February 24, 2020

Nikki Haley Takes Manhattan, Again With ‘Grit and Grace’

Former UN Ambassador (R) Nikki Haley visits New York City Nov. 12, 2019 (Photo by John Lamparski/Getty Images)

Throughout history, there have been leaders able to rise above the fray, whose innate moral clarity have enabled them to offer light and hope when both feel elusive.

I heard one of them speak at the 92nd Street Y last week. “Always use the power of your voice,” Nikki Haley told an enthusiastic crowd during the first stop of her book tour for “With All Due Respect: Defending America with Grit and Grace.”

The daughter of Indian immigrants, Haley talked about “knowing the pain of discrimination” being raised in South Carolina: “My father always told me, your job is not to show them how you’re different; your job is to show them how you’re similar.

“My parents never let us forget how blessed we were to be in America,” she said.

Listening to Haley relay funny stories, watching the generally left-leaning crowd laugh and cheer her on, I kept thinking: She can bring the country back together; she can inspire each of us to be our best selves. Tough yet kind, she is the role model all Americans need right now.

Moderator Dana Perino brought up the time during the 2016 presidential primaries when Haley endorsed Sen. Marco Rubio (D-Fla.). Then-candidate Donald Trump tweeted in response: “The people of South Carolina are embarrassed by Nikki Haley!” To which Haley responded: “Bless your heart.” It was not meant as a compliment.

Haley, of course, went on to become Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, a position she endowed with relentless truth-telling and bravery. In April 2017 Haley held up a photo of dead children following a gas attack in Syria and said, “How many more children have to die before Russia cares?” 

“They got used to me,” she told the crowd. “As Elie Wiesel said, you have to take a side. When you abstain you do more harm than good.” She then talked about the now infamous U.S. abstention from U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334 in December 2016, which called for an end to Israeli settlements. Hearing about it from Israel’s ambassador at the U.N., Danny Danon, she writes in her book: “All I could think about was how that feeling was all too familiar to me. I know what if feels like to be different, humiliated, and ostracized for being who you are.”

Haley told Danon: “Under my watch, that will never happen again.”

Haley discussed the toxicity of politics today, especially the verbal slander.

Haley talked about visiting war-torn countries and making it a habit to meet privately with the women who had been abused by the conflicts. “Women bear so much of the pain from war,” she said. This combination of compassion and moral clarity is, I think, precisely what sets Haley apart — from both sides of the aisle.

Haley discussed the toxicity of politics today, especially the verbal slander. “We’ve gotten to the point where each side is calling the other ‘evil,’ ” she said. “That hits a nerve. I’ve seen evil — rape used as a weapon of war, babies dead from chemical weapons. This type of language has to stop. On our worst day, we are blessed to live in America.”

Haley believes we need to save our wrath for our real enemies. “We can never trust Russia,” she said definitively. “They will never be our friend.” More to the point: “When we’re divided, they win.”

Haley didn’t discuss rising anti-Semitism or the rockets raining down on Israel. She didn’t have to. Of all the venues in the country to start her book tour, she chose the 92nd Street Y. What I saw in the crowd was that the Jewish people’s connection to Haley goes far deeper than her sticking up for us at the U.N. 

Haley, like many of us, is a child of immigrants who endured discrimination to rise to the top. Not just to sit there and look pretty but to help bring back to the world everything that’s been lost in recent years, from civility to pride.

I walked out feeling stronger and more resolute than I have in a long time — feeling like this beacon of light was going to show us, personally and politically, how to move forward. 

No one knows what’s going to happen in the next year or the next month. “Anything is possible,” Haley said with a smile.

Karen Lehrman Bloch is an author and cultural critic living in New York City.