Opportunity knocks, hope answers

Opportunity Knocks: How Hard Work, Community, And Business Can Improve Lives and End Poverty, Tim Scott, Hachette Book Group, pp. 280, $27.57, ISBN: 154605913X

It’s common to look at American politics, but politics anywhere, and lament the division and lack of progress.

All camps feel like they’re losing ground.

Tim Scott – Republican Senator from South Carolina – is the counterweight to this.

A descendant of West African slaves, Scott’s memoir takes us through his journey as a lousy academic performer in school – pigeonholed like so many other young black men to either ‘make it’ in entertainment or the NFL – to small businessman, community advocate and, after learning the art of persuasion, state Senator.

Genuinely committed to public service, and not scared to explain his faith, it’s a refreshing journey, especially from a part of the world where republicans don’t share the same complexion.

“Winning a seat county-wide as a black Republican said a lot about how far we had come as a community where the Civil War started,” he writes of his first electoral race. “That kind of a win shows kids with a childhood like mine that there is a path to achieve your dreams, and I hope it brings a different perspective to the party as a whole. But on the other hand, I was not elected because I was black. I was elected because people believed in my positions, and they knew that I cared about making their lives better.”

Making lives better.

It’s this message that set the tone for his landmark and Trump-supported Opportunity Zones legislation – lowering tax to stimulate potentially billions to distressed communities.

Applying legislation like this, rather than through spending or budget ‘earmarks’, which Scott decries, demands a high degree of legislative skill.

It is, after all, an unfortunate but necessary reality that modern government reform requires scalpels and not sledgehammers. And here Scott – a confessed “numbers are my friend” kind-of-guy – brings strong acumen in finance and the impenetrable US tax code.

But while Scott knows the details, he also appreciates the elements that are more important – the fusion of history, opportunity, genuine progress and timeless principles.

“Imagine a ten-year-old boy with the grizzled hands of an old factory worker,” he writes of his grandfather that picked cotton, “and you start to get a sense for just how difficult this work was. He did this for years and years.”

“We have made much progress,” he adds. “Imagine a restaurant or a public square attempting today to have a whites-only water fountain, or black students not being allowed to attend the University of Mississippi.”

Rounding out his message of opportunity, he seems to say, is to never forget that we’ve never had it so good.

American exceptionalism, he adds, is not excessive or misplaced pride but a “willingness to sacrifice for others.”

And, of solidarity, he says “part of what binds us together as a nation is the shared experiences of our pasts. Even if you were raised in the South, growing up on a farm, you had something in common with the factory worker’s kid growing up outside Detroit.”

Part of what makes Scott’s messages so special is that these aren’t just words – he has lived them.

His disposal of putting ‘identity’ first, and seeing himself as an individual, explains why a Latino business owner helped him realise his own potential, how his best friend Trey Gowdy is a former US prosecutor and how, after carefully door-knocking a house with a Confederate flag, emerged with a ‘Tim Scott’ sign on the front yard.

“My dream is to see every single child and each family across this nation know that they have the opportunity to succeed, and that the American Dream is within their grasp.”

Sometimes, in our politics, it’s not so much the message but the package within which it’s delivered.

And if we celebrate individuals, with good positions and genuine messages of opportunity, then we’ll find not only more Tim Scotts but also our better messengers of hope.

Image source: Tim Scott Senate

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