August 25, 2020 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
No, Tim Scott is not the GOP’s future
His speech was an act of cynicism, not hope.
Tim Scott is one of two Republicans in the US Congress who is Black. The senator from South Carolina spoke Monday at the (virtual) Republican National Convention. His address was billed as an appeal to minority voters. It was also seen as a glimpse of the GOP’s future. He “presented an autobiographical account of his own life—‘from cotton to Congress,’ as he termed it—befitting a person potentially looking toward the wide-open Republican presidential race in 2024,” Buzzfeed’s Kadia Goba reported. Jay Cost, of the American Enterprise Institute, tweeted, “Why not Tim Scott in 2024?”
To the first, no. To the second, no. Sure, people said Scott was appealing to “minority voters” (read: Black), but Donald Trump’s approval among Black Americans is so small as to be statistically zero. Sure, Scott might look like a potential Republican nominee in four years. But that’s before remembering the Republican Party for the last decade has been committed to erasing the history and memory of the first Black president. Put all of this together and it’s hard to understand why grown-ups believe political fictions.
The more grown-ups pretend to believe in these political fictions, the farther we go down the road to serfdom.
Here’s who Scott was really appealing to: white voters discomfited by the prospect of voting for a president who stands openly with white supremacists, and who betrayed the country in myriads ways while robbing taxpayers blind. Scott’s objective was sending a message to these reluctant white Republicans. Accusations of racism against the president can’t be all that bad. Look, I’m a Black man. I’m a Black Republican. I’m vouching for him. I know you want to support him. It’s OK. Go ahead. And, you know, it’s the right thing to do. We need a president to protect us from destruction. They say he’s a fascist. That’s nothing compared to the radical Democrat agenda. (As Charlie Kirk said: “I am here tonight to tell you—to warn you—that this election is a decision between preserving America as we know it and eliminating everything that we love.”)
Scott’s appearance is being reported and applauded this morning as if it were a glimmer of hope for a party gone to hell. It’s not. It’s more of the same, a poisonous snow job. It’s pretending to be something the Republican Party is not for the purpose of disguising its built-in advantages (e.g., the Senate). There’s no practical need for a party dedicated to whitewashing Barack Obama to search for its antiracist soul. Our system favors the GOP structurally. The party can dismiss “demographic change” in virtual perpetuity. It can continue denying the moral and political legitimacy of a democratic majority. Given Trump’s larding of the federal judiciary, white animus will be enshrined in court precedent long after America has become a minority-majority. (If the Democrats gain control of government, they could change some of the above.)
This reality is apparent to anyone paying close attention, which is to say: I’m looking at you, beloved reporters. If the press corps is not talking about the above reality in plain English, it enables the GOP’s injurious bad faith, and so doing strengthens the authoritarianism crawling over our democracy. Lewis Gordon’s definition of bad faith is worth quoting again in this context. “It is a denial of human reality, … an assertion of being the only point of view on the world, an assertion of being the world, an effort to deny having a point of view, a flight from displeasing truths to pleasing falsehoods, … an act of believing what one does not believe, a form of spirit of seriousness, sincerity, an effort to disarm evidence, … a flight from and war against social reality” (my italics).
Consider a defining feature of Trump’s 2016 campaign, a feature he’s trying to replicate this year but to no avail—“lock her up!” Some said we don’t call for jailing opponents in America. Trump’s allies, however, said no, no. This isn’t fascism you’re seeing. All they want is accountability. Hillary Clinton, during her time as secretary of state, was responsible for the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi. Justice never came for her under Barack Obama. With Donald Trump as the president, however, justice will be served. And the campaign press corps dutifully wrote all this down.
You’ll notice that Hillary Clinton is not in prison. “Justice” never came for her. You’ll notice, too, that Trump’s supporters, most of them, are far from outraged by the more than 180,000 Americans dead so far from the novel coronavirus pandemic. (That’s 60 times the number of dead in the US on Sept. 11, 2001; that’s 45,000 times the number of dead in Libya on Sept. 11-12, 2012.) Nor are they reconsidering their support amid a major recession-depression. Clinton could never be forgiven for a situation out of her control. Obama’s economy could never be good enough. Trump, however, can always be forgiven for a situation over which he has a presidential degree of control. A million jobless claims a week, furthermore, aren’t his fault. Accountability was never the point of “lock her up!” Neither was Tim Scott’s “appeal to minorities.” The more grown-ups pretend to believe in political fictions, the farther we go down the road to serfdom.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.