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Story highlights

Last week, Sen. Tim Scott read off a list of insults he received for supporting Jeff Sessions for Attorney General

Issac Bailey: While Scott shouldn't have been disparaged, he committed a graver sin in helping to elect Donald Trump

Editor’s Note: Issac Bailey has been a journalist in South Carolina for two decades and was most recently the primary columnist for The Sun News in Myrtle Beach. He was a 2014 Harvard University Nieman fellow. Follow him on Twitter: @ijbailey. The views expressed are his own.

(CNN) —  

No one should have more sympathy for Sen. Tim Scott (R-South Carolina) than me. As the first black man elected to the US Senate from the Deep South since Reconstruction, Scott occupies a remarkable position in Congress.

And yet when he took to the floor and read off the disgusting comments people had made about him because he is a black Republican who supported Jeff Sessions for Attorney General, my sympathies lay elsewhere.

Issac Bailey
Issac Bailey

He’s been called an Uncle Tom, a disgrace to his race and a variety of insults using the n-word that he declined to read because he didn’t think it appropriate to use that word in the Senate. It is disturbing and unfortunate that he has to face that kind of abuse for simply holding positions that many believe are not acceptable for a black man to have.

“If you’re going to be a black conservative, you will be attacked,” he said on the Senate floor. “It comes with the territory.”

I’m not a conservative but have voted for plenty of Republicans, including George W. Bush. I’ve argued that President Barack Obama should have listened more intently to the everyday white Americans who despised him, and that school choice, done well, is a legitimate educational policy. I’ve even defended the Tea Party against charges of blanket racism. Just about every time I’ve taken such a position, I’ve received the kinds of verbal assaults Scott has experienced.

That’s why I understand Scott’s frustration and why he felt moved to take to the Senate floor. The attacks were ugly, unwarranted and wrong.

But there were a couple of things lacking from his spirited speech. He placed a lot of blame on the intolerant left, when that kind of vitriol is not the exclusive domain of either side. I’ve had to have the police patrol near my home because of threats I’ve received against my job and my life from white conservatives.

And black conservatives aren’t the only black people who are attacked because of their race. Barack Obama has been questioned for not being black enough by some and too black by others, as have I.

Scott also seemed oblivious to a larger concern: that he helped make a man like Donald Trump president even though Scott knew of Trump’s many shortcomings and Trump’s desire to enact policies that would hurt people of color the most. It’s wrong that Scott was called an Uncle Tom, but worse that Trump policies have already begun causing great harm, including a de facto Muslim-related travel ban that has been put on hold by the courts.

Scott voted for Trump, a man who said he wanted the discriminatory policy “stop and frisk” to be implemented nationwide, a man who spent years trying to undermine the legitimacy of the nation’s first black president and a man who attacked a federal judge based on the judge’s ethnicity. Scott called those comments racially toxic – then supported Trump anyway.

Scott’s feelings may have been hurt by a bevy of unsavory characters on Twitter. But Scott’s decision to back Trump – even as South Carolina’s other US Senator, Lindsey Graham, refused to – has hurt more than just people’s feelings. It has endangered lives and livelihoods because of the threat of the repeal of health reform.

And Scott’s own priorities, including holding the police more accountable by officially tracking police-involved shootings, are now in jeopardy because he backed Trump and Sessions.

Scott may be the nicest man in the Senate and the nicest politician I’ve ever met. His story of overcoming challenge is inspirational. His willingness to speak about the racial profiling he has faced – even as a US Senator – and his declaring that Coretta Scott King’s words should have been allowed in the Senate are laudable.

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But none of that removes the sting from his support of Trump and policies that might take us backward on racial equality and civil rights.

It’s fine to demand a more civil dialogue when discussing our leaders, but wrong to elevate that demand above more pressing concerns – because the truth is, no matter how many unwarranted insults Scott has to endure, he’ll still be a US Senator, one of the most powerful people in the world, while the already-vulnerable on the wrong end of policies by Trump and Sessions must endure real suffering.

Scott has said it is time for a healing in America. He can start by not just calling out ugly comments on Twitter but acknowledging the role he has played in the racial divide.