My senator uses his image as a Black conservative to cover up the GOP's worst behavior

My senator uses his image as a Black conservative to cover up the GOP's worst behavior
US Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) visited RB Stall High School to speak to the student body about his experiences as a young man while attending the school. Photo by Ryan Johnson

I would tell you a story about the idiocy of one of my senators, Lindsey Graham, but you probably know it. It's about his rank hypocrisy and lying about what he'd do with a US Supreme Court opening during an election year with a Republican in the White House. Under Democratic President Barack Obama, Graham and other GOP senators held the seat vacant for more than eight months. Graham quickly switched course under President Donald Trump after Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, abandoning his previous "use my words against me" pledge, which paved the way for a 6-3 conservative court. Just recently he talked about the need to be heavily armed in case of a natural disaster and those he represents in the US Senate come to rob and murder him. Or something. I can't express how disgusted many of the moderate voters of South Carolina are, who used to believe he was a statesman. It's grating to even hear his voice or see his face on Fox News. His spiral into indecency has been stunning.

As hideous as Graham has become, we should save a bit for Tim Scott, who became the first Black man to win a Senate seat for a Deep South state since Reconstruction when he beat Democratic challenger Joyce Dickerson in 2014. Scott believes himself to be a kind of conscience of the Republican Party, a man led by his deep-abiding Christian faith who is well aware of his place in history. From time to time, he has acted on that impulse, including when he took to the Senate floor to talk about his experience with racial profiling and stopped a racist Trump nominee from receiving a lifetime appointment to a federal bench. Even in the wake of the George Floyd killing and the protests sparked by it, he led his party in an attempt to secure policing reform. His proposal seemed sincere even though it was far from sufficient the moment he declared qualified immunity for police officers, an egregious abuse of the legal system that likely fuels police misbehavior, off limits. He loves talking about Opportunity Zones (though they aren't as effective as he claims). He helped usher through a criminal justice reform bill begun in Obama's era and signed into law in Trump's.

It's Republicans like Scott who make everything tougher on a national level, because we put next to no pressure on them to do the right thing, no matter the issue. He's under no pressure to break ranks in favor of immigration reform or comprehensive background checks. He did not cross the line to vote for nearly $2 trillion in covid relief and poverty-fighting funding that will make life better for the poorest, most vulnerable residents of his state. And he has not had to answer for the odious voting rights law recently implemented by our neighbors in Georgia and being pushed by his party in nearly every state. He hasn't been pressed hard on whether Graham was wrong to have called election officials in Georgia after the 2020 election cycle. Because he's done a few reasonable things, it's given him cover while he quietly supports various kinds of injustices that are more likely to be attached to Graham and Republicans such as Tom Cotton, Ron Johnson and Marjorie Taylor Greene. Maybe that's why national political reporters seem to not even bother to hold him to account.

We know Graham has no principles. We know he's sold his political soul, even though we don't why or to whom. Maybe he's still in a state of shock because his mentor, the late American statesman John McCain, is gone. We know Graham will say whatever he can to justify whatever action he wants to take, no matter how nakedly political, full of lies or harmful to his own constituents. There's no doubt about Graham any more. He's firmly put party power over country, and he won't be changing any time soon. The next headline he generates by saying something else that's awful won't be the last.

That's why it's that much more important to stop allowing politicians like Scott to continue getting away with being just like Graham, only quieter, more stoic. Scott was just as big of a Trump sycophant as Graham was. It's just that Scott's image as a conscience-filled Black Republican has made it easier for white Republicans. The white evangelical Christians who put Trump in office, and tried to give him a second term, could rest easier at night knowing they were on Scott's side. Now he's providing cover for the GOP's anti-democratic behavior targeting Black voters, a kind of 21st-century attempt to resurrect Jim Crow, which will have an effect far beyond South Carolina.

Scott should be ashamed of that. But he doesn't seem to be.

That doesn't mean we should keep letting him get off so easily. Scott imagines himself to be better than this. We need to remind him that his actions suggest otherwise.

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