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Amb. Nikki Haley - PODIUM -
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Amb. Nikki Haley
Amb. Nikki Haley (Bio)
(U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations (2017-2019))
I want to start by saying I am optimistic about America's future.

I know that for those who spend too much time on Twitter, it may at times look like it's all over for the American experiment.

Depending on which cable network you prefer, there is a sense that things are coming off the rails in America today.

We have our problems. There's no denying that.

But America has survived a revolution, a foreign invasion, a civil war, a great depression, the largest war in world history, and social unrest of a dozen different stripes. And we've come out stronger after every test.
We are a truly exceptional nation.

One reason things may seem dark, especially on social media and cable news, is that we have lots of people who are attempting to reject the very things that set America apart.
This is a real problem. And it's one we should strongly resist.
Our history is being attacked as a lie. Influential voices on the left claim America was founded not in freedom, but in oppression.

The idea that we must be in control of our borders is dismissed as uncaring bigotry.
Some are attempting to redefine American citizenship itself.
Ronald Reagan once asked Americans to choose between being citizens or subjects. It was the sixties. Government and liberalism were on the march. The question fit the times.

Today we face a different choice. It is a choice between citizenship and victimhood.
Our politics is becoming a contest over who's got the biggest grievance. Who's getting the short end of the stick. Who's being taken advantage of by a rigged system.

Back then, Reagan pointed to big government as the enemy, and he was right.
Today Americans increasingly see each other as the enemy. And that's not right.
Too many regard those who disagree with them not simply as wrong, but as evil. But it's hard to have government by the people and for the people if we regard each other as unworthy of even having a conversation with.

You see this a lot on college campuses. But you even see it at restaurants these days.
I can't believe I'm saying this, but sometimes it even makes me miss what passes for moral clarity at the United Nations.

My distinguished predecessor, and an AEI alumna, Jeane Kirkpatrick, said her experience at the UN left her, quote, "in every way a sadder and wiser woman about the world,"unquote.

While I rarely disagree with Ambassador Kirkpatrick, we do partially differ on this. My time at the UN certainly made me wiser about the world and sadder about parts of it. But it also made me more grateful about our country.

At the UN, I worked alongside the ambassadors of dictators and strongmen. I traveled to places most Americans will never go, and I saw things most Americans will never see.

What I saw cut through the loud and polarizing voices in our country. I saw what sets America apart - what we must protect and preserve.
When you've heard a South Sudanese refugee woman tell you about watching soldiers throw her baby into a fire -

When you've seen Venezuelan families walk for hours in the blazing sun to reach Colombia in order to receive the one meal they will have that day -
When you've negotiated with representatives of a Chinese regime that is building a surveillance state that would horrify Orwell -

When you've seen and done these things, you see just how profound the gifts are that we have received as Americans.
And they're not just for Americans. When the cameras were off at the UN, ambassadors from all parts of the world made it clear to me they envy our ability to live and speak freely.

They admire our principles.
And they depend on us to lead the world in accordance with our values.
At times, this is a much harder case to make among Americans than among nations.

 We are too caught up in our differences - whether socioeconomic, racial, or religious.
These differences increasingly define our politics. To a certain extent they should. We are very different people. And there are important differences between the political parties. We shouldn’t gloss over those differences. We should debate them vigorously.
But when we retreat into identity and grievance politics, we make the choice for victimhood over citizenship. By constantly blaming others, we reject personal responsibility for ourselves, our families, and our communities.

This choice of victimhood takes us further away from our exceptionalism.
But we can still be optimistic about our future as an exceptional nation.
Here's why.
Ninety-three years ago, on the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, President Calvin Coolidge said:

"Amid all the clash of conflicting interests, amid all the welter of partisan politics, every American can turn for solace and consolation to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States."
That statement is just as fitting today.

Equality before the law. Freedom. Inalienable rights. These are not abstractions. They are our inheritance as human beings. The Declaration of Independence outlined them. The Constitution established them as a system of government.
It is these sacred principles that make me optimistic.
They anchor our nation. And they show us the way forward.

For instance, our immigration system is truly broken. It is no longer controlled by the rule of law. It doesn't acknowledge - much less emphasize - the values that make us Americans.
The American people are justifiably concerned by both the security of our borders and by America’s place as a home for those with the dream and drive to breathe free.
People from all over the world are drawn to the United States by our exceptionalism - our freedom, our opportunity, and our belief in human dignity. My parents were among them.

They came from India to rural South Carolina in the 1960s.
My mother wore a sari. My father wore a turban. He still does today.
We were different. We stood out. And my family felt the pain of being judged by our difference.
Many Americans have felt this pain. Many have felt much worse.
But my parents refused to let it define them.
They chose citizenship over victimhood.
They came to the United States legally. They respected the right of the American people to protect their sovereignty, to be the ones who decide who can join us. And in return, America welcomed them.

Immigration is a source of American strength when it is conducted in accordance with our principles. But it must be a two-way street.
We welcome immigrants who come to America in accordance with the rule of law.
And we must call upon those immigrants to embrace our values and respect our laws in order to become Americans.

American leadership in the world is also challenged by some today. To remain strong, they say, America must give up its advocacy of freedom and human dignity abroad.
This represents a failure of memory.

A world without United States leadership does not mean a world in which our values and interests peacefully coexist with other countries.
If it meant countries could live peacefully pursuing their interests, there would be more to recommend the United States retreating from the world.

Instead, it means a world with Chinese values devoted to Chinese interests.
It means a world with Russian values devoted to Russian interests.
It means a world in which radical Islam runs rampant.

That is a dark place for American values and a dangerous place for American security.
It would be nicer and cheaper if American leadership was not needed to protect our values and our interests. Sadly, that’s not the world we live in.

If you don’t believe me, I invite you to spend a day in the United Nations Security Council.
Some of its most powerful members not only don’t share American values; they actively work to defeat them.

We faced a choice: either sacrifice our values in an attempt to win friends at the UN, or defend our values and fight some fights virtually alone.

Freedom and human dignity aren't just the right values to promote; they are our most powerful foreign policy tools. Which is why we fought for them.
We called out Russia for its violations of Ukraine's sovereignty.

We sanctioned the North Korean regime for representing a unique evil in the world: a dictatorship that is starving its own people to finance the creation of nuclear weapons.
And on Israel, after a heartbreaking betrayal by the previous administration, we once again embraced our friend and ally.

At the UN, Israel is the clearest example of this worldwide clash of values.
The only fully democratic country in the Middle East is routinely demonized as an oppressor.

The only country in the region that respects religious freedom, gender equality, and gay rights is singled out for abuse in the tragically misnamed UN Human Rights Council.

If America does not lead the way in stopping this nonsense, no one else will.
Here at home, the presidential election season is upon us. With that comes the inevitable running to the partisan barricades. That's okay. Electing a president is serious business. The two sides have very different visions for our country. We deserve a spirited campaign to debate those differences.

But here again, respect for the Constitution should guide us.

President Trump is a disruptor. That makes some people very happy, and it makes some people very mad. But if we are a country that lives by the rule of law, we must all accept that we have one president at a time and that president attained his office by the choice of the American people.

When I was in the administration, I served alongside colleagues who believed that the best thing to do for America was to undermine and obstruct the president. Some wrote about it anonymously in The New York Times. Others just did it.
They sincerely believed they were doing the right thing. I sincerely believed they weren't. 

The president was the choice of the people, in accordance with our founding charter. No policy disagreement with him, no matter how heartfelt, justifies undermining the lawful authority that is vested in his office by the Constitution.

For those who don't like the president, they are free to protest him, and many do. But if you serve in the administration, you are not free to push your personal agenda. What's at stake is not President Trump's policies. What's at stake is the Constitution.
We are a nation with a history, borders, and a common language. We are also the first nation devoted to a higher good. Our beliefs are what make us Americans. Our Constitution is what allows this great experiment in democracy to survive and thrive.

AEI gets this. You are working to restore respect for the Constitution in American life. Congratulations on your new research division for social, cultural, and constitutional studies.

Another reason I’m optimistic is because I’ve been spending time with high school and college students.
Most often, they face hostility on their campuses because of their conservative views. But they are undaunted.

They want to be leaders - specifically, American leaders. They appreciate the things that make America exceptional.
The more time I spend with these young people, the more confident I am about our future. 

These young Americans are not complacent - far from it. They understand that our ability to speak freely, to debate, to worship, and to determine our own destinies - these are things to be grateful for and preserve.

It was 1862 when Abraham Lincoln called America the last best hope of earth. Our country was more deeply divided than ever before or since.

It was a time of war for the country and a time of political peril for Lincoln. Still, he showed confidence in America's future. In his message, Lincoln asks repeatedly, "Can we do better?"

He answers his own question by reminding his countrymen and women of America's higher purpose and greater gifts: our exceptionalism.

I can't match the wisdom and eloquence of Lincoln.
But like him, I believe in the American people's ability to find our way through any challenge by honoring the beliefs that define us.

There will always be work to do to be a more perfect union.

But we will always do better if we acknowledge the truth that the world already knows about us: Even on our worst days, we are all blessed to be Americans.
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