A little praise can do a lot of damage

From the Mound

There’s something about praise for a child from the Upper Midwest.

It’s not really something expected in heaps and piles, loaded upon you by parents, grandparents, coaches, teachers, or other adults in your life.

That’s just not the cultural style of so many of the cultures that “settled” the Upper Midwest. The French settled Louisiana, Italians settled in New York, and Spanish settled in the South. Expressive cultures all, but not heavy influencers on the Upper Midwest.

Instead, the Dakotas, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Iowa can really trace our roots back to Germans, Dutch, Swedes, Norwegians, Polish, or Danish people (among a number of others). In general, those cultures are known for a few things: good beer, good desserts, and stoic conversational style.

It then makes sense that a person raised in that environment where praise and expressions of adoration were rare and reserved for truly impressive moments would truly feel empowered and even emboldened when those expressions came more frequently and from more “powerful” sources.

Many won’t recognize the name James Janos, but most will recognize the stage name of Minneapolis-native Jesse Ventura. After serving in the Navy, Ventura began bodybuilding, became a bodyguard for the Rolling Stones for a time, and then entered professional wrestling, where he made his name.

After roughly 15 years of wrestling and acting, Ventura ran for and won the office of mayor of Brooklyn Park, Minn. He defeated an incumbent who had been in office for 25 years.

As an independent, Ventura ran for governor of Minnesota in 1998. I was a freshman in college at the time, and I remember the campaign well. Ventura spoke to real needs of young people and farmers, bringing out voters that typically didn’t turn out well, and he won a surprising victory.

From there, Ventura filled his cabinet in Minnesota with some of the brightest political minds in the entire state from both sides of the aisle. He listened well, and in his first year as governor, he produced legislation that really did great things for many of those that he made campaign promises to help.

After his first year, multiple newspapers and magazines commented on Ventura’s first year as governor. One particular publication remarked that Ventura could be the start of a new breed of politician, while giving him an “A” grade for his first year in office.

That was it.

Ventura stopped listening.

The rest of his time as governor was a train wreck. A $3 billion budget surplus when he took office had turned into a $4.2 billion budget deficit by the time he left office after one term.

This past March, regardless of previous political views, it was hard to argue with the way South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem was handling the pandemic. She didn’t have the ability to shut down the state without going outside the bounds of the state constitution, and rather than request additional powers on the final day of the legislature, she instead put forth bills for funding and schools related to the virus and one to allow for more power in the Department of Health that was ultimately rejected by legislators.

Noem praised communities and counties that put in place ordinances that restricted movement and had aims to control the virus in April. She frequently cited the Beadle County and Huron city ordinances, which were viewed as more stringent than many states’ lockdown orders.

Then the governor started getting praised by a number of places for her choice of “freedom” for the state rather than lockdown that other governors had chosen (within their state’s powers, of course), and her comments changed.

She quickly took on a persona as a champion of individual liberty and freedom, when that was not at all what was being promoted from her office less than a month prior.

That little bit of praise had changed her focus, and as the case numbers still continue to rise in the state, eclipsing the 200th death in the state last weekend, she’s not willing to come back around to her initial position of protection to quell the spread of the virus.

Finally, this past weekend brought a sad reminder that even those we send to Washington, D.C. from the upper Midwest are not immune.

Senator John Thune, once elected without an opponent because he was so popular within his own state, made this comment in 2016 when Justice Antonin Scalia passed away in February:

“The American people deserve to have their voices heard on the nomination of the next Supreme Court justice, who could fundamentally alter the direction of the Supreme Court for a generation. Since the next presidential election is already underway, the next president should make this lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.”

Thune made that statement in March of 2016. Since then, Sen. Thune has risen to the ranks of Majority Whip in Congress.

Just last month, Thune lost his own father, which is what makes the immediate and cold turn from a time of mourning to politics as usual so stark in his statement, released at 9 p.m. on the evening of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing:

“President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the U.S. Senate.”

Perhaps there’s a reason for that upper Midwest stoicism.

Grabbing onto heaps of praise and power and becoming drunk with it always ends up hurting more than just the person that praise was originally directed toward, leaving a wake of people whose lives will be forever altered by those choices made after power inebriation.

I think I’ll stick to the German beer.


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