Sen. Tim Scott, speaking on Hilton Head, calls for nationwide civility, talks impeachment

Days after the end of Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina visited Congregation Beth Yam on Hilton Head Island to encourage people with differing views to talk to each other. He spoke Thursday evening of the racism he experienced growing up, blaming evil on the perpetrators, not the president at the time.

Deep polarization has damaged the country, he said. “A tribal America is a dangerous place to live.”

Scott, a Charleston Republican, was invited to speak at the congregation as part of the Judie Aronson Initiative, a lecture series that focuses on social justice. He repeatedly said he was not there to “talk politics,” but when pressed by reporters, he called out Democrats for overreaching on their impeachment inquiry. He acknowledged that he wouldn’t have made the call to Ukraine as President Donald Trump did.

Noting the purpose of the event, which bears the name of a former teacher and organizer of the island’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day activities, Scott admitted he probably didn’t share the same views as many in the audience. But he said it’s important for him to go into spaces where his ideas aren’t always popular.

“The smaller the public forum, the more similar the ideas presented there,” he said.

During his time on stage, Scott also honored the father of the event’s emcee, a World War II veteran and part of “the Greatest Generation.”

An African American and a Republican, Scott called himself “a unicorn,” and told the packed room that speaking to people with different views keeps the American democracy healthy.

“One of the places where we are failing as a nation is that two-thirds of Republicans and Democrats don’t talk to folks who are not a part of their party,” he said. “Think of how that trickles down into race relations and all the issues we face as a country.”

Scott discussed being called racial slurs in high school, saying he wouldn’t have blamed the president in office at the time for the discrimination.

“When I was coming into high school,” he said, “I was getting kicked on football fields and called the n-word, notes in my locker and spray paint on different places in my life, that was the evil in one’s heart: the person who did it.”

Before his public address, Scott responded to questions from local media about the impeachment inquiry brought by the U.S. House of Representatives into President Trump.

He was critical of the process.

“We should take the process of impeachment very seriously. I have not seen that so far in the House,” he told The Island Packet.

The inquiry was launched by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on Sept. 24 after a whistleblower reported Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate business dealings tied to Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son earlier this year.

Asked if he thought what the president did was wrong, he said “I wouldn’t have done it, but is it impeachable? No.”

Scott and his staff recovered seven wartime medals that belonged to the father of the event’s emcee, Rabbi Brad Bloom. Oscar Bloom, who Scott said was part of “the greatest generation,” served in the military from January 1941 to June 1946.

When presented with the medals, Rabbi Bloom became instantly emotional.

“The tears will flow later,” he said. “Thank you so much.”