Josh Hawley Sounds Like an Economic Populist. He’s Not.

The junior senator from Missouri, Josh Hawley, can sound like he has a lot in common with progressives. His schtick is to advocate for “middle Americans” who have been dismissed by the political elite. For example, here is how he ended his commencement address at The King’s College in New York this summer.

We must rebuild a culture that affirms the dignity of the working man and woman, that protects their way of life and honors their central role in the life of this country. We must rebuild an economy that will offer opportunity for every American worker, whatever degree she may have, wherever he may live—an economy that rewards hard, productive work. For that, after all, is the work that built this country. We must rebuild a democracy run not by the elites, but by the great middle of America, a democracy that allows the working man and woman to realize their God-given ability to govern themselves and help manage the life of his nation.

That is the great task of the hour.

Hawley talks a lot about breaking up monopolies—especially big tech—and emphasizes that this country needs trade policies that benefit workers rather than line the pockets of multi-national corporations. He even hits a theme addressed by Daniel Block here at the Washington Monthly when he says that America must invest “in research and innovation in the heartland of this country, not just in San Francisco and New York.”

But scratch beneath the surface and you’ll find that Hawley is nothing more than a smarter, most strategic version of Donald Trump. Just as the president’s campaign fooled a lot of people into thinking he was some kind of economic populist, Hawley is the leading elected official of a movement that calls itself “post-liberal.” Alexander Zaitchick explains.

Behind this weltanschauung is an emergent conservative tendency dubbed “post-liberalism”—a stewing amalgam of long-marginalized ideas on the right that have found new life, like ancient spores released by an earthquake, in the aftermath of the 2016 election. While the lead thinkers of this movement might more accurately be dubbed “pre-liberals,” they claim Hawley as one of their own, and it is through the prism of their crabbed, reactionary political thought that Hawley’s tech crusade is best understood.

Following a speech he gave at the National Conservatism Conference last week, the senator garnered some renewed attention, including a spot with Tucker Carlson, where the man who once described himself as a “trust fund baby” talked with the son of a banker who attended Yale Law School about how liberals are the party of elites.

The reason for the renewed attention is that, in that speech, Hawley attempted to put a more positive face on nationalism.

For years the politics of both Left and Right have been informed by a political consensus that reflects the interests not of the American middle, but of a powerful upper class and their cosmopolitan priorities…

[T]hey subscribe to a set of values held by similar elites in other places: things like the importance of global integration and the danger of national loyalties; the priority of social change over tradition, career over community, and achievement and merit and progress.

Call it the cosmopolitan consensus…

According to the cosmopolitan consensus, globalization is a moral imperative. That’s because our elites distrust patriotism and dislike the common culture left to us by our forbearers…The cosmopolitan elite look down on the common affections that once bound this nation together: things like place and national feeling and religious faith.

Hawley took some heat from the Jewish community in his home state for his constant references to the “cosmopolitan consensus,” the “cosmopolitan elite,” the “cosmopolitan class,” the “cosmopolitan economy,” and the “cosmopolitan agenda.”

Karen Aroesty, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League in St. Louis, said Hawley may not have intended to offend anyone with his speech. But terms like “cosmopolitan” and “globalist” have a sinister history as anti-Semitic dog whistles, and she said Hawley should apologize.

Hawley’s speech, “raised real concern for members of the Jewish community who are and should be acutely sensitive with increased incidents of antisemitism in the US and beyond,” Aroesty said….”For the Senator and all who have a public platform that comes with power, context matters. Words matter.”

In case you are not familiar with the history of the word “cosmopolitan,” Amulya Shankar provides us with some of its history.

It was an “anti-Semitic fighting term,” Volker Ullrich writes in his biography, Hitler: Ascent, “used against the Jews by Nazis and Bolsheviks alike.” Ullrich writes that the Jewish diaspora in Europe was “considered not only cosmopolitan, but also rootless, and in the late 1940s the term became a code word for Jews who insisted on their Jewish identity.”

James Fallows says that Hawley doesn’t get a pass on being ignorant of that history.

Perhaps you can understand why Tucker Carlson, the favorite television personality of white supremacists, is so taken with Hawley. His emphasis on the word “cosmopolitan” also aligns him the man in the White House who is most responsible for Trump’s xenophobic immigration policies, Steven Miller.

When it comes to solutions offered by Hawley, Ian Millhiser suggests that they are less political than they are cultural.

“We must work to raise up a generation united in a common love for our distinctive achievements as a people,” the senator proclaims. “We must teach our children who we are, without apology.” and we must “honor the claims of kinship and the covenant of marriage.”

America’s enemies, in Hawley’s vision, are not external. They are a fifth column of “cosmopolitans”…who “dislike the common culture left to us by our forbearers.” To thrive, America must become more chauvinistic, more insular, less open to diversity, and more tightly bound by “place and national feeling and religious faith.”

At the very least, Hawley’s vision of the ideal society is inherently segregationist — though not necessarily along racial lines so much as along religious and cultural ones. It entails a world where people stick to their own kind. “America,” Hawley claims, “is not going to become the rest of the world. And the rest of the world is not going to become America.”

Hawley’s speech, in other words, is nothing less than a direct attack on our national motto — E Pluribus Unum, out of many, one. For Josh Hawley, America’s youngest senator, our nation’s original sin is its embrace of pluralism.

For Hawley and his colleagues in the post-liberalism movement, Zaitchick writes that they seek to “cage the furies loosed by Donald Trump and put them at the service of an intellectually coherent movement without the baggage of a leader accused by multiple women of rape.” While the president has a way of emotionally triggering the same audience Hawley is targeting, the senator does so with a contrived gravitas, along with the kind of face and voice that is made for television.

It is clear that this young man has big ambitions, and regardless of all of his talk about elitists, he also has the backing of big money donors like the Koch brothers. So keep an eye on this one. No matter how much he mimics the words of economic populists, he’s a nationalist and a theocrat at heart.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.