Some call her a “rockstar” in the Republican Party. That term does not do her justice. The rockstar image usually does not call to mind such qualities as poise, grace, and wisdom. The two-term Governor of South Carolina is something different. She is an icon, a shining example of what our leaders could and should be. She took a horrible event, the shootings in Charleston– done allegedly by a deranged, racist individual and shaped it into an opportunity to bring the people of her state closer together.
Instead of erupting in racial violence as has happened too often in our country recently, Charleston and the State of South Carolina chose do draw upon their deep well of Christian forgiveness and reconciliation in order to heal from this crime of racial hatred. It was truly amazing the grace shown by the members of the Mother Emmanuel AME Church and the surrounding community in forgiving the man who stands accused of gunning down nine of their brothers and sisters in Christ. Amazing also was the actions of their Governor, who seamlessly fit herself into the role of healer in chief for a grieving community. Another, lesser Governor might have used the occasion to call for stricter gun control, or recite empty platitudes against racial hatred. Not Nikki Haley, she spoke to her fellow citizens showing the same grief and sadness at what had occurred as they.
It was not long after pictures came out of the alleged attacker holding up a Confederate battle flag, that the press sensing a chance to attack Republican presidential candidates, began to ask them of their opinion of keeping the Confederate flag on the South Carolina State House grounds. It was a no-win scenario for any candidate that would answer it– either say it should go and thus undercut their party’s states-rights position and risk the ire of an early primary state, or say it should stay and be portrayed as being indifferent to racism. Governor Haley’s response put an end to all of that. By calling for the flag’s removal, she took that issue off the table for the 2016 election. In a speech announcing her decision to recommend the flag be removed from the State House grounds altogether she astutely acknowledged both sides of the argument:
“There will be some in our state who see this as a sad moment. I respect that. But know this: For good and for bad, whether it is on the statehouse grounds or in a museum, the flag will always be a part of the soil of South Carolina.
But this is a moment in which we can say that that flag, while an integral part of our past, does not represent the future of our great state. The murderer now locked up in Charleston said he hoped his actions would start a race war. We have an opportunity to show that not only was he wrong, but that just the opposite is happening.”
On Friday, the Confederate Battle flag was removed in a simple, yet respectful ceremony. The symbol that divided South Carolinians was gone, and so was the issue from the 2016 election. It is hard to imagine how a sitting Governor could have handled it better. Where so many others of her peers have resorted to more divisive rhetoric, she chose instead to bring people together. Where others were quick to demonize their political opponents or attribute blame, she reached out with compassion and understanding to all sides. Such a contrast were her words and actions to what we often see coming from the White House, other state houses, and many city halls when faced with horrible, racially charged events such as the shootings in Charleston.
The actions and spirit of South Carolina and her Governor should humble and perhaps even embarrass the rest of us. How many of us would have responded to such a tragedy as the members of the Mother Emmanuel AME Church, with their displays of forgiveness towards one who murdered their fellow church member? How many other communities have, or might have been torn apart under similar circumstances? How many other Governors, Republican or Democrat would have struck the exact right healing tone, then had the guts to make a controversial decision and do it in a way that respected the sensibilities of both sides? No, Nikki Haley is not a rockstar, she is an example of what our leaders could be, if they truly learned to become servants of all their constituents, rather than just those who elected them.