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Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Opinion | Nikki Haley’s plea about Jacksonville shooting gets a big thing wrong - The Washington Post

Opinion Nikki Haley’s emotional plea about racist ‘hate’ takes a wrong turn

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley in Arlington on April 25. (Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post) 

As the daughter of Indian immigrants who became governor of a Deep South state, Nikki Haley appears more determined than her GOP presidential primary rivals to talk to Republican voters about racism. And that’s forcing her into some creative rhetorical straddles.

This week — two days after a White man killed three Black people in Jacksonville, Fla., with a high-powered rifle festooned with swastikas — Haley issued an emotional plea on the campaign trail, insisting there’s “no place for hate in America.” In this, Haley deserves credit for outdoing her primary foes.

But Haley’s remarks also captured the folly of one of the GOP’s defining projects of the moment: the endless quest to purge our recounting of U.S. history of things to feel bad about.

Haley experienced the horror of white-supremacist violence during her second term as South Carolina governor. In 2015, Dylann Roof murdered nine Black peoplein a church in Charleston, something that reportedly impacted Haley very deeply.

“I am not going to lie to you, it takes me back to a dark place,” Haley told a South Carolina town hall audience on Monday, speaking about the Florida shooting. Her message: Racist violence is something voters must take very seriously.

But Haley also detoured into an argument that seemed strangely out of place. “We’ve got to end the national self-loathing that has taken over our country,” she said, deriding the idea that “America is rotten, or that it’s racist.”

Though Haley noted that more racial progress is imperative, she insisted that “our kids need to know to love America” and left voters with a directive: “Don’t fall into the narrative that this is a racist country.”

Why can’t Haley just decry a horrifying white-supremacist attack and leave it at that? Why add the disclaimer that we mustn’t take this too far and succumb to the “narrative” of “self-loathing”?

There’s a charitable interpretation here. It’s that Haley knows discussion of racism might trigger a defensive response from GOP-leaning voters, leading them to tune it out. Haley often derides the notion that the country and its founding are systemically or irredeemably racist. Perhaps her goal is to clear space for someGOP voters to take white-supremacist violence seriously without feeling personally attacked or offended.

But the idea that a mass leftist movement is lurking out there to declare our country racially irredeemable is itself ridiculous. The mainstream Democratic position, and even of socialists such as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), tends toward the opposite: Our country is slowly, fitfully moving toward realizing its promise of equality — even if there’s a long way to go.

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What’s more, in the aftermath of such a shooting, it seems self-evidently absurd to focus so heavily on reassuring people that they needn’t feel all that bad about the nation’s past. Why do the feelings of conservative voters about their country’s history merit such weighty consideration at moments such as these in the first place?

Take GOP presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, who blamed the Florida shooting on our “racialized culture,” which he said was created by those who … call out racism. In this telling, racist violence is a backlash against those who demand that White people feel bad about the nation’s white-supremacist past — and that we do more to combat racism right now.

That’s an exceptionally crude formulation. But in subtler forms, the tendency of Republican politicians to minister to their voters’ feelings about our history at such moments has become so reflexive that we barely register it anymore. This seems designed to focus widespread anxieties about racial violence on leftists who dare to call out the deeper roots of the problem rather than on hard questions about what such shootings actually do reveal about our country.

All of this reflects the misguided GOP quest for a guilt-free account of our past. Or at least a minimally discomfiting one.

Just this week, the Miami Herald reported that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s controversial decision to nix an African American studies curriculum was partly driven by some officials’ apparent desire to teach morally fuzzier and less uncomfortable accounts of slavery.

That’s also the goal of many bills in GOP state legislatures that limit classroom discussion of vague concepts on race that might be “divisive” or stir discomfort. Some of them have sought to censor historical accounts that are deemed unpatriotic.

A big idea is at stake here. Political philosophers sometimes argue that the maintenance of national pride among citizens simply requires a “forgetting” of unsavory facts about their country’s past. As writer Sam Adler-Bell details, GOP laws designed toward that end have morphed into an effort to “assuage white guilt” on a mass scale.

To be clear, politicians of all ideologies encourage such “forgetting.” Liberal leaders frequently suggest our nation’s progress has followed a more uniform trajectory than it actually has. But as a group of historians argues in “Myth America,” this tendency is far more pernicious among Republicans: They have largely abandoned the goal of reckoning with our white-supremacist past, in part to play down the lingering effects of racism in the present.

Again, Haley deserves credit for talking frankly to GOP voters about the Jacksonville slaughter. But to the degree that she indulged their desire for a minimally disconcerting national legacy on race, she got one big thing very wrong."

Opinion | Nikki Haley’s plea about Jacksonville shooting gets a big thing wrong - The Washington Post

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