I’m not sure I’d want to be held accountable for anything I wrote at fifteen years old, not that I remember much. But I’m quite sure I never, then or since, spoke up in defense of militia movements.
Especially not in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people.
But then, I never had a regular column in my hometown newspaper. Josh Hawley did. Lexington MO. Age fifteen.
A precocious brat even then, he was sure that “Many of the people populating these movements are not radical, right-wing, pro-assault weapons freaks as they were originally stereotyped.”
He goes on to say that a lot of Americans were “drawn to anti-government organizations” out of “genuine concerns” about federal overreach.
Right. Timothy McVeigh, wiring up his bomb, all verklempt about federal overreach.
Young Josh also used this small-town forum to stand up for Mark Fuhrman. Remember him? The L.A. cop who became famous for his racial slurs, which were testified to in the trial of O.J. Simpson? “In this politically correct society,” Hawley wrote, “derogatory labels such as ‘racist’ are widely misused, and our ability to have open debate is eroding.”
He was equally disdainful of affirmative action programs, which he called a “perverted racial spoils system.”
Hawley was clearly going places. Stanford. Yale Law. Clerked for John Roberts. Elected attorney general of Missouri in 2017. Defeated Claire McCaskill to take over her Senate seat in 2018 — which does not speak well for the people of that state. And from all reports, he regards his current job as one more rung on a ladder to the presidency.
Since the January 6 insurrection — where he famously raised his fist in support of the mob — Hawley has enjoyed a certain well-earned infamy.
He snuck up on us. While he has all the shape-shifting traits of his most oleaginous Republican colleagues, he’s considerably more dangerous. Because of all the right-wing politicians trying to take over Trump’s base, Hawley is arguably the one best equipped to do it. Unlike the rest of his intellectually bankrupt party, he actually has a brain. And that makes him scary.
The word ‘populist’ was attached to Trump early in his run for president, and it was always bullshit. To Trump, populism was never more than an opportunity to exploit the holy rollers, neo-Nazis, and other wingnuts with whom he had nothing in common — and for whom he had nothing but contempt. He portrayed himself as a man of the people, even though anyone with half a brain could see it was a con. With the exception only of his kiddie concentration camps on the Mexican border, his agenda was never much different than Mitch McConnell’s: tax cuts, deregulation, and screw anyone who’s not rich.
Hawley is another story. He’s a real live evangelical Christian whose ideas — and he actually has some — are much closer to those of working-class Americans than any Republican in decades. Which makes him as dangerous to McConnell’s GOP establishment as he is to the rest of us.
He fancies himself a deep thinker, and has published some things that, if you didn’t know better, you might confuse with, say, Bernie Sanders. Like this, from Christianity Today in 2019:
…if you don’t have family wealth and don’t have a four-year degree—and that’s 70 percent of Americans—well, the future is far less glowing. These Americans haven’t seen a real wage increase in 30 years. These Americans are fighting to hold their families together, as divorce rates surge. For these Americans, healthcare is unaffordable. Drug addiction is growing. And too many of their local communities, especially rural ones, have been gutted as industry consolidates and ships jobs away.
While it’s certainly startling to see any Republican admit there might be real problems in Middle America, Hawley falls short of proposing any realistic solutions. Even if he had, there’s no room for realistic solutions in today’s GOP.
Still, he has managed to poke some not-particularly-sharp sticks at big pharma and its role in the opioid crisis. He’s been fairly vocal about unfettered social media usage and the abuses of Facebook and Google. He has introduced bills in the Senate to regulate tech companies. And he was indeed one of the few Republicans who came out in support of Trump’s $2,000 Covid checks.
None of these things went anywhere — Republicans don’t regulate, and they certainly don’t give a damn about Covid relief. But by speaking out on these issues, Hawley stakes his claim as a man of the people.
On the other hand, despite his complaint that “healthcare is unaffordable,” he is happy to kill Obamacare. As an attorney general, he signed onto the Texas lawsuit that wants to do just that. And just like the rest of his party, he has nothing but widespread death to replace it with.
Beyond that, the racist opinions he voiced as a teenager have not been notably tempered. His stance on immigration is not far removed from Stephen Miller’s. And his views on abortion, contraception, gay marriage and any other issue of personal choice is roughly in line with those of Amy Coney Barrett.
It is, in fact, personal choice itself that gets him the most worked up. The quote above is from an article in which he roundly condemns Pelagius, a British monk who lived in Rome about 1,700 years ago.
Pelagius — who wasn’t available for comment — had the audacious notion that people should be free to choose their own destinies. Which sounds sort of like a founding principle of, say, the United States. But for Hawley, this is where everything went wrong, where humanity went irretrievably off the rails.
Without getting into the weeds of this bizarre argument, he basically rejects the entire notion of free will, which, he says, alienates us from family, tradition, and the church.
Catherine Stewart, writing of Hawley in the New York Times, describes him as believing:
“… that a right-minded elite of religiously pure individuals should aim to capture the levers of government, then use that power to rescue society from eternal darkness and reshape it in accord with a divinely approved view of righteousness.”
And just to be clear, those “religiously pure individuals” are not Muslims or Jews or Zoroastrians, let alone atheists. For Hawley, it’s Jesus or nothing. And the penalty for being a non-Christian needn’t wait for the afterlife — as far as he’s concerned, we’re all damned already.
And we might well be. Because for all the faux populism we’ve seen in the last four years, Hawley comes closest to being the real deal. The case he’s trying to make — as oppressive as it is — could actually appeal to that addled base of Trump voters.
What power those voters still carry going forward is anybody’s guess. And Hawley could be guessing wrong in courting them.
But he’s betting he’s right.
So while I can’t really see Pelagius being trashed on Fox News any time soon, I do expect to hear a lot more from Josh Hawley. And I don’t expect to like it.