“America is not a racist country”
...and other lies Nikki Haley tells to Republicans
There are lies you tell yourself, lies you tell the world, and lies you tell the world for so long you begin to believe them yourself.
I don’t claim to know which brand of lies Nikki Haley was telling Monday night at the Republican National Convention. Functionally it doesn’t matter, but I can’t help wondering.
Haley was Donald Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations from 2017 through 2018 and previously served as governor of South Carolina from 2011 to 2017. Her RNC speech didn’t make a lot of waves outside of South Carolina or the inner circle of Beltway nerds who think she’ll run for president in 2024. I didn’t subject myself to the rest of the Bootlickers’ Decathlon, but I am told that the president’s son’s girlfriend flapped her arms at an empty studio and the St. Louis McMansion Defenders got a turn in the spotlight to recount how they courageously wiggled their guns at unarmed civil rights protesters on the sidewalk.
It was a star-studded night to be sure, but I’m from South Carolina and I feel it’s my duty to dwell for an extra day on what Haley had to say.
The transcript and video are here if you feel like punishing yourself. I’ll skip around to the interesting bits.
Haley starts her speech with a rhetorical move that would be considered corny by high school speech-and-debate standards:
I'll start with a little story. It's about an American Ambassador to the United Nations. And it's about a speech she gave to this convention. She called for the re-election of the Republican President she served… And she called out his Democratic opponent… a former vice president from a failed administration.
That ambassador said, and I quote, "Democrats always blame America first." The year was 1984. The president was Ronald Reagan. And Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick's words are just as true today.
If Jeane Kirkpatrick isn’t a household name, it might be because your country wasn’t terrorized by the right-wing death squads she empowered across the globe. Noam Chomsky once called her the “chief sadist-in-residence of the Reagan Administration.”
In her role as U.N. ambassador from 1981 to 1985, she is best known for formulating the Kirkpatrick Doctrine, a Cold War ideology that justified the U.S. instigating coups and propping up dictatorships to prevent the spread of communism.
Kirkpatrick was an enthusiastic spokesperson for the Reagan administration and the C.I.A. as they interfered in elections and provided aid to juntas that toppled governments in Argentina, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and the Philippines. In El Salvador, the C.I.A. backed the military government of President José Napoleón Duarte.
“They said it would never be possible to hold an election in El Salvador because the people were too frightened and the country too disorganized,” Kirkpatrick said in the 1984 speech Haley quoted. “But the people of El Salvador proved them wrong, and today President Napoleón Duarte has impressed the democratic world with his skillful, principled leadership.”
The Duarte administration murdered, tortured, and “disappeared” untold tens of thousands of civilians through 1987.
Here’s Haley again:
Obama and Biden let North Korea threaten America. President Trump rejected that weakness, and we passed the toughest sanctions on North Korea in history.
Obama and Biden let Iran get away with murder and literally sent them a plane full of cash. President Trump did the right thing and ripped up the Iran nuclear deal.
I don’t want to fall into the trap of defending the Obama administration’s foreign policy, which featured the dragging-on of an unwinnable war and an escalation of lethal drone bombings. But as a person who doesn’t want to die in a nuclear winter, I have to say the shaky detente between Iran and the U.N. Security Council was a step in the right direction. The world remains in great peril until we start to see concessions from the only country on earth that has used atomic bombs against civilians, but I’ll take baby steps over no steps at all.
By the way, can I point out that Haley recorded her speech in front of eight U.S. flags? That’s simply too many flags. Looking like a dang car dealership back there.
Obama and Biden led the United Nations to denounce our friend and ally, Israel. President Trump moved our embassy to Jerusalem – and when the U.N. tried to condemn us, I was proud to cast the American veto.
This seems like a paragraph that should have been left on the cutting room floor. It was just last week that Trump told a hooting crowd in Wisconsin that he moved the capital to Jerusalem as a favor to American Evangelical Christians, some of whom believe that moving the capital is a fulfillment of apocalyptic prophecy.
“That is for the Evangelicals,” said Trump, a master of saying the quiet part out loud. “You know it is amazing with that. The Evangelicals are more excited about that than Jewish people.”
When Joe [Biden] was VP, I was governor of the great state of South Carolina. We had a pretty good run. Manufacturers of all kinds flocked to our state from overseas, creating tens of thousands of American jobs. People were referring to South Carolina as "the beast of the southeast," which I loved.
I’ve lived nearly my entire life in South Carolina and never heard the phrase “beast of the southeast.” If you google it, it’s apparently the name of a competitive youth volleyball tournament.
My ears perked up at that old “job creation” canard, which is pure capitalist propaganda if I ever heard it. The only person who ever created a job was a person who woke up every day and worked it. Anyway, I can think of several more meaningful measures of South Carolinians’ quality of life than “jobs created.” Try these:
Poverty! (we’re 8th-highest among the states)
4th-grade literacy! (we’re 39th)
Incarceration rate! (we’re 19th in the U.S., and if we were a country we’d have a higher rate than any country on the planet)
Everything we did happened in spite of Joe Biden and his old boss.
We cut taxes. They raised them. We slashed red tape. They piled on more mandates.
HELL YEAH, let’s talk taxes.
South Carolina has some of the cheapest gas in the nation and some of the worst public infrastructure. When state lawmakers tried to raise the gas tax by 10 cents per gallon in 2015 to pay for long-overdue repairs, Haley stalled them for years by trying to tie the gas tax hike to an income tax reduction.
Because we almost never raise the gas tax, our roads are crumbling and dangerous and our public transportation systems range from bad to nonexistent. An Interstate highway bridge near my home was deemed unsafe for travel in 2018 due to extensive corrosion.
Back when she was governor, Haley liked to claim that South Carolina’s income tax rate was the highest in the Southeast. This was wildly false. An AP fact check found that South Carolinians’ effective tax rate after deductions was close to 3%, making it the 10th lowest rate among states that taxed income at the time. She still wanted to cut it.
On top of that, we have very low property tax rates, in large part because of a 2006 law that eliminated homeowner-occupied property taxes as a revenue stream for school operation. In effect, the law shifted the burden for school funding onto renters, who subsidize their landlords’ higher property tax rate. It also obliterated school budgets during the Great Recession.
The results are predictable. We have some of the lowest-paid teachers in the country; school buildings in rural counties are infested with mold and plagued by structural failures; our prisons are dangerously understaffed; the scant little arts funding provided by the state gets rolled across the chopping block every other year for show.
Tax cuts! We love ‘em, don’t we folks?
And when we brought in good-paying jobs, Biden and Obama sued us. I fought back… and they gave up.
She’s referring to Boeing, which opened a 787 Dreamliner assembly plant in North Charleston in 2009. Local and state officials plied the aerospace giant with nearly $1 billion worth of tax breaks.
Unionized workers at Boeing’s other Dreamliner plant in Washington noticed that the plant was opening in an aggressively anti-union state and raised a complaint. This eventually led the National Labor Relations Board to launch a hearing process and investigate whether Boeing had opened the plant to punish the union.
So, first things first, there was no lawsuit. It was a hearing that ended early because the union settled with the company.
Second, “Biden and Obama sued us” is a plain lie. Obama had little to no interest in the proceedings, and then-Vice President Biden had no sway in the matter whatsoever.
On the other hand, Haley did her part to squash unionizing efforts at Boeing’s South Carolina plant, even recording radio ads urging workers not to join the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers.
Fast-forward to 2020, and the Dreamliner has developed a reputation for shoddy production. In August, the Federal Aviation Administration (under Trump, no less!) sought to fine Boeing $1.25 billion, alleging that “company managers pressured employees who were designated to perform safety-related work for the government at an aircraft factory in South Carolina,” according to the Associated Press.
You know what could have helped those safety workers resist pressure from their bosses? A union.
If you heard about this godawful speech at all, it’s probably because of Haley’s comments on race.
I often think about a February 2016 poll of 897 likely Republican primary voters in South Carolina conducted by Public Policy Polling. Among respondents who said they were voting for Donald Trump, 62% supported the idea of creating a nationwide database of Muslims, 40% supported shutting down all mosques, and 33% said Islam should be illegal in the United States. 32% said Japanese internment during World War II was a good policy
When asked point-blank, “Do you think that whites are a superior race, or not?” 16% of Trump primary voters said yes.
Anyway here’s Nikki Haley, standing behind a big Trump-Pence podium, sharing some homespun wisdom about racism:
There's one more important area where our president is right. He knows that political correctness and "cancel culture" are dangerous and just plain wrong.
In much of the Democratic Party, it's now fashionable to say that America is racist. That is a lie. America is not a racist country.
This is personal for me. I am the proud daughter of Indian immigrants. They came to America and settled in a small southern town. My father wore a turban. My mother wore a sari. I was a brown girl in a black and white world.
We faced discrimination and hardship. But my parents never gave in to grievance and hate.
Despite being the obvious soundbite of the whole speech, this passage is deeply muddled. I think the distinction she’s trying to draw is that, while individual racists do exist, systemic racism is not a defining feature of the United States.
It’s an article of faith for a lot of mainstream Republicans that a country built by enslaved people on indigenous people’s stolen land is somehow not, at its core, a racist institution. The president they elected is a suppurating lesion of white grievance on the hind end of a white empire, and you have to espouse views like these — at least publicly — if you want to align your political career with his.
Nearing the end of the speech, we South Carolinians were on the edge of our seats wondering: Is she going to bring up Emanuel?
Of course she brought up Emanuel. In fawning profiles, interviews, and her memoir, she constantly brings up the June 2015 attack on Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, in which a white supremacist murdered nine Black church members during a Bible study.
She trots the story out to build credibility, to humanize herself, and to present herself as a crusader in the movement to remove the Confederate flag from South Carolina’s Statehouse grounds (a movement she had opposed for years prior to 2015).
Here she goes:
After that horrific tragedy, we didn't turn against each other. We came together – black and white, Democrat and Republican. Together, we made the hard choices needed to heal – and removed a divisive symbol, peacefully and respectfully.
What happened then should give us hope now. America isn't perfect. But the principles we hold dear are perfect. If there's one thing I've learned, it's that even on our worst day, we are blessed to live in America.
Five years on, and she’s still leaning on that trope of Peaceful Charleston, the town where nobody rioted. Nevermind that this wasn’t a police killing; Charleston got held up as an example of the polite and proper way to grieve an attack on Black people.
Some of the people directly affected by the church shooting have had enough of Haley’s grandstanding. Here’s the Rev. Sharon Risher, who lost her mother, two cousins, and a childhood friend in the church massacre:
“Nikki Haley need to shut up about the Emanuel9. She did not do anything from her heart. All for show! Liar!”
Here’s State Rep. JA Moore, whose sister died in the shooting:
“.@NikkiHaley did nothing to heal our community after Emanuel AME, when my sister was killed by a white supremacist. Removing the flag merely put a bandaid on an open wound. A bill to close the Charleston Loophole still sits in committee at the State House.”
Haley held a shred of credibility in her hand after leading her state in the wake of an attack. She spent that credibility a long time ago, but she keeps going back to the same reserve, assuming she’ll find it stashed away for personal use. She tried using that credibility again Monday night to boost an openly racist administration, and the grotesquerie was not lost on South Carolinians.