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.
A parallel with ‘soft complementarianism’
The insecurity about racism Scott exploits for votes is the same underlying insecurity complementarians have regarding accusations of sexism. Everyone is aware there are overtly misogynistic men who abuse their wives by wielding their authority over them like a weapon. But when egalitarians say creating authority dynamics based on gender is sexism, many complementarians will concede there are abuses somewhere out there, while maintaining they can hold to the complementarian gender hierarchies without abusing women.
“Despite their kind smiles, soft complementarians still hold to a hierarchy of men being in charge of women simply because they are men.”
Some complementarians have gone so far as to adopt the term “soft complementarianism.” But despite their kind smiles, soft complementarians still hold to a hierarchy of men being in charge of women simply because they are men.
So while Scott may want to promote a more “optimistic, positive message” that remains “anchored in conservatism,” the question voters need to ask is whether supporting Scott’s candidacy is fundamentally subverting the cruelty of Trump or if they are merely being the political equivalent of soft complementarians with kind smiles while essentially promoting the same supremacist, hierarchical power dynamics as Trump.
Dog whistles to white supremacists
Scott’s announcement speech on Monday was filled with supremacist language. Beginning with the common trope that “America is the greatest country,” he used suggestive language that fed into the political talking points that white supremacists spread about the poor and marginalized of society.
He created such false dichotomies as:
- Personal responsibility over resentment
- The left replacing education with indoctrination
- Less CRT and more ABC’s
- Victimhood or victory
- Grievance or greatness
- Bitter or better
When white supremacists hear these dichotomies in a context where the presence of a Black man is named as unusual, they come away thinking Black people as a voting bloc tend to choose resentment over responsibility, focus on CRT rather than learning how to read, prefer being victims to pursuing financial victory, get lost in past grievances rather than embracing greatness, and decide to be bitter instead of being better.
When many evangelicals hear about education being replaced with indoctrination, their minds go to public schools embracing the existence of LGBTQ people and allowing them to be portrayed in literature.
The net result of Scott’s “optimistic, positive message” is that white supremacists get excited about their prejudices against Black, female and LGBTQ communities while feeling like they aren’t being racist, sexist or homophobic.
The politics of faith as fear-driven Christian supremacy
Much of Scott’s political messaging has to do with faith. He called his fundraising tour the “Faith in America” tour.
He said in an interview: “My foundation as an individual is one that’s formed by my grandmother, my mother’s faith. And it certainly resonated with me when I was growing up that when things are scarce, the one thing that was in abundance was faith and love.”
On the surface, that sounds quite positive.
But during his announcement, Scott claimed President Biden is leading the United States to retreat from “patriotism and faith.” He vowed: “I will be the president who stops the far left’s assault on our religious liberty. I will preserve one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
“I will be the president who stops the far left’s assault on our religious liberty. I will preserve one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
He added, “We will be the nation where we honor our Creator and respect every innocent life.”
Being a nation that honors the Creator may gain him some points with his evangelical base. But what exactly does that mean? And how would honoring evangelicalism’s God affect public policy decisions?
Scott has spoken against using the law for political power posturing. He told a group in Iowa: “The weaponizing of the law against political enemies only weakens the fabric of our country. It brings into question whether or not the laws of this country are going to be used as a weapon against those folks that we don’t like.”
But despite what Scott may think about weaponizing the law, the masses of faith-driven voters he seeks to court have bigger plans.
On Friday, April 21, Scott spoke at an event called “Faith Wins: The American Restoration Tour” at the Rising Sun Church of Christ. The Faith Wins tour was organized by Chad Connelly, who used to be the faith outreach director of the Republican National Committee. Connelly also is a guest on Lance Wallnau’s show. Wallnau is a member of the New Apostolic Reformation who invented the Seven Mountain Mandate that Christian supremacists claim gives Christians an obligation to have dominion over the seven mountains of religion, education, family, business, government, the arts and media. Wallnau also was instrumental in the promotion of Trump and in the charismatic revival fury that led to the January 6 insurrection attempt.
By showing up at Connelly’s event, Scott was courting the votes of Christian nationalists. Then two days later, Scott preached at Rising Sun and participated in a question-and-answer session with Pastor Steve Rowland.
Rowland read an audience question to Scott: “As Christ is being shoved out in America through media and government and being replaced by evil, even evil gods, how do we change that?”
“We are supposed to have the government bowing the knee to the church, not the church bowing the knee to the government.”
Scott responded: “Number one, we have to recognize that the Constitution of the United States affords each and every one of you your First Amendment rights to exercise your faith wherever you go.” Then he added, “We are supposed to have the government bowing the knee to the church, not the church bowing the knee to the government.”
In other words, despite claiming to have “an optimistic, positive message” that doesn’t weaponize the law, Scott is promoting a Christian supremacist message where the United States government has to bend the knee to Christian theology because evangelicals are afraid of the media and the Democrats.
Deconstructing Christian supremacy, no matter who promotes it
While this article focuses on Scott’s candidacy, it’s really about something much larger. Polling in the single digits at the moment, Scott is unlikely to win the nomination. But even if the Republican Party were to move on from the cruelty of Trump and adopt the vision of Scott, Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis or any other candidate, the fundamental problem of Christian supremacist power dynamics will remain.
Leaders such as Al Mohler continue to suggest using the law to prosecute sexual relationships they believe the Bible disapproves of. Others such as Kirk Cameron tap into the same fears Scott promotes to wage wars against libraries.
Until the theological framework and aim for power over others gets deconstructed, the problem of Christian supremacism will continue. And if conservatives move on from Trump to embrace more diverse candidates like Scott, it’s only going to provide a smokescreen that masks their self-awareness.
Christian supremacy harms non-Christian neighbors no matter how much racial and gender diversity the politicians espousing it have.
Rick Pidcock is a 2004 graduate of Bob Jones University, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Bible. He’s a freelance writer based in South Carolina and a former Clemons Fellow with BNG. He recently completed a Master of Arts degree in worship from Northern Seminary. He is a stay-at-home father of five children and produces music under the artist name Provoke Wonder. Follow his blog at www.rickpidcock.com.