Curmudgeon's Corner: Kristi hist’ry, what a myst’ry


As a non-traditional student at South Dakota State University some time in the years 1994 through 1997, I took a history course from the late Professor John Miller. In this instance, the professor was three years younger than the student. Quite honestly, I don’t remember a lot about the course and I don’t think John would be surprised. Then in my 50s, I’d like to think that I was fairly well read in history in general — U.S and world. I know I passed John’s course.

I got to know John in later years outside the classroom. We were in a book club together for several years prior to the coming of COVID-19 in 2020, the year John died. Like any book club, we drifted off topic now and then; and Donald Trump’s name frequently came up. I remember one point John and agreed on: In his more bombastic speeches, posing with chin thrust forward, Trump looked a lot like long-ago Italian dictator Benito Mussolini — Il Duce — who came to power in 1922 and to an inglorious demise in 1945 as World War II neared its end.

A brief aside and I’ll move on: With what was in effect a re-write, John Miller made a valuable contribution with “History of South Dakota,” a book that was aimed at younger readers.  Somewhere during her years in the Brookings school system, my granddaughter, a 2021 graduate of Brookings High School, read and thoroughly enjoyed John’s book. A prized possession of hers is a copy of that book signed by John.

I digress a bit above, but it’s to make a point: John Miller was a great teacher and an accomplished historian; I’m sure there are also other men and women in South Dakota who are also gifted historians who could well tell our state’s history. Why then did Gov. Kristi Noem turn to William Morrisey, a retired educator from Hillsdale College, a small (super?) conservative institution in Michigan and have the state pony up 200 grand for its canned curriculum? It’s a mystery to me.

The American Historical Association doesn’t give much credence to Hillsdale’s approach to teaching history via a lot of rote learning. Not that there’s anything wrong with a hearty dose of memorization of the who, what, when, where, why and how of important historical events.

Perhaps she could tie the Hillsdale curriculum to further cement her vision for the government of South Dakota: “Under God the people (and governor) rule.” OK, I doctored that motto a bit. But I do think she approaches her job with that attitude: What’s good for Kristi Noem is good for South Dakota.

While I think the way history was being taught in South Dakota’s public schools was fine, I’m not worried about Kristi history. But if a new approach was needed — and I’m not convinced it was — some homegrown profs at our public and private institutions of higher learning could have answered.

As to writing history with a bias, I’m not particularly concerned. Where you sit determines what you see. An old African proverb says: “Until the lions have their historians, tales of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”

And Winston Churchill unabashedly let it be known that the history of World War II would treat him kindly for he intended to write it: and he did — in six volumes.

During my years of Catholic education — K through 12 in Sioux City — I certainly got a very positive spin on American and world history from the Church’s viewpoint. I’ve well moved beyond that; in addition to good things I’ve found in the history of the Church, I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly — some of it still coming to light. I think any student of history will later, hopefully through all of life, refine their view of history; history is a moving target with its good, bad, and ugly aspects frequently being revisited and rewritten as needed.

Since I didn’t really know the governor’s take on American history beyond what I had gleaned from media, I decided to check out her 2022 book: “Not My First Rodeo.” The governor “tells her rough and tumble story of growing up on a ranch and how a blessed life of true grit taught her how to lead.”

Not surprisingly, Kristi paints a glowing portrait of Donald J. Trump, particularly in Chapter 21: America’s Fireworks. Put succinctly, it’s the tale of Noem and Trump bringing fireworks to Mount Rushmore on July 3, 2020. It was a tumultuous time in the USA, with the pandemic running wild.

To quote the governor: “Worst of all was the organized, nationwide campaign in the spring of 2020 to rip down references to our nation’s founding and other points in history. From coast to coast, this was a movement that intentionally focused on our forefathers’ flaws and that purposely ignored their virtues. I believed then and believe now that this was done deliberately to discredit America’s principles to remake our country into a different political image. The attempt to ‘cancel’ the founding generation was an attempt to cancel our freedoms.”

But “who” was doing this and “what” was being done? Written in the passive voice and with no footnote, this strong statement is a bit weak. However, a bit later we get a hint at the “who” and what she would do about it: If the Left wants to come after Mount Rushmore, they’re going to have to go through me. (her italics)

One question, Madam Governor: Didn’t President Donald Trump, on Jan. 6, 2021, try to “remake our country into a different political image”?

Have a nice day.