Nikki Haley, We Hardly Knew Ye

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Scott Ritter.

Nikki Haley surprised the American and international foreign policy establishment by announcing on Oct. 9 her intention to resign as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, effective at the end of this year. While President Donald Trump indicated he had known of her desire in this regard for some time, the announcement took virtually everyone else in the Trump administration—including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton—by surprise. Unlike previous senior-level administration departures, which were charged with acrimony and angst, Trump went out of his way to praise Haley, holding a news conference at which he complimented her for her work.

The reasons for her decision are stated as “personal,” and speculation abounds about potential causal factors. But at the end of the day, Haley’s resignation was a political act carried out by a political person for her own personal political gain.

To back up this assertion, here’s a bit of background about her political evolution. The daughter of Sikh immigrants, Nimrata “Nikki” Haley was schooled as an accountant and cut her teeth as a businesswoman by assuming various positions in her mother’s upscale women’s clothing establishment. Born and raised in South Carolina, Haley became a rising star for women in the Republican Party, a woman of color who embraced the conservative Christian-based ethos of the deep South. She was a non-threatening figure in the eyes of those who would become her target demographic once she left her family business for a career in politics. In 2004, she won a seat in the South Carolina state legislature, where she campaigned on a GOP-friendly platform of reducing taxes.

Haley was, by all accounts, a deft and capable political operator, pursuing conservative policies across the board. In 2009, encouraged by then-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Haley announced she would run for governor of South Carolina. She won the election after receiving the support of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, vice presidential running mate of presidential candidate Sen. John McCain and (at the time) the darling of the American conservative establishment.

Once established in her role, Haley eschewed national politics—at first. She turned down an opportunity to be  Romney’s running mate in the 2012 U.S. presidential election; instead, she ran for reelection in 2014, winning handily. As governor, she backed conservative causes as she sought to further South Carolina’s fortunes. She oversaw the emergency response to Hurricane Matthew in 2016, and she faced controversy when she ordered the Confederate flag removed from the State Capitol in the aftermath of the racially motivated 2015 mass shooting at a Charleston church. Her status as a minority female, combined with her record of capable conservative governance, made her an ideal candidate for national-level politics, and she was widely touted as vice presidential material in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. She was an early supporter of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and later, after Rubio withdrew, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

In a moment of significant national exposure, Haley was chosen by the GOP to deliver the Republican response to President Barack Obama’s 2016 State of the Union address, during which she singled out then-presidential candidate Trump for criticism. “Some people think that you have to be the loudest voice in the room to make a difference,” she stated. “That is just not true. Often, the best thing we can do is turn down the volume.” Later, during an interview on NBC’s “Today” show, Haley observed that “Mr. Trump has definitely contributed to what I think is just irresponsible talk.” Later still, after she incurred the Twitter-borne wrath of Trump by calling for him to release his tax returns, she kept her response short and Southern: “Bless your heart.”

Yet once her former adversary emerged as the Republican candidate, Haley was quick to jump on the Trump train. After Trump won the 2016 election, she interviewed for a Cabinet-level position and was tapped to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

It was a job for which she was singularly unqualified.

An ambitious politician in her own right, it was no secret that Haley viewed herself as someone who could one day take the top job at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., and thus she knew  a high-profile assignment at the United Nations would not only increase her visibility nationally but would also help her gain critical national security and foreign policy experience, both of which her resume clearly lacked. Under normal circumstances, heading up the U.S. Mission to the United Nations (USUN) would be an ideal place to carry out on-the-job training in the field of international relations. Foreign policy is made in Washington, D.C., and implemented in New York, where the United Nations is headquartered. The job of the USUN, a facilitator and implementer of policy as opposed to conceiving and framing policy, is to advance U.S. foreign policy objectives to the rest of the world—the perfect setting for a novice to cut her teeth while being guided by a seasoned staff of experts.

The U.S. ambassador to the U.N. is not traditionally a Cabinet-level position per se. However, starting with the Ford administration in the 1970s, the position had been granted Cabinet-level status. This practice ended under President George H.W. Bush, only to be reinstated under Bill Clinton. Like his father, George W. Bush rescinded Cabinet status; then Obama reinstated it. In a break from past Republican practice, Trump agreed to keep it a Cabinet-level post, acceding to one of Haley’s preconditions for accepting the job.

Typically, the detrimental consequences of appointing someone without any foreign policy experience to a Cabinet-level diplomatic post could be offset by ensuring they are adequately back-stopped by the rest of the national security/foreign policy team, especially a strong, experienced secretary of state. Trump’s initial appointment of Rex Tillerson to lead the State Department, along with Mike Flynn as national security advisor, represented the antithesis of such a move. These factors, combined with the wholesale flight of veteran diplomats from the State Department following Trump’s election, meant Haley would be assuming her post lacking the kinds of bureaucratic and procedural checks and balances one would normally expect to see in place prior to her starting date.

The USUN is one of the most sensitive and complex diplomatic posts in the American foreign service, requiring a firm but deft hand combined with tact and patience. By design, it is not intended to be used as a blunt instrument of American foreign policy—again, not under normal circumstances. But there has been nothing normal about the presidency of Donald Trump. In late 2016, after the outgoing Obama administration refused to employ a veto to block U.N. action targeting Israel, then president-elect Trump condemned the action (or lack thereof), bemoaning on Twitter the U.N. had “such great potential,” but it had become “just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time. So sad!” He later ominously noted “things will be different after January 20th,” referring of course to the date of his inauguration.

Tillerson was never able to establish firm footing as secretary of state, overseeing, as he was, a department comprised of staffers whose morale was collectively in free-fall and undercut at every step by a president who viewed himself as America’s most senior, all-knowing diplomat. Haley, on the other hand, thrived in her role as the administration’s mouthpiece at the United Nations. On matters of foreign policy, there was no semblance of originality vis-à-vis the White House emanating from USUN, or even an effort to take into consideration the viewpoints of the rest of the world. In the my-way-or-the-highway global view of Trump, the U.N. became little more than a podium from which America issued its demands and organized its retribution for anything less than absolute subservience. Haley played her role to a T, issuing dictates, threats and demands without displaying any notable grasp of the underlying issues or her office’s past negotiating history. In the fact-free world of the Trump administration, in which inciting global angst is considered a good thing, Haley’s purportedly muscular diplomacy played well—until it didn’t.

Haley was a loyal soldier to Trump, aggressively advocating for what passed for policy. In this she was no different than those who had preceded her. Indeed, there was little to separate her condemnation of Syrian President Bashar Assad, or Russia’s support of the Assad regime, from that of her predecessor, Samantha Power, when it came to tone and content. But the difference between the two was discernable. Power—an Ivy League-educated foreign policy wonk whose book on the Rwandan genocide garnered her a Pulitzer Prize and the attention of her future boss, Barack Obama—was at least conversant in multiple aspects of a given issue and able to engage  a wide variety of topics freely and without notes.

Ambassador Haley, on the other hand, carefully operated from a script prepared by others, reading her notes and rarely venturing into the world of free thinking. She had no experience to draw upon, lacking both academic and practical preparation. She was the dutiful puppet, unashamedly raising her hand to be the sole vote cast against a resolution condemning Trump’s precipitous decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and then woodenly holding up the images of stricken Syrian civilians as part of an orchestrated campaign to justify military action against the Syrian government. She lambasted the Russians and Chinese, insulted virtually every other nation and international institution, and threatened to “take names” when nations dared oppose the policies she fronted.

Haley was at the forefront of America’s retreat from multilateral engagement, leading the charge as the United States withdrew from U.N. treaties and agreements (the Paris Accords and the Iran Nuclear Agreement foremost among them), slashed America’s financial contributions to the U.N. and its affiliates, and otherwise denigrated anything that didn’t directly benefit the U.S. In her defense, she was not the author of these policies, only the face the Trump administration used to sell them to the rest of the world. But as every able politician understands (and Haley is, if anything, an able politician), perception is its own reality, and as the individual who gave voice and presence to these actions, she now owns them forever.

Under any rational standard, Haley would (and should) be mocked and reviled for her performance as America’s ambassador to the United Nations. Her tenure was an exercise in pathos, the living embodiment of American power and influence in decline. Her speeches, if viewed in isolation, were one step removed from a “Saturday Night Live” send-up. At the end of the day, Haley was little more than a polished cipher put forward to sell bad policy, something Trump himself alluded to when he credited Haley with making the job of U.S. ambassador to the U.N. “a more glamorous position than it was two years ago.”

It’s not as though Haley was constitutionally incapable of independent thought—far from it. Her experience as South Carolina’s governor proved she can be a savvy and self-reliant politician, able to weigh costs and benefits when making difficult decisions. Perhaps the most difficult decision Haley had to make, then, was to allow herself to be used in such an egregious fashion so that she could build a resume capable of sustaining and supporting her own aims. She showed flashes of independence, not on matters of policy but rather personal morality, challenging the president on his Muslim ban and insisting that women who claim to have been sexually assaulted have a right to be heard.

But these isolated moments of autonomy could not hide the reality that at the end of the day, Ambassador Haley was little more than a puppet. Her days were numbered with the resignation of Tillerson and the departure of H.R. McMaster as national security advisor. In the confusion that reigned in the White House during the transition from Tillerson to Pompeo, Haley got caught out as she advanced a policy position regarding Russian sanctions that was outdated, prompting a comment from within the White House she was “confused.” “I don’t get confused,” she snapped back. This was in April 2018, about the same time she reportedly first indicated to the president she was looking to leave.

Unlike Tillerson and McMaster, Pompeo and Bolton ran a tighter ship. Bolton in particular was opposed to the idea of the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. enjoying Cabinet-level status, having noted during his time at USUN that “it overstates the role and importance the U.N. should have in U.S. foreign policy,” adding that “you shouldn’t have two secretaries in the same department.”  There could be only one voice fronting for U.S. foreign policy on behalf of the president, and it would no longer be Haley’s.

Trump did his part to make Haley’s exit appear dignified and positive. She, too, played her prescribed role, making it known she was not positioning herself to become Trump’s political rival in 2020 while also offering she planned to make her opinions on policy matters known from time to time. Perhaps she will assemble a team of foreign policy experts to help her better shape these opinions, allowing her to continue the artifice that she somehow possesses depth when it comes to issues of diplomacy and foreign relations. In the shallow world of current American politics, Haley is a master at shaping perception.

One thing is for certain—barring some unforeseen turn in her career trajectory, this isn’t the last the American people will be seeing of Haley. She is far too ambitious, far too intelligent and far too “glamorous” to simply fade away. Trump hinted at a possible future role in his administration—perhaps secretary of state during a hypothetical second Trump term. And there is always 2024. Haley would be 55 years old, ideally situated in the prime of her life to make a run for the most powerful job in the world—that is, if America still retains the status of unmatched global superpower.

Present circumstances suggest this may not prove to be the case. For all his rhetoric about “making America great again,” Trump is presiding over the greatest loss of power and prestige in American history, not insignificantly because of policies Haley helped promote and implement. And while her departure from the role of U.S. ambassador to the U.N. appears perfectly timed to insulate her, at least in the minds of the American electorate, from the consequences of any future political catastrophe that might befall Trump, the rest of the world is not so easily confused, possessing superior memory and a grasp of a reality to which Haley’s ambition seems to have blinded her.


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Naomi Klein: We’ve Entered a Frightening New Era of Capitalism

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Jacob Sugarman.

When Nikki Haley resigned this week as the United States’ ambassador to the U.N., seemingly the political press’ first question was whether Donald Trump would name his daughter, Ivanka, as her replacement. Trump did little to discourage this speculation. “[It’s] nothing to do with nepotism,” he said, barely concealing a smile. “But I want to tell you that the people that know, know that Ivanka would be dynamite.”

For “The Shock Doctrine” and “No Is Not Enough” author Naomi Klein, that the president’s offspring would even be considered for such a post is evidence enough that we’ve entered a frightening new era of capitalism—one in which the 1 percent so dominate our institutions that they consider political power to be their natural birthright. In her latest essay for The Intercept, she dubs it the “Age of the Pampered Princeling”:

The Koch brothers were raised in luxury and inherited Koch Industries from their father (who built his fortune constructing refineries under Stalin and Hitler). [Richaed Mellon] Scaife was an heir to the Gulf Oil, Alcoa Aluminum, and Mellon Banks fortunes and grew up in an estate so lavish it was populated with pet penguins. Olin took over his father’s weapons and chemicals company.

And so it goes, right down to Betsy DeVos, who was raised by billionaire Edgar Prince and married into the Amway fortune — and who has devoted her life to dismantling public education, now from inside the Trump administration. And let’s not forget Rupert Murdoch, who inherited a chain of newspapers from his father and is in the process of handing over his media empire to his sons. Or relative newcomer Rebekah Mercer, who has chipped off a chunk of her father Robert’s hedge fund fortune to bankroll Breitbart News, among other pet projects. In short, these people are Downton Abbey lords and masters, playacting as Ayn Rand heroes.

Klein urges her readers to consider the mental gymnastics required for our nation’s scions to convince themselves not just that they’re self-made, but that their attacks on the social safety net are inherently righteous. Whether implicit or explicit, she concludes, it comes down to a belief in their own fundamental superiority: “better values, better breeding, a better religion, or as Trump so often claims, ‘good genes.'”

“And of course the even darker side is the often unspoken conviction that the people who do not share in this kind of good fortune must possess the opposite traits — they must be defective in both body and mind,” Klein continues. “This is where the Republican Party’s increasingly savage racial and gender politics merge seamlessly with its radical wealth-stratifying economic project. Convinced that people belong where they are on the economic and social ladder, the party can keep redistributing wealth upward to the dynastic families that fund their movement, while kicking the ladder out of the way for those reaching for the lower rungs.”

Alarmingly, money and influence are only growing more entrenched. As part of the Trump administration’s latest tax plan, the mega rich will be able to pass up to $22.4 million to their children without paying a cent in taxes, effectively guaranteeing another generation of dynastic wealth. The consequences will be grave for the health of our society and the planet at large, especially as climate change threatens civilizational collapse.

“This is an intensely hierarchical worldview that is completely comfortable with a minority making decisions for a majority in a rigged electoral system, just as it feels no need to reconcile two totally different visions of justice—’innocent until proven guilty’ when it comes to Brett Kavanaugh’s job application and, as Trump told a gathering of police chiefs on Monday, ‘stop and frisk’ for anyone seen as a possible criminal in Chicago (obvious code for a black person walking down the street),” Klein concludes. “This is not seen as a contradiction: There are simply two classes of people—us and them, winners and losers, people deserving of rights and everyone else.”

Read Klein’s piece in its entirety at The Intercept.

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The Shameless Opportunism of Nikki Haley

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Jacob Bacharach.

In the Coen brothers’ acerbic spy-thriller send-up, “Burn After Reading,” George Clooney, playing an unfaithful, fitness-obsessed blockhead, disabuses his lover, a vicious Tilda Swinton, that her CIA analyst husband has quit his job to pursue “a higher patriotism.” “Yeah,” he tells her, “well, most of the people in this town who quit were fired.”

It is a truism wrapped in an falsehood. John Malkovich’s Princetonian analyst, the perfectly named Osborne Cox, did in fact quit, but only because he was about to be fired, or at least severely demoted.

Widely considered a minor Coen feature, “Burn After Reading” received mostly lukewarm reviews in that hopey-changey year of 2008 for its bleak, even misanthropic tone. One dissenting voice has been The New Republic’s Jeet Heer, who, in an extraordinarily prescient take on the future Trump Era, judged the film a small masterpiece.

<blockquote>More than just a satire on espionage, the movie is a scathing critique of modern America as a superficial, post-political society where cheating of all sorts comes all too easily. Unlike movies such as Citizen Kane, Burn After Reading doesn’t offer any easy one-to-one character analogies to Trump and his cronies. Rather, it captures the amorality that leads people to become entangled in mercenary treason. </blockquote>

And so we come to Nikki Haley, our soon-to-be ex-U.N. ambassador, who, as of this weird, warm week in October, was either fired or quit.

The poor New York Times Editorial Board—a collection of self-important, moron-despising Osborne Coxes if ever there was one—seemed close to tears. “Indeed,” they bleated, “a replacement in her mold may be the best to hope for from Mr. Trump.” Operating on the scant evidence that Haley once sententiously proclaimed, “I don’t get confused,” after some daily—hell, hourly—confusion of the administration for which she worked and the anecdotal and frankly unbelievable tale that she “developed a good relationship” with the U.N. secretary-general, the Editorial Board clutches at a last brick of normalcy in the wreckage of its antiquated worldview.

Why did she go? After six years as governor of South Carolina and two as ambassador, Haley said she simply needed time off. It is certainly an odd feature of Washington that some people can go years—and even decades—evincing no particular dedication to family, then suddenly acquire a yearning to spend more time with theirs, whereas others—a Chuck Grassley, who managed to be both somnolent and indefatigable in “plowing” through the Supreme Court nomination of an alleged sex abuser—can spend 60 years in official life without the slightest indication that they ever intend to retire.

Of course, it is far more stressful, busy and taxing to be a governor, even of a small state, than to be a U.S. senator, a member of a body that exists in a condition of collective torpor bordering on catatonia, a towering retirement community without the charm of bingo or the stimulating activity of bus trips to the local symphony.

Ordinarily, a U.N. ambassador falls far to the Senate side of active life. One need only show up to make the occasionally requisite bellicose speech, to harangue some little country for doing what the United States of America does a hundred times a week. But Trump’s foreign policy team, especially Rex Tillerson, his first secretary of state, made the aquatic pace of Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson look positively rocket-like. It does seem clear that Haley functioned as something closer to a shadow secretary and national security adviser, at least until Mike Pompeo maneuvered his way into Tillerson’s spot and John Bolton waddled back ashore from the spume of a frigid sea.

Haley did not actually do much in her tenure. The Trump administration has been remarkably successful at the Washington nomination game and at dismantling the American regulatory state where its only opposition is the Democrats, but the world has proven less feckless. The U.S. military has continued to bomb where it would have under a Clinton presidency—where it had been bombing under Obama—but the great deal-maker president has mostly gotten fleeced. He was outmaneuvered by North Korea. China defies him. The renegotiated NAFTA treaty may not survive a new president in Mexico or federal elections in Canada.

Across the Atlantic, Europe is slowly pulling away, despite its exposure to U.S. financial markets and France’s Trump-manqué Emmanuel Macron making grandiose declarations about internationalism any time he notices a microphone in his vicinity. Even the Iran deal, which Haley condemned and Trump tore up, has really just returned to the status quo ante: not ideal, certainly, not good, but something. The best chronicler of this chronic bombast combined with stagnant policy has probably been Daniel Larison, the conservative Trump critic at The American Conservative, who took Haley particularly to task for her ceaselessly aggressive rhetoric.

The Trump administration did manage to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, or at least announce that it was going to do so, although like so much else with this administration it is hard to tell if there is any real “doing” behind the announcing. It cruelly and unnecessarily announced it would block any Palestinian from a senior U.N. post, and apologized ceaselessly for Israel’s reckless violence in Gaza. But even this—a sop to the Evangelical base—evaporated into the endless hot air of Trump-world.

Hard-line support for Israel has been Haley’s one consistent foreign policy position during her political career. Beyond that, it is hard to know precisely what she believes, if she believes anything at all. Her conservatism in South Carolina seemed moderate, at least by our increasingly bonkers standards. She did not support gay marriage, but neither did she endorse a South Carolinian “bathroom bill.” She was broadly pro-business, but she also removed the Confederate flag from the state capitol in the wake of the Dylann Roof shooting in Charleston.

Why she felt so strongly about Israel is anyone’s guess—mine, admittedly, is that it began as pure political calculation, a not-so-subtle signal to the conservative Christian electorate in her state that she, a woman of Sikh heritage who still practices the faith, along with Christianity, was reliably one of them. It’s a remarkable feature of our American Christianity that regular churchgoing is lesser proof of faith than an ostentatious love of the Jewish state.

In another telling coincidence, her own original gubernatorial candidacy was saved by the intervention of that marvelous proto-Trump, Sarah Palin, who swept in to endorse Haley when she was running last in a contested primary. Then, several years later, when Trump appeared as a presidential contender, Haley began as a critic, calling for him to release his taxes and drawing his ire on Twitter, to which she famously responded, “bless his heart.” That was taken as a sign of authenticity and gumption, but in reality she was no less an opportunist than any of the rest of them, ping-ponging from Rubio supporter to Cruz partisan as they appeared to mount creditable challenges to the Trump phenomenon before signing on with Trump when the inevitable, inevitably occurred.

It is rumored that she befriended Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, at least if Michael Wolff is to be believed, and I see no reason to doubt the point. In resigning, she praised them as heroes and Kushner as a genius. I see no reason either to suspect that she was the “anonymous” author behind the masturbatory anti-Trump insider op-ed, especially given her own public writing against it. But I find it hard to imagine that she did not, like the president’s fool daughter and son-in-law, see herself as one of the real adults, a deft and more sophisticated character entirely than the volcanic, mercurial president. In this, they all resemble the bumbling gym employees who form official Washington’s opposite number in “Burn After Reading”: Greed and overestimation of their own abilities lead them—most of them—to death and destruction at the hands of the very people they think they’re outsmarting.

There are of course other rumors that Haley will mount some kind of political challenge to Donald Trump, an absolute fantasy. She will, I suspect, reinvent herself in precisely the mold of a John Bolton, a peripatetic cable news beast who will lurk through whatever modest Democratic backlash Trump’s insanity unleashes, until a cleverer and subtler fascist in the early 2020s achieves power again and brings her back into the fold. “This is our opportunity,” says Frances McDormand in one of the film’s best scenes, “You don’t get many of these. You slip on the ice outside of, you know, a fancy restaurant . . . or something like this happens.”

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Nikki Haley Resigns as U.S. Ambassador to the UN

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by MATTHEW LEE and ZEKE MILLER / The Associated Press.

President Donald Trump said Tuesday that U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley is leaving the administration at the end of the year. Trump spoke as he and Haley met in the Oval Office, shortly after word came of her plans to resign.

He called Haley a “very special” person, adding that she told him six months ago that she might want to take some time off. Trump said that together they had “solved a lot of problems.”

It’s the latest shake-up in the turbulent Trump administration just weeks before the November midterm elections. Haley’s resignation was a closely guarded secret. Congressional Republicans involved in foreign policy matters and some key U.S. allies did not get advance word from Haley or the White House.

No reason for the resignation was immediately provided. Haley, who is speculated to hold aspirations for higher office, said at the White House: “No I’m not running in 2020.”

Haley, 46, was appointed to the U.N. post in November 2016 and last month coordinated Trump’s second trip to the United Nations, including his first time chairing the Security Council.

A rookie to international politics, the former South Carolina governor was an unusual pick for to be U.N. envoy.

“It was a blessing to go into the U.N. every day with body armor,” Haley said, saying her job was to defend America on the world stage.

At the U.N., Haley helped spearhead the Trump administration’s efforts to combat what it alleged to be anti-American and anti-Israel actions by the international body.

Trump said he was considering many candidates for Haley’s job and that a successor would be named in two to three weeks.

Last month Haley wrote an op-ed article in The Washington Post discussing her policy disagreements but also her pride in working for Trump. It came in response to an anonymous essay in The New York Times by a senior administration official that alleged there to be a secret “resistance” effort from the right in Trump’s administration and that there were internal discussions of invoking the 25th amendment to remove him from office.

“I proudly serve in this administration, and I enthusiastically support most of its decisions and the direction it is taking the country,” Haley wrote. “But I don’t agree with the president on everything.”

The daughter of Indian immigrants, Haley clashed with then-candidate Trump during the 2016 campaign, denouncing “the siren call of the angriest voices” who disrespected America’s immigrants. Trump tweeted that “The people of South Carolina are embarrassed by Nikki Haley.”

“Before she was named by Trump to her U.N. post, Haley was elected the first female governor of South Carolina. She was re-elected in 2014.

As governor, she developed a national reputation as a racial conciliator who led the charge to bring down the Confederate flag at the Statehouse and guided South Carolina through one of its darkest moments, the massacre at a black church.

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