Politics & Policy

Josh Hawley Is Calling You Stupid

Senator Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., October 14, 2020. (Ken Cedeno/Reuters Pool)
His political fortunes are tied to a bet that voters won’t think clearly.

Are you a Republican voter? Do you plan to participate in the 2024 presidential primary? If your answer to these first two questions is “yes,” I have a third: Aren’t you angry?

Almost daily, Josh Hawley, the lean and hungry legislator who helped incite an attack on his own place of work, intimates that a majority of Republicans are stupid. Make no mistake: The senator from Missouri is guilty of far more than pandering or misleading to appeal to “the base” on occasion. Your presumed ignorance and gullibility are the driving forces behind his every move.

The latest insult came on Thursday, only a day after a conspiracy theory not only boosted by, but acted upon by Hawley — a Yale Law School graduate who didn’t believe for a moment that the election was stolen by Democrats, or that it could be stolen by Republicans in Congress during the certification process — resulted in an attack on the U.S. Capitol building. But for Josh Hawley, the greatest tragedy of this past week is not that there was a failed insurrection egged on by the president of the United States. It’s that Simon & Schuster, the erstwhile publisher of Hawley’s forthcoming book, The Tyranny of Big Tech (Big Tech is another issue where Hawley assumes your ignorance), announced it would not move forward with the project. Here was Hawley’s response:

This could not be more Orwellian. Simon & Schuster is canceling my contract because I was representing my constituents, leading a debate on the Senate floor on voter integrity, which they have now decided to redefine as sedition. Let me be clear, this is not just a contract dispute. It’s a direct assault on the First Amendment. Only approved speech can now be published. This is the Left looking to cancel everyone they don’t approve of. I will fight this cancel culture with everything I have. We’ll see you in court.

If it’s a constitutional claim that Hawley is planning on making in court, he can expect to have about as much luck as the Trump campaign has had in recent months. Simon & Schuster’s decision is neither Orwellian nor a violation of the First Amendment, much less a “direct assault” on it. The government is not restricting Hawley’s speech. He is free to find a publisher willing to associate itself with him. I believe that Simon & Schuster should not have canceled this contract, as America is better off when its institutions abide by the spirit and not just the letter of the First Amendment. But the company is under no constitutional obligation to associate with Hawley. I can certainly understand why it would not want to after Wednesday’s events.

The objective of Hawley’s statement is obvious: to take this personal event, which has occurred as a direct result of his own behavior, and to make Republicans feel as if this was a personal attack on them and their beliefs. It was not. But remember: Hawley’s political fortunes are tied to a bet that voters won’t think clearly. A bet that he is all-in on after continuing to object to the certification of the election by Congress even after the assault on the Capitol.

Most insidious about Hawley’s assumption is that it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. When conservative officials such as Hawley and the disgraced Ted Cruz — leaders we’re supposed to be able to trust — propagate conspiracy theories, that signals to voters that these theories are or may be true. Conspiracy theories are natural, and laymen’s belief in them does not automatically make them stupid. We all have busy lives, and most Americans are unable to spend their every waking moment staying apprised of every political going-on. They rely on officials of their own ideological bent to tell them the truth. When those officials lie for perceived political benefit, it has consequences. Consequences made more serious by motivated reasoning and an inclination to believe the worst of “the enemy.” Consequences that are sometimes even bloody.

Much is made these days, especially by Senator Hawley, of “the elites” and their supposed disdain for regular Americans. For many years, and particularly since Donald Trump secured the Republican nomination in 2016, Senator Mitt Romney has been branded such an elitist. But Romney spoke far more wisely on this subject than Hawley on Wednesday: “The best way we can show respect for the voters who are upset is by telling them the truth!” Indeed. The older you get, the more facts of life your parents let you in on. It starts with Santa Claus, and it only gets more depressing from there.

I have one more question, then. What’s more condescending and scornful: truth or deceit?


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