So I read Nikki Haley’s new book, With All Due Respect: Defending America with Grit and Grace last night. I am mostly ambivalent about it.
I like Haley personally and always imagined she’d end up being the first female president. And I love everything associated with South Carolina. To be honest, however, I wasn’t very impressed by her book.
I suppose part of my reaction is that I do not usually read vanity books by politicians, and that is certainly what this turned out to be. If I am going to read a book about public policy, it’s going to be about public policy and not someone’s feelings about public policy.
Her book reads like it was written by a chick, sorry not sorry. The whole thing is about how she feels about this or that. It’s like she was aiming for the Republican version of Michelle Obama’s Becoming. Her audience is more book club than professional analyst. And that’s fine. She clearly wants to position herself as President Trump’s heir apparent, and that means speaking to the least common denominator. Except I think the least common denominator is a heck of a lot smarter than she thinks it is.
At any rate, here were my main takeaways from the book:
The slacktivists who try to capitalize on mass murders are beyond awful.
Haley was Governor of South Carolina during the shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church (“Mother Emanuel”) in Charleston, the oldest African-American church in the United States. She refuses to use the shooter’s name, which I think is a good idea, and provides short biographies of everyone who was murdered that day, which I think is great. That chapter will absolutely break your heart. I learned a lot details about the folks who perished that I did not know before. I learned that the shooter had visited the church before carrying out the massacre and was treated with such kindness that he briefly reconsidered his evil intentions. Even during the massacre, members of the church were trying to reason with him, saying “you don’t have to do this.” One mother shielded her daughter and told her to play dead, even though her son (who had tried unsuccessfully to shield his aunt) lay dying next to her.
Haley explains that this shooting occurred in the aftermath of Ferguson (an event, incidentally, that was exploited by Russian propagandists trying to wreck havoc on our election process) and she did her best to prevent her state from exploding with racial animosity and potentially more people being hurt or killed. She goes into long digressions on the “New South,” which has mostly put its racist past behind it. She sees her own political career as evidence of that.
She blames others – whom she notes are not from the South, and thus rely on caricatures of the South instead of understanding the tremendous progress that has been made – for trying to inflame instead of extinguishing destructive passions.
Her primary target is former President Obama. She said that when Obama called her after the event, he was cold and inauthentic in offering her sympathies. He used the event as an opportunity to speechify about identity politics. She thought his behavior was a distraction from honoring the victims and that he was inflaming the people she was trying to calm. He was an instigator among instigators in her mind.
She says the same thing about Al Sharpton. Haley attended the funerals of every victim of the massacre, including a Democratic state senator whom she knew very well personally and considered a good friend. She called him immediately upon learning about the event, without knowing that he was one of the people who had been killed. She says she is haunted by the thought that his phone was ringing in his pocket as he was laying there, dead, in the church.
Sharpton showed up for the first funeral and inserted himself into the program. Instead of speaking about the deceased, whom he did not know, he immediately got political… at a stranger’s funeral. He attacked Haley from his “stage,” and was called out for his terrible behavior. He went back home after that and left the families of the other victims alone.
These folks were among mobs of people who had nothing to do with Charleston or the deceased who swarmed the city after the event trying to sow chaos. Here were families dealing with the most impossible grief, with opportunists trying to disrupt their world further for the Twitter glory.
She says she took the programs home from the funerals and spent time each night trying to introduce her children to the people who had died. She would sit her family down and repeat to them everything she had learned about them. This reminded me of something we like to say in my family when someone passes away: “I will remember you to everyone.” I was also touched by the motto of one of the deceased – someone who just sounds like a good church lady you would love and come to depend upon – always “be kinder than necessary.”
She has a whole chapter devoted to this history of taking down the Confederate flag at the capitol, which frankly I thought was idiotic and I wish she had not included. That whole chapter is an opposition researcher’s dream.
She does not share Michelle Obama’s perspective on “white flight.”
Haley shares a litany of experiences that all boil down to her being rejected because of her race or gender. She spends a lot of time talking about identity politics only to dismiss it.
Haley was an Indian-American, the child of immigrants, who spent most of her early life in rural South Carolina (a town with less than 3,000 people). Her mother put Haley and her sister in a local beauty pageant when she was very young. The town selected both a black and a white beauty queen each year. The judges were confused by the girls, who fit neither category. They disqualified them and gave them a beach ball as a consolation prize.
She also talks about a black Democratic colleague who told her that she was not a “real” minority because she was from India. He called her “a conservative with a tan.”
Haley’s argument is that the fact that she experienced these things but still managed to become governor of a Southern state is evidence of how much progress the South has made to overcome racial bias. She does not like people like the Obamas, for whom race looms large in every aspect of their lives, even after becoming leader of the free world.
I just don’t even know what to say about things like that. I grew up in Los Angeles during the 1990s, which was full of racial animosity, and working in education policy for a spell convinced me that there is still a lot of quiet racial animosity even in polite places. Contrary to the way the mainstream media paints rural America, rural America is more of a functional, tolerant melting pot than urban America. That comes from necessity. People have to get along to survive. People in rural areas tend to get along easily across ethnic groups, religions, and economic classes.
I share her exasperation with the media who like to paint flyover country as a bunch of racist, sexist, homophobic hicks. There have been more openly gay mayors in the South and Midwest than there are in New England or California. Many of the same Appalachian counties who voted for Trump also voted for Obama. Places that pride themselves on being polite and hospitable are usually polite and hospitable.
But it is possible for Obama and Haley to both have factually true narratives, neither of which lend themselves to generalizations about what “America” as a whole is like. Obama can experience white flight in Chicago’s suburbs without suggesting that all of America is racist. Haley can experience thousands of acts of colorblindness without dismissing that racism continues to be a significant experience for some people. But I would submit to you that none of this is good politics. The majority of Americans are over identity politics, and are tired of arguments both for and against it. They just want you to shut up about it already.
James Comey backed Haley up on her decision for South Carolina not to accept refugees from war-torn countries.
Not going to lie, I physically rolled my eyes when she invoked him as an authority. Does she not have an editor?
Haley says she refused to accept refugees because she did not want even a single potential terrorist relocating to her state. She says she did not come to this opinion straightaway, but spoke with then-Director of the FBI James Comey about background checks on refugees. Comey told her the United States has no meaningful information about any of the refugees that were being brought in. He said he could offer no serious analysis of the threats they may or may not pose. After the Paris concert shooting, which left 130 dead and over 400 people injured, she decided to balk on the refugee issue.
She tells a story about how complicated thinking about refugees is. Her husband, Michael, who served in Afghanistan, worked to bring his team’s interpreters to the United States. The military’s Afghan interpreters served an intelligence function and translated threats to their units, making them prime targets. The Haleys used their connections to Senator Lindsey Graham to make sure the interpreters could seek asylum in the US and become citizens. She says the Lutheran Church was helpful in getting them temporary housing and teaching them English. (I used to volunteer for a refugee ESL program – for refugees from the Congo – through the Roman Catholic Church, so I know exactly the programs she is talking about. But I don’t understand why their interpreters needed to learn English. How were they interpreters? But whatever.)
Tillerson was insufferable and he hated Haley because Trump offered her his gig first, which she turned down.
It’s a good thing that Haley does not spend much time in “tell-all” mode, because everything she has to say about internal politics is not as flattering to her as she thinks it is.
It really does not require much imagination to believe Rex Tillerson is a colossal prick who thinks he’s the smartest person in every room and gets along with approximately no one. But in Haley’s own account of events, you almost can’t blame him for thinking she’s an unqualified brat. No one is going to read this book and hold her in the same esteem as, say, Condoleezza Rice.
She says Trump summoned her initially to serve as his Secretary of State, a position she turned down…. Well, she does not say why, exactly, but you are left with the impression that she thought it was too much effort.
So Reince Priebus then suggests that she consider being ambassador to the United Nations. Her reply – in front of Trump – was “I don’t even know what the United Nations does! All I know is that everybody hates it!”
I seriously almost closed the book at this point. Does she think this is adorable? It’s not adorable. How stupid do you have to be to put something like that into the book that you are presumably using to introduce yourself to the electorate? *head explodes*
She then laments that Tillerson insisted on interviewing all her hires himself to make sure she was not screwing up US diplomatic efforts by importing a bunch of her staff from South Carolina to the United Nations. You are left thinking, you know, maybe the folks who worked on your campaign back in Columbia, South Carolina, aren’t experts on Syria? Maybe his concern was… reasonable?
The part most discussed in the media revolves around a few pages where she alleges that Tillerson and John Kelly were plotting to sabotage Trump. This no doubt will get a lot of nods from anyone who cares about the Deep State, but it is so painfully stupid and unprofessional within actual context that I had to re-read it to make sure she really said it.
In her telling, Tillerson and Kelly corner her in an office where they proceed to tell her that she’s not qualified to do her job and how Trump made an epic mistake turning the UN ambassador into a cabinet-level position (which she said was a criterion for her accepting the position; in previous administrations, she would be answering to Tillerson). In a split second, they go from being sexist dicks telling her how worthless she is to trying to “recruit” her into their nefarious Deep State plot, which seems to consist merely of doing whatever they want. I mean, come on. Either they think you are useful or you are not.
The only thing you are left with here is the observation that none of these people currently work for Trump and that’s probably not a bad thing for the American people.
UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which condemned Israeli settlements on the West Bank, was timed not to interfere with Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid.
The Obama administration abstained on the vote, allowing the controversial resolution to pass, the first time the Security Council had adopted a measure like this. But they waited until December 2016 to do it, so Hillary’s many Jewish supporters would not sit out the election. Let the cynicism that involves wash over you for a moment.
China forcibly sends North Koreans who escape the country back.
We brought in two North Korean women who had successfully escaped after having been caught by the Chinese and forcibly sent back to North Korea. The stories they told were blood-curdling. One woman was sent back to North Korea by the Chinese three times before she finally escaped. The punishment reserved for these escapees, who were mostly women, is severe. The woman told of being forced to abort without anesthesia the child she conceived in China. At one prison camp, the bodies of the inmates who had starved to death were fed to the guard dogs. Both women told of being raped, starved and forced into hard labor.
United Nations refugee statistics are bogus.
I’ve always had this impression, but it was somewhat interesting to learn the mechanics of how the United Nations manipulates data to inflate the financial obligations of member countries.
If you go to the United Nations website, they say there are currently over 70 million forcibly displaced people in the world. For the sake of comparison, there are 327 million people living in the United States. They say 26 million of those are refugees and 3.5 million are asylum seekers. (We have more asylum seekers than that currently living illegally in the United States, but I digress. Their numbers suck in many ways.)
How do they get such high numbers for displaced people? The answer – which is absolutely insane – is that they see being displaced as genetic, not a physical situation. If you are a descendant, for example, of the original Palestinian refugees – even if you have successfully relocated to another country and been granted citizenship there – you are considered a refugee. You may have never known anything besides a comfortable suburban existence in your entire life, but according to the United Nations, you are a refugee and entitled to international financial aid. Thus you have the United Nations turning into an inter-generational income stream. This is your tax dollars at work, because the United States is footing most of the bill for this.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency has other bizarre problems too, according to Haley. They use member funds to pay for schools and health care for Palestinians, and this includes schools where the textbooks preach about violence to Jews and where the schools themselves are way stations for tunnels beneath the border (meaning the schools are effectively UN-funded terrorist installations). It’s really kind of ironic that American taxpayers are paying for stuff like this when the school districts of major US cities are in acute financial distress and US politicians are complaining about medical bankruptcies.
It is beyond dispute that Iran continued to work on its nuclear weapons program under the Obama administration and early Trump administration (i.e. when Tillerson was persuading Trump to roll over the Iran deal while they debated strategy internally).
A lot of people go around talking about how they hate the Iran deal because blah blah blah pallets of cash. Not to suggest that freeing up as much as $100 billion for the largest state sponsor of terrorism is a good idea.
But the most bonkers thing about the Iran deal is that it was deliberately drafted to allow Iran to proceed with building nukes. Which they of course did.
Obama said the deal provided for “anytime, anywhere” inspections of Iran’s facilities, which is almost true. The inspections apply only to *declared* nuclear sites: “for any other locations that were suspected of harboring nuclear activity, the Iranians could deny access to inspectors for up to 24 days.” And there were many such sites. So the bureaucrats at the UN would dutifully inspect the sites Iran told them to inspect. If intelligence picked up another site and the administration decided to make a big deal of it, they would ask to inspect that site. And Iran had nearly a month to relocate equipment to another undeclared site or tell inspectors to pound sand. Yeah, there was no way that the people negotiating the agreement did not understand they were creating a loophole.
Try to process for a second how insane someone would have to be to think a nuclear Iran was a meh idea. And then you’d have John Kerry.
But you would also have a lot of people in Trump’s cabinet too. The man who set out campaigning to end the Deep State ended up hiring a lot of Deep State folks, according to Haley:
Supporters of the [Iran] deal argue that the Trump administration set out to destroy the Iran deal out of a desire to undo President Obama’s singular foreign policy initiative. The truth is, there was so much support for the deal in President Trump’s cabinet – not to mention virtually unanimous support among the foreign-policy establishment – that the easy thing to do would have been to stay in the deal.
Trump’s biggest problems have always been personnel problems. He has hired some terrible people (he can’t blame anyone but himself for that) and he and his proxies have failed to fire many, many more terrible people. It’s a difficult thing for outsiders to sort out all the rubbish within government ranks, but that should not be an argument for only electing people who have been in DC forever. Your choices are essentially deal with a lot of unnecessary drama or continue to send ever more of your paycheck to pay economic rent to corrupt losers. Change is not easy.
Haley thinks Assad is bossing Putin around, not the reverse
She says this many times throughout the book with absolutely no logic behind it. I’m kind of curious what she thinks this means. Russia is not exactly the superpower that it once was, but I can’t imagine that its leader is the lapdog of a small country savaged by a civil war. Perhaps I am wrong about that, but I’d like to better understand the dynamics there if I am.
Haley hates being called “ambitious,” a pet peeve she brings up about thirty times in the book. (Kidding, I didn’t count, but it’s enough that you get tired of it.) She clearly saw utility in being UN ambassador because it could give her the foreign policy bona fides to run for president later. And that’s hardly a stupid strategy – you see daily through candidates like Elizabeth Warren how much of a shortcoming having zero foreign policy experience can be in a campaign.
But Haley’s folksy way of talking about foreign policy is not much of an asset, at least not the way she talks now. She does well when she acts like a ball-buster, not someone who whines about ex-CEOs who really act like Mean Girls. Despite the title, this book was not written by the ball-buster version of Haley.