This article originally appeared at Baptist News Global on May 25, 2023.
Republican Sen. Tim Scott entered the presidential race this week, hoping to loosen Donald Trump’s grip on the party with “an optimistic, positive message anchored in conservatism” while appealing to voters who are willing to welcome common sense and common ground.
His emphasis on being optimistic and positive stands in stark contrast to the bombastic bloviating of former president Trump. And because many conservatives have some seed of humanity buried somewhere within, there is a curiosity for the possibility of a conservatism that isn’t cruel.
But is the cruelty that has become synonymous with political conservatism in the minds of many since 2016 confined to the posture of Trump and his most ardent supporters? And could nominating someone like Scott signal an embrace of compassion that clears the consciences of conservatives whose disposition leans toward kindness? Or is cruelty built into modern conservative ideology itself?
A smokescreen of diversity
At a recent town hall in New Hampshire, Scott joked to his audience: “Listen, this might surprise some of y’all.” Then after a brief pause, he added: “I’m Black.”
“White conservatives are especially sensitive to accusations about being racist, sexist or homophobic.”
The overwhelmingly white crowd erupted into laughter, releasing the pressure of the elephant in the room. White conservatives are especially sensitive to accusations about being racist, sexist or homophobic. The presence of Scott in their midst is an unusual experience for most of them. They attend churches that are led mostly by white men. Those who attend Christian schools are typically taught by white teachers. They’re simply not used to sitting and listening to a Black authority. And yet, despite listening to white voices almost exclusively, they don’t want to be seen as racist.
So Scott alleviates their fears by emphasizing his conservative credentials and by demonizing his opponent through doing what he would typically call playing the victim card.
“When I cut your taxes, they called me a prop,” he told his supporters. “When I refunded the police, they called me a token. When I pushed back on President Biden, they even called me the N word. I disrupt their narrative. I threaten their control. The truth of my life disrupts their lies.”
Of course, if anyone uses racist language against Scott, they should be called out for it. But the purpose of Scott’s words here are not to expose the injustices of racism he elsewhere denies as a major problem. Instead, it is to put the minds of conservatives at ease.
How could anybody consider these white conservatives to be racist when they’re cheering him on? Maybe there are some racists out there somewhere, but surely not amongst Scott’s supporters, they assume.
During his announcement speech, he brought his mother and a white woman who helped them out years ago to the stage. Then he said, “For those of you who wonder if America is a racist country, take a look at how people come together.”
The message is clear. According to Scott, white conservatives need not concern themselves with racism.