Kristi Noem continues to campaign like Annette Bosworth, glomming on to the best Fox-fueled fearmongering to convince a national audience to send her money. Check out this latest screamer, which Noem sent to a suburban Dallas Democrat whose closest connection to South Dakota Republicans is sending money this cycle to Wyoming Senator Liz Cheney, whom Noem wants to drive out of the Senate:
Noem is running for Governor of South Dakota, but her main letter doesn’t mention South Dakota except as part of Noem’s title. Her enclosed response letter for dupes says South Dakota is a “flashpoint” in the “fight” Noem says she is waging against “Joe Biden, the radical Left, the mainstream media, and those who would seek to ‘cancel’ both our history and our freedom,” but she doesn’t say anything about specific policies she has enacted in South Dakota to fight those enemies. She doesn’t mention her actual South Dakota challengers, perhaps out of politeness (ha!), but perhaps out of recognition that neither Steven Haugaard nor Jamie Smith represents the left-wing threat that Noem says is out there trying to light Mount Rushmore on fire.
Noem tries to give her angry, paranoid rantings a gloss of Founding Fatherism but ends up warping Martin Luther King into an ahistorical ascription of Pax Americaniana to American Presidents who knew no such thing:
In the face of these threats, I think a lot—
Noem loses attentive readers with that laugh line, but let’s continue:
—about the faces carved on Mt. Rushmore.
Washington. Jefferson. Roosevelt. Lincoln.
They didn’t just defend freedom when convenient or politically expedient. They understood that America is the greatest force for good the world has ever known, and that a threat to freedom anywhere is a threat to freedom everywhere.
So you and I must follow their example—or else we’ll lose our country [Kristi Noem, fundraising letter to Texas Democrat, received by DFP May 2022].
America is the greatest force for good the world has ever known—Noem mimics a line used by Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, John McCain, Sarah Palin, Bob Dole, and many others to justify using America’s power to impose America’s sense of democratic and capitalist order on the world. Washington and Jefferson engaged in no such imperialism; they preferred our isolation and disentanglement. Lincoln didn’t see America as a great global force to go looking for threats to freedom anywhere and everywhere; he was too busy keeping the country from tearing itself apart on this continent to pay much attention to anything else. Theodore Roosevelt turned the nation briefly outward, but only to flex our muscle to protect our interests in Latin America, not pretend to the title of Globe’s Greatest Freedom Fighter.
Lincoln certainly expressed American exceptionalism, but his vision of America’s special mission was nothing like history-hating Noem’s rah-rah-bushwah that this letter sloppily imputes to him:
Even more striking is the insistent humility of Lincoln’s exceptionalism. His was very much a self-doubting, self-examining exceptionalism: he believed in the American mission with religious fervor, but maintained a healthy skepticism toward its mortal agents. Throughout his presidency, Lincoln stressed human fallibility, both individual and collective, and even in the midst of a horrifically bloody civil war – in the midst of what you might call partisanship run amok – he refused to vilify or demonize the south. Slavery was a national, not exclusively southern, sin, and he was insistent about reminding the north of its complicity and profit in the slave economy. Even the Gettysburg address, delivered at the site of the north’s greatest victory, is about as far from triumphant as one can imagine. No “Mission Accomplished” banners for Lincoln. No thumping chants of U-S-A! U-S-A!
“Manic-depressive Lincoln, national hero!” wrote Delmore Schwartz in a poem from the 1950s, and one could probably construct a decent argument that Lincoln’s private suffering was part of what made him a genuine hero. He understood pain, loss, guilt; in the Bible he found the language to express this dark side of experience and bring it into the political realm. It was the language of reflection; the language of atonement. Lincoln’s gospel of American exceptionalism depended in large degree on recognizing just how flawed and morally susceptible are the human vessels charged with fulfilling the mission. The Declaration may have stated the truth of equality, “the standard maxim for a free society”, but “[e]nforcement” of the maxim would be a continual and messy process, “constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated” [Ben Fountain, “American Exceptionalism: The Great Game and the Noble Way,” The Guardian, 2016.04.09].
But hey, Noem’s not writing history here. Nor is she writing to South Dakota voters about South Dakota issues. Mount Rushmore and the great Presidents depicted thereupon are for her mere mascots, foam figures whom she may command to dance to whatever tune she wishes to play to separate far-off and fearful donors from their money.