By Steve Hamelman
Senator Tim Scott began his party’s response to President Joe Biden’s address to Congress on April 28, 2021, by calling the president “a good man” whose “speech was full of good words.”
The first compliment could be applied in turn to the senator from South Carolina. His personal character seems spotless.
Not so the second compliment, especially in terms of Scott’s reflections on race.
In fact, his comments on this score were so contradictory and inaccurate as to compel us to ask: Has the tendency to misrepresent the truth become so natural after four years of the Republican Party’s obeisance to Donald Trump, whose lies numbered in the hundreds, that even the best of them don’t know when they’re mimicking him?
To answer probably is as far as we can go toward giving Mr. Scott the benefit of a lingering doubt.
These astonishing words came from Sen. Scott’s mouth: “Hear me clearly: America is not a racist country.”
This writer must firmly disagree.
The Truth About Racism
The American tragic flaw is and always has been not rampant materialism, not toxic unilateralism, not imperial ambition, and not political corruption.
It is and always has been racism.
In the annals of American history, journalism, and scholarship, institutional racism is a perennial theme. It cannot be gainsaid. It cannot be disputed. It cannot be denied.
Except, it seems, by Republicans who successfully completed four years of training in the Donald Trump Boot Camp of Willful Ignorance and Denial.
What do you say to leaders who don’t believe gun control would help to solve an epidemic of mass murder? Who believe environmental laws aren’t necessary because man-induced climate change is a myth? Who believe one percent of the population has a right to own upwards of fifty percent of the wealth? Who don’t support universal health care? Who believe that under Democratic leadership the nation is on the fast-track to Marxism? Who are convinced the 2020 election was “stolen”?
It may be impossible to reason with Republicans. On the subject of race, however, we must try. Our democracy will be forever flawed until we get this thing right.
Racists? Who, us?
As the number of police murders of Black men and women prove beyond even the faintest shadow of a doubt, institutional racism exists. (Individual racism requires a different analysis.)
Listen to Black voices—parents, spouses, children, friends, co-workers, activists, lawyers, intellectuals, and preachers—as they protest these murders and grieve the loss of loved ones in one televised case after another. How long must they invoke the names Floyd, Martin, Taylor, Bland, Wright, Brown, and Gray to bring about change?
Since this string of homicides isn’t evidence for Sen. Scott of wide-spread racism, he and his fellow senators can buckle down and do some reading, starting with “The Great Land Robbery” (The Atlantic, 2019), Vann R. Newkirk II’s study of how “one million [B]lack families have been ripped from their farms.”
Or they can learn in a 2020 study at Civil and Structural Engineer Media’s nonpartisan website of “irrefutable evidence that infrastructure has played an egregious role in inflaming racial division and inequality.”
Yes, racism was even designed into our interstate highway system.
It goes without saying that the January 6th rioters, comprised of thousands of Trump-idolators, were motivated by a white-supremacist agenda. Sen. Scott might profit from reporter Luke Mogelson’s account of the mayhem in the January 25, 2021 issue of The New Yorker, rich in detail, including the destruction of a Black Lives Matter sign, the splinters of which the mob added to their arsenal.
Racism was at the core of Trump’s orders (1) to build a Wall to keep out Mexicans (branded as rapists), (2) to implement a travel ban against Muslims (terrorists), (3) and to demonize the Chinese (COVID-carrying Communists)—this latter group experiencing a surge of hate speech (in New York City, anti-Asian incidents spiked over 200% in three months).
If such national and international news, which can be multiplied ad infinitum—we haven’t even mentioned the wave of restrictive voting acts being passed in all red states—can’t convince Scott and company of American racism, then his own words will do just as well.
He admits to having been the target of discrimination. “Liberals” themselves, he says, aren’t above such viciousness; some of them have abused him with the N-Word.
Terrible, any way you cut it.
Yet the senator is unaware that he undermines his own argument by exposing the wounds racism has inflicted upon him. Politicizing it (“liberals” are racist too) doesn’t strengthen his case.
In empty statements such as this one, he retreats further from the issue: “And it’s wrong to try to use our painful past to dishonestly shut down debates in the present.”
The best Sen. Scott can muster at this point is this tired non sequitur.
This is because speaking “dishonestly” is the default mode of all Trump-era Republican discourse. Except for rare exceptions (think Mitt Romney, Lynn Cheney, Susan Collins), a rational person can’t believe a word uttered by a member of the G.O.P.
Some Numbers for Sen. Scott to Consider
George Washington, the first American president, was elected in 1789.
In other words, 232 years ago.
Barack Obama, elected in 2008 (219 years later) was the first and only African-American President of the United States (of 46).
Kamala Harris is the first African-American vice president (of 49 total).
Tim Scott is the only African-American Republican senator (of 50), and the first to represent a southern state since Reconstruction (1865).
In other words, 156 years ago.
Make Republicans Sane Again
Senator Tim Scott is a moderate Republican who may mean well. If he’s suggesting most Americans are not racist, we heartily agree.
Nonetheless, Trumpism has rendered words like “moderate” inert. Tim Scott did not vote for impeachment. When a Republican senator decides to stand by Trump, who is a racist, then his or her opinions about racism are without merit.
That’s what blind loyalty gets you: guilt by association with a president who fomented a white-supremacist assault on the Capitol.
Many Democrats won’t question the sincerity of Scott’s optimism regarding the future of American race relations.
Republicans would be foolish, however, to think that the curse of racism will be lifted without aggressive change wrought at all levels of government, starting with the level Scott has attained—the federal.
Maybe Mr. Scott, whose prime-time speech has resulted in talk of him running for president in 2024, can take the hint and try to turn his errant party around. By choosing him to rebut Biden, his colleagues fueled his prospects.
We Democrats ask him to catch up with reality and then pass on what he finds to his denial-prone party.
It’s time for Republicans to start making sense again.
For American democracy to survive, they need to begin today.