During her appearance with President Trump to announce her resignation, Nikki Haley indicated that she plans to campaign for him in 2020. Haley, the daughter of Indian immigrants who follow Sikhism, has long been extolled as an example of the GOP’s supposed openness to gender and racial diversity. She was, after all, one of the few women and people of color to hold a senior level position in a predominantly white and male Administration. But, despite these shallow gestures to identity politics, Haley’s record in the Trump Administration and well before, as a Governor, have undermined the rights of people of color, immigrants, refugees, and those around the world affected by displacement and war.
During her tenure as governor of South Carolina, a state dealing with the multigenerational trauma of white supremacy, Haley seemed unwilling to contend with racial justice matters. In a nod towards colorblind politics that seek to overcome racism by refusing to acknowledge its structural impact, Haley often referred to her own ascension through the ranks of the GOP as an Indian American woman to be an indicator of racial progress in the South, saying in 2014 “[b]ut we really kind of fixed all that when you elected the first Indian-American female governor.”
Even five years into her job, Haley would not order the removal of the Confederate flag that flew above the Capitol building in Charleston, and ignored long-standing appeals to take it down. After mounting pressure in the wake of the April 2015 fatal shooting of Walter Scott by a police officer and the June 2015 massacre by Dylann Roof of nine Black congregants at the Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, Haley called for the flag’s removal, though she still maintained that, for many, the flag did not represent “hate” or “racism” but “traditions of history, of heritage, and of ancestry.” In a speech a few months later, she went so far as to characterize the response in South Carolina to Scott’s murder as different from what happened in other cities by taking aim at social change movements saying, “Black lives do matter, and they have been disgracefully jeopardized by the movement that has laid waste to Ferguson and Baltimore.”
Haley’s actions as United Nations Ambassador have continued to reveal a tone-deafness and insensitivity to the rights of vulnerable and marginalized communities. While on the presidential campaign trail, Haley claimed she was against Donald Trump’s Muslim Ban, saying it was unconstitutional and un-American. Within two years, she did an about-face and defended the Administration’s exclusionary executive orders.
Haley also oversaw one of the United States’ most aggressive and destructive tenures in the multilateral forum. She withdrew the United States midway through its three-year term on the UN Human Rights Council, a 47-nation body that investigates human rights abuses citing its bias against Israel. In doing so, she executed a long-standing Israeli agenda to delegitimize the human rights body for its sustained attention to the question of Palestine rather than resolve the systematic denial of Palestinian human rights. This was one of a series of deleterious policies regarding Palestine.
After the Trump Administration recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in contravention of international law and policy, Haley said the US would be “taking names” of countries in the UN assembly who voted to criticize the decision. In May 2018, when Israeli snipers responded to the largest mass demonstration of Palestinians in Gaza demanding an end to the siege and the right for refugees to return, that left 168 Palestinians dead and over 18,000 wounded, Haley denied that the Embassy move had sparked the violence and praised Israel in a UN Security Council meeting for acting with restraint. Hours later, she walked out of the meeting as the Palestinian envoy began speaking. Over the summer, Haley went as far as to claim that the Palestinian right of return should be “taken off the table” for upcoming peace talks.
Despite this dismal record of endorsing and implementing policies that undermine human rights here at home and abroad, Haley is often lifted up as a symbol of diversity - around gender, race and immigration status - within the GOP. Haley herself has conveniently highlighted her immigrant upbringing when it’s politically expedient as she did during the Republican response to the State of the Union in 2016. While no one expects people of color and immigrants in positions of power to automatically represent their interests, it is disingenuous for Haley to rely on her markers of diversity when it suits her political aims. As a Trump appointee, Nikki Haley has been a mouthpiece for the politics of empire and xenophobia who benefited from her proximity to whiteness and power, and neither she, the GOP nor Trump 2020 can expect Americans to forget.