early and often

Tim Scott Equates the ‘Radical Left’ With the Confederacy

Tim Scott whitewashes the neo-Confederacy at Fort Sumter. Photo: @votetimscott/Twitter

It’s not easy being a Black Republican senator from the U.S.’s all-time career-champion jurisdiction for white racism, South Carolina. But Tim Scott has the additional burden of running for president in a national Republican Party where the belief that white Christians are now prime victims of systemic discrimination is virtually an article of faith.

By undertaking the “soft launch” of announcing a presidential exploratory committee on Wednesday, Scott has signaled that he’s serious about a 2024 run. His racial identity and up-from-poverty biography are unavoidably central to his ability to distinguish himself from all of the other MAGA-tinged loud-and-proud conservatives already in or considering the race. And in the proto-stump-speech he has used in Iowa and elsewhere this year, Scott has made his personal story proof positive that the U.S. is now free of conservative white racism while accusing Joe Biden and “the radical left” of seeking to subjugate Black people via bad “government schools” (Scott is a big-time private-school-voucher proponent), high crime, inflation, and so on.

In the video announcing his penultimate step toward presidential candidacy, Scott takes this inversion of the conventional wisdom on racism to a whole new level.

Scott is obviously correct that “America’s soul was put to the test” by the insurrection that began in his own state in 1861 and that “we prevailed” after a bloody civil war. What he doesn’t take the time to mention is that it took more than a century after Appomattox to vindicate the basic idea of “liberty and justice for all” — with South Carolina’s white conservatives fighting it every inch of the way. (They were in both parties, though Scott’s senatorial predecessor, Strom Thurmond, led the region-wide defection of segregationists from the Democratic to the Republican Party in 1964.) Instead, standing in front of the cannons of Fort Sumter, Scott says that the U.S. is facing a challenge as deadly as the Confederacy:

Today, our country is once again being tested. Once again, our divisions run deep, and the threat to our future is real. Joe Biden and the radical left have chosen a culture of grievance over greatness. They are promoting victimhood over personal responsibility. And they are indoctrinating our children to believe we live in an evil country.

I will never back down in defending the conservative values that make America exceptional.

The Confederacy, of course, was the most profoundly conservative political movement in U.S. history. Its spokesmen constantly evoked ancient and early modern precedents — from the slave-based “democracy” of Athens to the aristocratic Cavaliers of the English Civil War and the enslaving founders of our own republic. But claiming the violent suppression of the Confederacy for conservatives isn’t Scott’s only 180-degree departure from reality.

He says, “When [Biden and the radical left] get called out on their failures, they weaponize race to divide us.”

Following the Emancipation Proclamation, the Union and its Republican leaders quite literally weaponized race by enlisting countless people who had been previously enslaved. The Civil Rights Amendments that Republicans imposed on the South during Reconstruction were among the most race-conscious policy instruments ever — as reflected in their application by the Supreme Court to validate the 20th century’s civil-rights laws, especially the 14th Amendment. In the wake of the passage of those laws, of course, the GOP gradually and then decisively became the party of conservative hostility to the need for any further racial-justice efforts, which Scott echoes in his self-depiction as a living testament to American righteousness:

“I know America is a land of opportunity, not a land of oppression. I know it, because I’ve lived it.”

When you look at Tim Scott’s overall platform, it’s very much the standard-brand conservative agenda of tax cuts, deregulation, school vouchers, quasi-military border-control, strict abortion bans, overturning public- and private-sector antidiscrimination efforts, and systemic, religion-based hostility to LGBTQ+ rights in any form. Scott’s reputation as some sort of sunny bipartisan “optimist” is belied by his harsh culture-war message that Biden and Democrats are deliberately pursuing a “blueprint for ruining America.” He appears to be more of a Reaganite than an America Firster when it comes to foreign policy, but in that and other respects, the only thing that separates him from fellow South Carolinian and announced 2024 candidate Nikki Haley (to whom he owes his original Senate appointment) is his personal “story.” And even there, Haley, as an Asian American, has her own version of it. So it’s not surprising to see Scott double and triple down on the claim that his life proves the “lie” of American racism. It’s his signature in what will be a long-shot candidacy not only against Haley but the likes of Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis.

You don’t have to doubt Scott’s sincerity to observe that white conservatives love to be absolved of racism by Black voices. It’s one important reason why Black men with far fewer credentials for the White House than Tim Scott (who has been in Congress for 22 years) like Herman Cain in 2012 and Ben Carson in 2016 had briefly viable presidential candidacies. So there’s an avid audience for Scott’s distortions of U.S. history, in which racism died long ago and today’s progressives (not the Republicans who are still defending Confederate monuments) are neo-Confederates. Unfortunately for Scott, the 2024 Republican field will be full of candidates eager to whitewash conservatism and gaslight the country.

Tim Scott Equates the ‘Radical Left’ With the Confederacy