis examines the dishonorable

Anna Madsen – Honors Thesis 

Honors graduate, May 2018, from the University of South Dakota Anna Madsen wrote a thesis that does what journalists usually do in detailing the boondoggle that was the GEAR UP program in South Dakota.  It is titled:

Ms. Madsen examined the history of the grant as it originated and how it was administered.  She does not go into the individual performances of the personnel who participated in the swindle, but she identifies the principals and what their ostensible roles were, and she analyzes the requirements of the grant and to what degree they were or were not met--overwhelmingly the latter.  She found from the outset that the "application was proposing a program greatly out of compliance with the grant requirements."

Most astute observers have noted that the crony network that operates at the behest and under the protection of state government agencies were exercising what has become its customary function in state business.  Ms. Madsen's thesis is a tale of organized malfeasance and misfeasance and well-planned embezzlement.  It fits the South Dakota definition of crony capitalism in which capital from the federal government pours into the pockets of cronies.

Ms. Madsen concludes:  "The GEAR UP grant program is a clear example of how “throwing money” at a problem without adequate oversight and checks and balances fails to accomplish its noble goal. In the end, good intent was lost between the dollar signs."  The thesis does a thorough job of presenting the  evidence,  There is, however, a troubling omission in its premise.  It begins by noting that Native Americans comprise 9 percent of South Dakota's total population, but they are only 3.16 percent of the student body in South Dakota Board of Regents institutions.  The thesis seems to assume that ratio is the definitive indicator of Native American students who go on to higher education.  What is left out are the tribal colleges: 

  • Sinte Gleska on the Rosebud Reservation
  • Oglala Lakota on Pine Ridge
  • Sitting Bull on Standing Rock
  • Sisseton Wahpeton on the reservation of that name
  • Cheynne River College Center, a branch of Oglala Lakota on Cheyenne River Reservation
And then there are the South Dakota native students who go to in-state private schools or out-of-state schools. Their inclusion would probably not boost the percentage of native students who venture into post-secondary education very much, but it would give a more complete picture of of the opportunities available and the degree to which they are utilized.

The percentage of native students going to college is of concern and is what GEAR  UP and other programs are expressly designed to address.  The story here is how some officials and purported educators inveigled themselves into a cut of the take from this massive taxpayer rip off.  Very little of the millions of dollars dribbled down to students.  The manager of the organization that administered the project is alleged to have killed his spouse and four children before setting his house on fire and killing himself.  GEAR UP in South Dakota is branded as a community-shattering atrocity, not an occasion of benevolence.  Ms. Madsen's narrative reveals an elaborate system of contractors and consultants which have little effect on enhancing the education of youths, but devoted and adroit at scamming the system.  GEAR  UP appears totally devoid of the spirit and purpose with which most teachers I am acquainted with address their classrooms.  The educational bureaucracy disdains learning.

I am frankly flummoxed by the GEAR UP proceedings.  I have been involved in a number of grant-funded projects over the years, although none from the Department of Education.  All the grants required a fiscal officer who applied the rules governing the expenditures of money.  The fiscal officer had to report regularly to the grant-funding organization.  In one case during a summer institute for teachers, we provided lunch.  As the food service was on a summer break, we had to make special arrangements with a cook and a server to provide the lunch.  In their evaluations of the institute, the teachers commented on how much they enjoyed the lunches.  The hitch came when we included a gratuity on the bill for the lunches.  The fiscal officer said the rules did not provide for tips.  We directors of the project took up a collection to provide a decent gratuity.  The incident shows how closely financial matters were monitored.

All of the grants I've worked with were under constant audit.  None of the money was discretionary, and we had to document that it was used for the purposes to which it was dedicated.    

The U.S. Department of Education shares much responsibility for the  perversion of GEAR UP in the name of education.  It approved a proposal that did not meet its published standards.  It did not practice the stringent reviews and audits that are customary in administering educational grants.  The Department's performance needs thorough investigation.

Its disfunction does not absolve the South Dakota vultures who carried out the depredations against trusting taxpayers and expectant students.  The teachers I have worked with go to work each day with integrity and good purpose.  Many buy supplies for students from their own pockets.  Their betrayal by members of the bureaucracy that presumes to direct their efforts is a big part of the atrocities committed in the GEAR UP swindle.  It is indefensible.

However, the teachers who directly delivered to students what benefit that GEAR UP offered receive scant mention in any of the accounts.  Those who managed the program did not consider it important to keep a record of where the program actually worked.  In their zeal to obfuscate the swindle, they ignored what honest and successful moments the program might claim.

Ms. Madsen's thesis presents the anatomy of a malignant crime.  It calls into account an educational bureaucracy more interested and practiced in financial swindling than in delivering an effective education.   

There is much that can and should be done on the basis of the information provided by Ms. Madsen's thesis as well as other sources.  A first step would be to put education back in the hands and minds of teachers.

Friday, June 29, 2018

How long before someone tries to reinstitute slavery?

When Americans travel to work in the mornings, they do so as autonomous persons whose government nominally designates them as being equal with everyone else.  But when they step through the work place door, they step back into the feudal ages where their status as humans is conferred on them at the whims of a ruling class, many of which constituents have no truck with ideas of freedom, equality, and democracy.  

Businesses are not democracies.  A few try to emulate and practice the concepts of liberty, equality, and justice that are the underpinnings of our democracy, but the very nature and structure of most corporations and the smaller businesses that model themselves after them manifest a rejection of democratic principles.  In his essay  "Democratic Vistas,"  Walt Whitman states the formative principle of America:"The United States are destined either to surmount the gorgeous history of feudalism, or else prove the most tremendous failure of time."   Mark Twain satirized and ridiculed feudalism in many of his books.  He realized that the plantation system with its slaves was a extension of feudalism into America.  Lords of manors, masters, and their serfs and vassals were the stiff of human malice and oppression.  Being part of the lavish fads and fashions of the ruling class, not the striving proletariat, was something that many people aspired to.  They still do.  Corporate CEOs earn millions in salaries and bonuses.  Their minions defer to them with obsequious obedience in hopes that they will be identified with glamor and wealth.  Those CEOs and those who copy them regard working people as expendables, do not think they should have a voice in their destinies, and decry labor unions which might give them such a voice.  Most corporate cultures detest democracy.  It is an anathema to the feudal estate in which wealth and despotism are the ruling principles.

Donald Trump is the quintessential CEO.  He has accrued a remarkable record of fraud, swindling, constant lying, sexual assault, consorting with organized crime, and racist depredations.  His behavior is not merely rumored; it is a matter of documentation and record.  But to his supporters, malice and dishonesty do not matter.  He is a CEO, the lord of the castle, and he has made promises to the serfdom.  The Trump supporters reject democracy.  They worship corporate royalty, no matter how debased and corrupt.  They cling to a feudal state and the whims of a self-serving master as the promise of their futures.  Of late, a few of the Trump idolators have even said that slavery was not so bad after all.  Master will provide for us, they think.

In America, the rise to power of a corrupt human predator like Trump has to be done with the consent of the people.  In this case it signals how a huge portion of the electorate has opted for feudalism over democracy.  Trump rule is feudal.

The United States is well on its way to becoming "the most tremendous failure of time."

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

South Dakota and the absence of press

A Democratic politician held a news conference at the Aberdeen Library to announce an initiative to take the sales tax off of food.  No reporters showed up.  As the politician and his staff were leaving,  a young man who said he was an intern (I can't remember for whom) wandered in and asked what was going on.  We supplied him with a press packet prepared for the occasion, went through it with him, and he went on his way.  Shortly thereafter the politician started getting phone calls from media representatives asking for interviews.   That's how the South Dakota press doesn't work, the politician said in explanation.  It was not the kind of experience I ever had as a member of the press.  

My time as a newspaper editor was during a period of intense competition.  The Quad-Cities area where I worked had four newspapers, three television stations with news departments, and five radio stations with news staffs.  There were a number of communities in the metropolitan area that had weekly newspapers and small radio stations that often assigned reporters to cover events in the area.  Reporters hustled to file timely reports, and they were in a constant push to file the reports, often in hopes of scooping the competing media.

The newspaper I worked for had an editor, a 50-percent owner of the paper, who had a different approach.  He said it was nice to be first, but it was essential to be right.  He had a strategy that played off of the electronic media.  As television and radio have more limited time to report the news, the editor said listeners would go to newspapers to get the full stories and for accurate details.  Our newspaper invited listeners to refer to the newspaper for more and reliable information in ads it ran on the electronic media.  What this meant for our newspaper was a more cumbersome process of gathering information and verifying and checking the facts.  The strategy worked as the newspaper became one of the most influential newspapers in downstate Illinois.  There were times when a press run was delayed in order to get more, complete information into a story.  The paper did not end the reporting with the publication of a story.  Reporters kept checking for any developments on a story so that new information  could be updated in subsequent editions.  The newsroom was staffed with many experienced reporters who were adept, thorough, and fast in their work--but not necessarily first.

What happened that afternoon at the Aberdeen Library would never have happened in the Quad-Cities back in that day.  In today's media, the kind of thorough journalism  I knew is referred to as "old school" reporting.  That reference indicates why, given the omnipresence of media in contemporary life,  there are so many uninformed and ill-informed people.   We have many technical options for disseminating news, but the practice of journalism is not a matter of current fads and fashions for delivery.  The gathering and verifying of facts and the writing of coherent accounts were established and refined over generations.  Computers may facilitate the gathering and analysis if information, but they don't change the principles of what it takes to make a legitimate news story.  

At the death of South Dakota's best known political journalist, David Kranz, one of his former colleagues tabbed him as a member of "the old school."  During the campaign of 2004 between Tom Daschle and John Thune,  Kranz became the target of character assassination by the Thune campaign because he was a college mate and friend of Tom Daschle.  The libeler Jon Lauck tried to show in a blog that Kranz was biased against Republicans because of his critical comments about Sen. Larry Pressler.  Kranz was in fact reflecting the treatment Pressler was getting in the national press for his lack of work accomplishments and his inflated press releases.  National columnist Jack Anderson called him "Press Release" Pressler.  Here are some sentences pulled out of context by Lauck as examples of bias.

“The national media continues to give Pressler grief. Now comes the Washingtonian revelation: ‘George Bush and Dan Quayle’s least favorite Republican senator is Larry Pressler—neither wants to go into SD to campaign for him. One White House aide called him ‘flaky.’” September 30, 1990.
“No one else comes close to filling the role of a public servant who uses slick marketing to make minor accomplishments look like world-saving ventures.” July 8, 1990.
“To the kingmakers, Democrats and Republicans alike, he is a lightweight—holding his title with superficial rhetoric, unsubstantiated legislative success and a circle of friends who glitter from their wealth.” August 6, 1989.
“Sen. Larry Pressler forfeited his chance to be considered a great Senator long ago. His obsession with image building and photo sessions has left him preoccupied and ineffective.” December 30, 1990. 
“Pressler has now been in Washington 14 years and still has no clear cause. He is controlled by public opinion, with a finger in the wind and a safe vote and press release to follow.” November 5, 1989.
Then Lauck contrasted the comments with sentences about Tom Daschle as Daschle's notable work was earning him high recognition in the Senate.  Again, Kranz was reflecting what was being discussed in the national press.

“[Daschle] has almost single-handedly put the Democratic Party back on the same solid ground evident during the prime of George McGovern’s career. Democrats are indebted to him.” December 10, 1989. 
“[Daschle] still stands in the middle of drought-stripped fields and bleeds for the American farmer.” July 24, 1988.  
“Daschle would be an attractive candidate for the second spot [Vice-President] because of his national stature.” March 28, 1999. 
“National political analysts label U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle as unbeatable.” March 22, 1998.  
“Those who have watched Daschle over the years see him as a master politician, ready to capitalize on the new challenges.” March 26, 1993. 
“Daschle shows courage in voting for pay increase.” AL, November 26, 1989 (headline).

The attack against Kranz was a tactic that GOP strategists were beginning to use as a means of dealing with candidates whose actual records of accomplishment did not compare well with their competitors.  Thune had a record in the House of fecklessness.   His conservative brand was based upon saying no to any expenditure of money.  The way to promote such candidates is to attack people's confidence in the press reports on them while accusing their opponents of bad things.  This is the tactic Trump has used in assailing the press with charges of fake news and being the enemy of the people, and calling Hillary crooked and accusing Obama of putting wire surveillance in Trump Tower.  Thune and his henchman Lauck attacked Daschle's wife, Daschle's success as a sell out to the Beltway, his patriotism and loyalty to the country--a phalanx of petty falsehoods that assailed Daschle's character.  The undermining of the press was intended to cast doubt on anything positive reported about Daschle.

The campaign stained the reputation of Kranz and his newspaper, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.  But it also sent a chill through the press in South Dakota,  which retreated into a cowardice that people like Thune and Lauck know how to manipulate.  They also recognize a reservoir of provincial resentment in South Dakota that can be called into action, and that resentment extends to a press that might report things the people in that reservoir do not want to hear. 

At this time, South Dakota has only one person reporting on state government, Bob Mercer who has a contract with a number of state newspapers.  Mercer carries some baggage as a former press secretary for Bill Janklow.  Most recently, Mercer's coverage of the Republican state convention raised eyebrows because it didn't mention a protest taking place outside the convention or the expulsion of two delegates, and took the form of a paean to Jason Ravnsborg, a candidate for attorney general who has never tried a case before a jury.

Kevin Woster, a former newspaperman, now writes a blog for South Dakota Public Broadcasting which ventures some into politics with casual commentary.

A young political reporter, David Montgomery, blazed a trail through South Dakota newspapers in Pierre, Rapid City, and Sioux Falls.  He landed a job on the St. Paul Pioneer Press,  but last September the paper offered him a buyout and he took it.  He left observers of the news business wondering why a reporter so young and with such seeming promise would be offered a buyout.

South Dakota now has no one doing a vigorous and incisive coverage of South Dakota politics.  The death of David Kranz marks the end of that kind of reporting.  That makes the majority happy, most likely.  If there is anything nefarious going on in state politics, the people would prefer not to know it.  That old school of journalism, which informed people of what was happening, is now a dead school in South Dakota.

Friday, June 22, 2018

The vandalizing of language is the death sentence for a nation

One of my major areas of scholarship is Native American Literature.  The literature is both oral and written.  What is gripping about American Indian Literature is the importance placed on the integrity of language.  In his 1968 novel, House Made of Dawn, N. Scott Momaday explains it:

“In the white man's world, language, too -- and the way which the white man thinks of it--has undergone a process of change. The white man takes such things as words and literatures for granted, as indeed he must, for nothing in his world is so commonplace. On every side of him there are words by the millions, an unending succession of pamphlets and papers, letters and books, bills and bulletins, commentaries and conversations. He has diluted and multiplied the Word, and words have begun to close in on him. He is sated and insensitive; his regard for language -- for the Word itself -- as an instrument of creation has diminished nearly to the point of no return. It may be that he will perish by the Word.” 
― N. Scott MomadayHouse Made of Dawn

In another story, "Lullaby" by Leslie Marmon Silko, an old Navajo woman avoids English because it is like a virulent disease germ:  "old ones always told her about learning their (the Anglo's) language or any of their ways: it endangered you."

Black Elk sees the white world as corrupted with lies: "But the Wasichus came, and they have made little islands for us and other little islands for the four-leggeds, and always these islands are becoming smaller, for around them surges the gnawing flood of the Wasichu; and it is dirty with lies and greed."
-Black Elk Speaks

When talking about about the destitution on Indian reservations, historians focus on the spread of disease, the starvation by killing off the bison, the forcing onto reservations located on the least productive land, the embezzlements of the Indian agents, and the violations of treaties.  They point to those factors as producing the destitution on the reservations, but they do not delve incisively into the vandalizing of language and its role as an agent of genocide.

The stories abound about Indian children being taken from their parents and sent to schools where they would be punished for speaking their native language.  When a language is vanquished, the history, the culture and its values are lost.  This is something that American Indian elders realized and took steps to insure that there were always some people who knew their language and its literature.  But the vandalism had its desolating effects.

Treaties were broken to the point that American Indians learned to regard the language in them as useless and to trust no agreement.  Promises for food and supplies were made with no intention of fulfilling them.  Those broken promises and the starvation they produced were the reasons behind uprisings, such as The Great Sioux Uprising of 1862.The history of Indian-white relations is one of whites uttering words that could never be believed or trusted.  

Literary and linguistic scholars note that when language cannot be trusted, problems cannot be dealt with in any way.  Society deteriorates.   Indian people came to understand that there was no serious way to communicate with the government or the people of the United States.  Words are just noise; they have no meaning.  Without meaningful words, there can be no relationships, no trust, no way to make plans.  When words cannot be trusted, there can be no agreement or disagreement because one has to believe the words accurately represent something in order to agree or disagree with it.  Society devolves into the state of idiots yelling at each other in languages that convey no meaning. The result is people exploding in frustrated violence and others sinking into hopeless depression.

Many reasons are theorized for the alcohol and drug abuse on the Indian reservations and destitute conditions in which many of the people live.  To a people who believed in the sanctity of words, the destruction of trust in language is the the destruction of the spirit.  Just as the annihilation of the bison starved their bodies, the annihilation of language starved their souls.  They needed words to trust and honor, but words were desecrated by using them as instruments of lies and deceit and fraud.   

The vandalizing of language by Trump and his administration with constant lies and verbal abuse is depriving the nation of the resource needed to examine life and solve problems.  The people who recognize the lies and violence done to language find that it is not enough to merely recognize the fraud and the subversion of the nation.  To negotiate and legislate honorable agreements,  language has to be dishonored.    Trump has made the use of language dishonorable.  When no words can be believed or trusted, the options are to submit to hopelessnesss or to lash out with violence.

In an article in Blomberg, a political scientist notes that the lies used to advance the Trump agenda have pushed the Republicans and Democrats into a "soft civil war."  He said, "I don't know if the country gets out of it whole."  As one who observed and reported on the turmoil of the late 1960s and early 1970s, I see the factors that created the violence of the time.  But then, we still had language that calmer, stronger minds could use to thrash out solutions and needed changed.  There was anger and violence, but also words in which we could take refuge, cling to, and work into solutions.  A good part of the turmoil was in defining the facts that needed to be dealt with.   In the age of Trump, facts are denied and displaced by a vandalized and mutilated language that has no names for facts.  Language, as an instrument of creation, has been weaponized into something that only destroys.

A colleague who lived through the tumultuous times with me cannot understand why we are not in a state of riot.  After all the mass demonstrations of resistance, the nation has retreated into a state of paralyzed outrage.  But we see an element of caution.  The people who are on the side of knowledge of facts, reasoning with careful words, and the application of them through good will and good purpose realize that the opposition is far beyond the reach of those factors.  They are cautious because they understand that the coming resolution will not leave the country whole.  

In the destruction of language, they see a death sentence on the nation whose words were once the inspiration for democracy throughout the world.  However, the democratic spirit will not willingly or peacefully walk into that dark night.  Like the Indian elders, they recognize that the language must be preserved in case we ever want to try America again.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States