Nikki Haley has raised a surprise question as she heads for the door: How low can she go?
Haley appeared to be trying hard to take the high road when she announced on Oct. 9 that she would be stepping down by the end of the year as the American ambassador to the United Nations. While offering no explanation, she said with a straight face that the administration’s foreign policy had won the respect of the international community and she praised the president’s team, singling out his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, whom she called “a hidden genius.” Trump, in turn, said Haley had done a “fantastic job” as ambassador and was “very special to me.” She could return to his administration any time, he added.
Just three weeks later, on Oct. 29, she went to Trump’s favorite outlet, Twitter, to please his base and try to cover for his relentless hatemongering by implying that Barack Obama somehow could be blamed for the cold-blooded murder of nine African-American worshippers at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, S.C., while Haley was the state’s governor.
The utterly outrageous tweet garnered little public attention. Perhaps social media have tuned her out because she is expected to be out of the government in two months — if not sooner, if Heather Nauert, as rumored, will be nominated by Trump to succeed Haley. But here’s hoping that tweet of Haley’s follows her for life.
It was written in requisite Twitter shorthand. Here it is in its entirety:
I have struggled w/what happened in Pitts bc it’s so similar to what happened in Chas [Charleston, South Carolina]. The country was very racially divided @ the time. We didn’t once blame Pres. Obama. We focused solely on the lives lost & their families. Have some respect for these families & stop the blame.
We didn’t blame Obama because he never fanned the flames of hate.
Here’s the context for her tweet. It came two days after Robert Bowers, a heavily armed fanatic, entered the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and killed 11 people in what is believed to be the worst attack on a Jewish community in US history.
Bowers was apparently disappointed in Trump. In posts on a social media site favored by extremists, he dismissed him as “a globalist, not a nationalist,” complaining he was doing too little to rid the country of Jews. “For the record, I did not vote for him. . . . There is no #MAGA as long as there is a kike infestation,” he wrote.
About an hour before beginning his shooting spree, he wrote of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society: “HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics. I’m going in.”
A day before the attack, federal authorities arrested a South Florida man, Cesar Sayoc, accused of mailing at least 14 explosive devices to prominent liberal critics of the president. Unlike Bowers, Sayoc, a former stripper with a long arrest record, was an unabashed Trump admirer who attended one of his campaign rallies and posed wearing a MAGA hat.
It is possible to argue, as Haley, Trump and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, have done, that Bowers, in his killing orgy, and Sayoc, in his bomb mailings, were not inspired by Trump — who for the record condemned violence even as he fired up crowds with more exhortations of antagonism. But the president cannot wriggle out of his relentless use of the White House as a bully pulpit to feed hate and divisiveness in the nation’s streets and homes and at the polls.
During the immediate period leading up to the midterm elections, Trump has consistently sought to fire up voters by portraying their ballots as a referendum on hate. Recall that this is nothing new for him. Among his divisive tools: demonizing migrants, belittling blacks, demeaning women, tweeting a video blaming the nation’s problems on George Soros — a Jewish supporter of liberal causes, imagined fondling a pile of cash. Tweeting an image of Hillary Clinton superimposing a Star of David over dollar bills. Joking to members of the Republican Jewish Coalition that they wouldn’t back him “because I don’t want your money.” (This must have nothing to do with accepting donations from the pro-Israel advocate, Sheldon Adelson, who reportedly contributed $82 million to Republican candidates, including Trump, in 2016, and more than $55 million more in 2018.) Defending white-supremacist marchers in Charlottesville, Va., as “fine people.” Denouncing critical news reports as fake news and media critical of him with the lurid phrase “enemies of the people.” Insulting people of color, Muslims, people with disabilities and LGBTQ individuals. Labeling Mexicans as “rapists,” migrants from “shithole” countries as Middle Eastern terrorists and murderers. Insisting without any evidence whatever that a Christian president born in Hawaii was an African-born Muslim.
To fully understand the implications of Haley’s tweet, you need to know a few more things about her. Before being appointed to the UN post, she won two terms as South Carolina’s governor. During a debate as part of her 2014 re-election campaign, she implied racism was no longer a problem in her state and said that allowing the Confederate flag to fly on the statehouse grounds had no symbolic value. “We really kind of fixed all that when you elected the first Indian-American female governor, when we appointed the first African-American U.S. senator [Tim Scott],” she said.
Then Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old white supremacist who literally wrapped himself in the Confederate flag in social media, murdered nine African-Americans attending a prayer service in Charleston in 2015. Five days later, Haley said it was time to move the flag from the statehouse grounds.
“We are not going to allow this symbol to divide us any longer,” Haley told a news conference at the state capital in June 2015. “These grounds are a place that everybody should feel a part of. What I realized now more than ever is people were driving by and felt hurt and pain. No one should feel pain.”
Which brings us back to her recent tweet. “The country was very racially divided @ the time. We didn’t once blame Pres. Obama. We focused solely on the lives lost & their families. Have some respect for these families & stop the blame,” she wrote.
So here are some questions for Ambassador Haley:
- How could anyone possibly blame President Obama for Dylann Roof’s killing spree? Do you believe people have already completely forgotten that Obama, long accused by your boss of lying about his religion and his origins, was half African-American and struggled during his eight years as president to bridge the nation’s deep divisions, rather than aggravate and exploit them?
- Why have you chosen to misrepresent the impact of the Charleston shootings on your home state? South Carolina and its governor did not focus “solely on the lives lost and their families” after the killings. In fact, the focus quickly shifted to South Carolina politics, the challenge of dealing with persistent racism and the presence of the Confederate flag on the statehouse grounds.
- Was your decision to defend Trump’s totally indefensible hatemongering a signal that you intend to soon return to politics and will need Trump’s support as well as the foot-stomping of the racists and anti-Semites who are a crucial part of his base?
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Irwin Arieff is a veteran writer and editor with extensive experience writing about international diplomacy and food, cooking and restaurants. Before leaving daily journalism in 2007, he was a Reuters correspondent for 23 years, serving in senior posts in Washington, Paris and New York as well as at the United Nations (where he covered five of the 10 years that Sergey Lavrov spent in New York as Russia’s senior UN ambassador). Arieff also wrote restaurant reviews for The Washington Post and Washington City Paper in the 1980s and 1990s with his wife, Deborah Baldwin.