Republican Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley is only 41 years old, but he is already relatively well-known as a political figure. This is because he is laser-focused, to an extent perhaps only rivaled by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, on attaching himself to national coverage of buzzy issues by taking provocative positions. As Missouri attorney general, he filed lawsuits against opioid manufacturers, Google, and the Affordable Care Act. As a senator, he’s grandstanded on subjects including Big Tech’s supposed censorship of right-wing opinions, democracy in Hong Kong, and Democrats’ purported theft of the 2020 election.
As the mixture of topics above indicates, Hawley is one of the younger Republicans who are trying to balance the “populist” elements of Trumpism with the intellectual-ish concerns of traditional conservatism. It’s a tricky task, which is how you get things like the party’s quickly aborted “Anglo-Saxon” caucus—and Hawley’s new public campaign against masturbation:
That’s from a just-released interview the Show-Me statesman (sorry, gross) did with Axios’ Mike Allen, who was following up on a speech Hawley delivered on Oct. 31 to the National Conservatism Conference in Orlando, Florida, in which he made some of the same points. (You have to give it to him—denouncing perversity in Florida takes courage.) Hawley’s premise is that by supporting free trade and transgender rights while condemning sexism and racism, Democrats have put white men out of work (corporate offshoring, outsourcing, etc.) while simultaneously telling them via cultural messaging that there’s nothing good about their identity. As Hawley put it then: “Can we be surprised that after years of being told they are the problem, that their manhood is the problem, more and more men are withdrawing into the enclave of idleness and pornography and video games?”
Is Hawley himself really concerned about this? Well, he recently voted against the just-passed (and actually bipartisan) infrastructure bill, whose purposes include the creation of manual labor jobs in the U.S. On the other hand, he supported Donald Trump’s 2017 tax cuts for multinational corporations who create value for themselves by laying men (and other people) off, and he’s taken almost $300,000 in campaign donations over the course of his career from the Club for Growth, which is arguably the country’s most powerful advocate for free-trade, free-market policies that protect the interests of executives and shareholders vis-à-vis the workers who they supposedly leave behind with nothing to do but [redacted] themselves like [redacted] [redacted] Jeffrey Toobin. Hawley also doesn’t support unions or living-wage laws.
At this point, though, this fake-populist combination of performative empathy and substantive indifference on economic issues is so ubiquitous as to be a cliché. The more novel development is Hawley’s effort to fit cultural backlash against critical race theory and the concept of toxic masculinity into his pitch, and then to somehow turn that into a positive call to raise robust American families with “courage and independence and assertiveness.” It’s clever, and has some resonance with ongoing discussions about strength, responsibility, and manhood in evangelical communities and on the alt-right. But it also faces strong headwinds in a Republican Party whose ascendant value—thanks to Donald Trump, but also people like Josh Hawley, who famously gave an encouraging fist pump on Jan. 6 to the QAnon-addled crowd that was about to smash through the Capitol!—is that no one should ever restrain even their most psychopathic impulses, let alone ones that are a little more, uh, routine.