Night, Night, Nikki

Haley’s education and experience exceed the tenth grade in Depression era Mississippi reached by my racist father, but she is acting just as influenced by the ways of the old South. Her wizened, conservative, little heart has been unable to surrender the icons and values of Dixie.

Night, Night, Nikki
Depiction of Slavery that Apparently Had Nothing to Do with the Civil War

As the son of a certified recalcitrant southern racist, I learned as a boy that certain beliefs do not easily die. My Mississippi father was taught by both word and act from the time he could talk that Blacks were lesser people than Whites, and even at the end of his life convincing him otherwise was an impossible task. In the town where his family lived when I went to visit as a boy in the late fifties and early sixties, there was a community of hovels and shacks down below the highway where African Americans tried to cobble together materials to make shelters, and it served to him as a validation they were not equal to his race.

“Why they live like that, then, buddy boy?”

There was nothing disingenuous about his question. Daddy was truly baffled. We were driving the main road into town and he pointed to the treeless pasture of leaning wood and tin structures, dusty tracks for streets, and sagging electrical wires pulled from nearby poles. I was ten or eleven years old that summer.

“Because they can’t get jobs, Daddy,” I told him. “Nobody will hire them because their skin is black.”

“Aw hell, that ain’t true. They got jobs all over creation. You see ‘em in the fields and on the farms and whatever.”

“That doesn’t pay enough money to buy houses and clothes or that much food, Daddy. You picked cotton when you were my age, you told me. You said you’d work all day and get paid in dimes and pennies.”

“I did, sure enough,” he said.

I waited for him to offer more insight, as I recall, but the conversation ended before we pulled into the driveway of his brother’s home. My father, like all six of his siblings, had learned an unshakeable truth of the old South that Blacks were not equal to Whites and to try to put that into practice was to violate the laws of nature and a Christian god. When I visited him during my university years and brought up the subject of interracial marriage and love, he was dumbfounded by my ignorance.

“Aw, hell, that just ain’t right,” he said. “That ain’t nothin’ God ever intended, and you know that.”

“No, Daddy, I don’t. The difference between Blacks and us is nothing more than a chemical that affects skin color, and the fact that they have been held back by our culture and politics because of skin pigmentation, and nothing else.”

“Explain this to me, then,” he said. “Why don’t you ever see horses matin’ with cows or cats and dogs havin’ babies? Nature ain’t set up that way ‘cause that ain’t what God designed. You ever see a bird breedin’ with a squirrel up in a tree? Course you ain’t. It’s against nature just like Blacks and Whites takin’ up with each other.”

I almost laughed but did not want to offend and kept with the tactic of gentle persuasion. I tried to explain that the animals were different species and that humans of different skin colors were still genetically and biologically the same creatures. There was no hope, though, and I found the topic best avoided until his actions in my presence turned offensive. When I became a parent, and we brought our daughter to visit him at his home among the loblolly pines in rural Mississippi, he was still using the “N” word as though it were an acceptable descriptive. I warned him that his granddaughter would not be in his presence if he were to continue his use of the language. Eventually, there came a concession, though he constantly caught himself just before the epithet made its natural and habitual escape between his lips.

Watching American politics in the first quarter of the twenty-first century there is no escaping the truth that those old racist falsehoods continue to be a burden on our advancement as a nation and consistently inform modern politics. We are 163 years past the great war that nearly destroyed the U.S. on these questions and we still have not reconciled facts with policies and actions. In fact, we deny facts. A presidential candidate, who is the former governor of the state where the Civil War war began, was publicly unable to even acknowledge slavery as the conflict’s proximate cause.

Nikki Haley appeared oblivious to South Carolina’s 1860 Declaration of Secession, which clearly delineated slavery in its first sentence as the prime mover for exiting the Union. During a campaign appearance, she stumbled through an explanation that sounded like a stump speech by President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, claiming the conflict was about government’s failures to protect individual and state’s rights. The Republican used the phrase, “To me the Civil War will always be about,” followed by an analysis that was patently wrong. Regardless of how Haley views the conflict, its causes are well-established facts and settled history. Her interpretation is utter garbage.

Haley’s education and experience exceed the tenth grade in Depression era Mississippi reached by my father, but she is acting just as influenced by the ways of the old South. Act, of course, is the operative word because she knows the horrors that left the blood of Africans in the soil of her home state. Not mentioning slavery in her answer was a considered omission. She is a desperate candidate trying to attract moderate Republicans without scaring off voters who might come in her direction from Trump, which will not happen if she is honest about slavery. This has been Nikki Haley’s act for many years. When she was running for governor of South Carolina in 2010, she parsed her language to suggest the Confederate flag was “not something racist” and that the Civil War was a conflict between what she described as “change” and “tradition.” That’s a rather benign description of, “Do we keep slavery as an institution or undo that which has destroyed lives in a country where the founding document says all people are created equal?”

“What the former U.N. Ambassador really meant to say was………”

Her wizened, conservative, little heart has been unable to surrender the icons and values of Dixie. As governor, she defended flying a Confederate flag near the state capitol and for five years resisted having it removed. Not until a gunman killed nine Black church members in Charleston, South Carolina, was she able to muster the courage to order the flag taken down from a spot next to a Confederate soldier monument. She insisted, however, it had been “hijacked” by the mass murderer at the church and it was an important symbol of “sacrifice and heritage.” Haley, and her GOP “confederate” Ron DeSantis of Florida, are on their party’s brand with revisions of Southern history. He required Florida teachers to apply education standards instructing middle school students that slaves developed skills that “could be applied for their personal benefit.” What might those be? How to endure rape? Surviving 100 flogs from a whip? Learning to pick cotton in the dark?

The past still is not past, however. Sixty years expired before the state of Texas recently removed a “Confederacy Creed” plaque from a wall in the state capitol. The emblazoned language pointed out that “the war between the states was not a rebellion, nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery.” The likely reactionary rationale for posting the untrue text for public viewing in 1959 was the spreading movement for civil rights, and to politically distance Texas and the South from a troubling history. As recently as June of 2022, the state’s Board of Education was considering text book language to teach second graders that slavery was nothing more than “involuntary relocation.” The State Senate has pushed a bill that obfuscates slavery as only a type of “deviation” from American values that was not an actual part of the founding the of the United States. The governor of Texas and other elected leaders continue to rewrite Texas’ history by arguing the expansion of slavery played no role in the independence movement or the Battle of the Alamo against Mexico.

Yes, this hung on the wall of the Texas State Capitol for 60 years

Much of contemporary Texas, especially among the Republican Party’s base voters, refuses to own the state’s history, taking a posture similar to Trump and the national party regarding slavery. Facts, however, do not require people to believe them; they simply exist, and the reason Texas left the Union and joined the Confederacy was that the population was determined to protect the institution of slavery. The truth is readily accessible in the February 1861 Texas Declaration for Secession:

“She {Texas} was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery--the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits--a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time.

“We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.

“That in this free government all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations; while the destruction of the existing relations between the two races, as advocated by our sectional enemies, would bring inevitable calamities upon both and desolation upon the fifteen slave-holding States.”

This kind of moral rot, almost unbelievably, is still festering at the core of the Texas GOP. In 2022, the party platform included a 40-page document calling for the state to conduct a 2023 referendum on leaving the U.S. The fact that it did not happen has not slowed the “Texit” dreamers. An organization called the Texas National Movement (TNM), which claims about 620,000 supporters, says it has delivered the required number of petition signatures to the Republican Party to prompt a vote during this coming spring’s political primaries. TNM’s homepage claims, “The Texas Nationalist Movement believes that the best people to govern Texas are Texans. We are a movement that seeks to return the right of self-government to Texans and make Texas a free, independent, and prosperous nation again.” In the 1990s, a similarly styled Republic of Texas movement led to a standoff with state troopers in the Davis Mountains and a life sentence for the revolutionary group’s leader.

As much as the language of TNM alludes to self-government, the sub-text of the fringe folks is spoken loudly by the Texas Republican Party and its leaders Greg Abbott, Attorney General Ken Paxton, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and House Speaker Dade Phelan. These white men led a successful legal end to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) offices at all state funded universities in Texas while also trying to take money out of public schools to give it to Christian educators and suing hospitals to get private information about trans-gender children seeking treatments. They are also wasting billions of dollars annually by militarizing the border and paying for free travel northward to illegal immigrants and passing laws to empower local and state police to arrest anyone they suspect is not legally on Texas soil. Discrimination is no longer narrowly focused on just African Americans and Mexican Americans. The palette for marginalization has been broadened to hurt people based on who they love, what they read, how they think, their sexuality, and who is their god. All these endeavors are being challenged in federal courts, though, which would not be the case were Texas an independent nation.

Not gonna happen, though you will not be surprised to learn the state tried to legitimize its independence immediately after the Civil War. The 1869 case of Texas v. White before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the state had not legally seceded from the Union and established that secession is not a valid or legal means of leaving the United States. The court held that the U.S. comprised a perpetual union that was indestructible and no state had a right to unilaterally secede, and that states were not sovereign entities. The only means of secession remaining, then, is force. Texas would need to move all those troops from the Mexican border up to the Sabine and Red Rivers to take on the U.S. military when it arrives to put down the absurdist rebellion, a scenario that made a great narrative for the late Texan Al Irwin’s 1979 novel about Texas secession, “The Power Exchange.”

Ultimately, the facile thing would be to suggest that Nikki Haley’s political ascendence is now concluded, but the Republican Party of Trump knows no propriety. Unfortunately, the bark is off her now, and she is just another clown without spray tan, and they’ve already got one of those they like more than a female version. She might still have a chance to close ranks with Trump in New Hampshire, but I am disinclined to think her candidacy is sustaining. Look for her to be less confrontational than she already is regarding Trump as she attempts to improve her positioning as a vice presidential prospect. A female running mate might imply a touch of humanity by the pseudo-human party leader. Because it might make a great deal of sense to pick Nikki, though, he probably will not.

But she may one day be grateful to be excluded from that bit of American history.

James Moore is a New York Times bestselling author, political analyst, and business communications consultant who has been writing and reporting on Texas politics since 1975. He writes frequently for CNN and other national media outlets and can be reached a