Josh Hawley, the Republican senator from Missouri, formerly a rising star in his party, gambled dangerously with what he believed was the considerable political capital he had accumulated thanks to his image of a populist — a conservative fighting for the cause of the people. In recent weeks, Hawley even teamed up with Bernie Sanders in his crusade to get Congress to issue a $1,200 check to every American. Hawley’s strategy was clear: He was positioned as the youthful heir to Donald Trump’s legacy, a more serious privileged Republican capable of resonating with the vibes of the working class.
What better way to consolidate his image than to demonstrate his unbending loyalty to a waning and helpless Donald Trump? The calculation made sense on the purely strategic level. But the son of a banker who launched his career as a lawyer thanks to diplomas from Stanford and Yale will always be unlikely to break free from his status as a captive of the cultural elite he hails from. Like Trump, though clearly better educated, Hawley is a calculating egoist and a faux populist.
To bridge the gap between the elite he represents and the working class he hoped to seduce, Hawley made one gamble too many. He earned quite a few brownie points with the working class when he challenged some of the monopolies that dominate not just the US and international economy, but also its political culture. But when he decided to prove his commitment to the enthusiasts who regard Trump as the messiah by backing and actively promoting Trump’s refusal to concede the election, his misunderstanding of the movement he was hoping to seduce caused his strategy to explode in his face.
Visible Cracks in the New American Order
NBC summed it up with this headline: “Sen. Josh Hawley becomes a pariah on Capitol Hill.” Things quickly got worse. The publisher Simon and Schuster has canceled the publication of Hawley’s book, “The Tyranny of Big Tech,” which was intended to bolster his position as a bold reformer. Hawley, a constitutional lawyer and former attorney general of Missouri, feels morally offended. He has promised to take this profound injustice to court. He sees it not only as a violation of his constitutional rights under the First Amendment but also as proof that the nation has succumbed to the forces of evil and become the dystopia described by George Orwell in his 1949 novel, “1984.”
In his tweet denouncing Simon and Schuster Hawley complained: “This could not be more Orwellian. I was representing my constituents, leading a debate on the Senate floor on voter integrity, which they have now decided to rebrand as sedition.”
Today’s Daily Devil’s Dictionary definition:
The sacred principle at the core of a democracy that the manipulation of elections is only legitimate when the party that stands for the true values of the nation conducts that manipulation.
Hawley’s crime was unquestionably gross. He intended to use supposedly serious constitutional reasoning to justify a thesis that was nothing more than a conspiracy theory spread by a narcissist to whom a lot of people had vowed their loyalty. Worse, the entire nation was by then aware that the Barnumesque charade led by Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani since the November election had seriously compromised a transition that every sane person knew was necessary for the stability of the government and political continuity. Most Trump supporters were resigned to seeing Biden take over while maintaining the hope that Trump might run again in 2024.
But Hawley was so committed to his own cause that he failed to see how it would inevitably and tragically spin out of control. And when the tragedy unfolded, all he could offer was the absurdly comic show of indignation that has so often been used in the past by conservative Republicans. He complained that he was being deprived of his First Amendment rights. Because Hawley’s complaint was about a book, he could at least demonstrate that he knew something about books by qualifying his publisher’s crime as Orwellian.
Hawley has now been hauled over the coals on Twitter by commentators who point out that as a constitutional lawyer, he appears ignorant of the meaning of the First Amendment. It restricts governments from suppressing citizens’ expression, but not private enterprises from making business decisions. The moral of the story: Every tragic moment in US politics has its moment of comic relief.
In the wake of what is now referred to as the Capitol Hill insurrection, The New York Times highlights the dilemma of the post-Trump Republican Party. The Times cites Republican Senator John Thune of South Dakota: “The gulf between Republican leaders and their grass-roots activists has never been wider since the start of the Trump era.”
Hawley was hoping to bridge that gap, as have many of the younger “populist Republicans,” including serious media commentators such as Saagar Enjeti and Rachel Bovard. At the core of their ideology was the hope that the party that had always represented the financial and business elite could, thanks to Trump’s success in 2016, convince the working class that the party had their concerns at heart.
What the articulate theoreticians of the new populist Republican Party had not realized is that the basis for Trump’s seduction of the working class was little more than its blatant anti-intellectualism. Reminding us today of what he demonstrated in his book, “Democracy and Ideology,” Thomas Piketty points to the historical trend that has seen left-wing parties of the past, representing the working class, lose all connection with their former constituency. Today’s Democratic voters are, in their majority, well-educated suburbanites. Piketty has noted the same trends in the UK, France and elsewhere.
Hawley and populist Republicans like Enjeti, Bovard and Marshall Kosloff believe that their party, long identified with free market capitalism, can simply morph into the political force that will support small business by steadfastly opposing big business. Somewhat romantically, they see that as the ultimate goal of the working class. The reasoning, like Hawley’s, is strategic. After all, if the Democratic Party could shift from being Franklin Roosevelt’s radical reform movement to becoming the respectful partner of Wall Street, Big Pharma, Big Oil and all the monopolistic enterprises that have become the core of the US economy, why shouldn’t the Republican Party take up the slack and win elections by promising to improve the lives of the working class? The problem is that, whether it’s Trump, Hawley or Ted Cruz, the elite culture of their proponents has never been one that delivers on its promises.
The Times highlights the splintering of the Republican Party as Trump prepares to leave the White House. The Gray Lady doesn’t appear as willing to recognize a similar truth about the Democratic Party. Both parties have historically neglected the working class. Trump was a Republican outlier, a TV celebrity who got the attention of the working class and created the hope among party stalwarts that his voters would become loyal to the Republican Party. Bernie Sanders had demonstrated that it was possible for the Democrats, but the party’s core of corporate loyalists made sure that couldn’t happen.
And yet that opportunity for the Democratic Party is far more credible than the idea that a Trump, Cruz or Hawley can turn the GOP into the haven of the working class. The vast majority of Democratic voters support single-payer health care, ending the forever wars and taking radical action to reduce wealth and income inequality. They scoff at the presumption of Nancy Pelosi, who says, “We’re capitalists and that’s the way it is.” Pelosi is undoubtedly a capitalist in her thinking and in her lifestyle, but who is she referring to as “we?” All Americans? All Democrats? Or is she thinking of the members of Congress, who, in effect, can only run and win a political campaign by appealing to real capitalists for money?
2021 will be year two of the reign of COVID-19, which may eventually be defeated by vaccine. It will most likely also be the year when the twin towers known as the Republican and Democratic parties reveal the extent of the damage done through acts committed by their own overly strategic and insufficiently observant politicians.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news. Read more of The Daily Devil’s Dictionary on Fair Observer.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
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