U.S. Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri has the leadership acumen to succeed Donald J. Trump as the President of the United States. Yet he’s the youngest current U.S. Senator to take office at age thirty-nine after running a spirited political campaign. Hawley is a conservative of the heart, imbued by the populist spirit of the Trump campaign, and possessed of considerable fealty to working class Americans in the “Great American Middle.” As a practical matter, Hawley — as a political statesman — may in the long-run better exemplify the populist nationalism of Donald J. Trump than Trump himself. Hawley has the prescience to diagnose the profound social crisis of our time, the vision to articulate the basis for reform with “the new politics of national renewal.” Hawley possesses the political capital and wherewithal to carry the imperative of needed conservative reform forward. Hawley seems less likely to persist in Trump’s proclivity for self-congratulations and likely to take action.
Consider his recent op-ed article published in The American Conservative, entitled “Restoring the Great American Middle.” Herein U.S. Senator Josh Hawley articulates a spirited populism that fits the mood of the Republican political base that has been galvanized to action by the campaign themes of “Make America Great Again.” He acknowledges that there’s something deeply flawed about the status quo and he points to the time-honored values of a both recent and distant past whereby Americans were drawn together. This nostalgic past was animated a spirit of amity and patriotism, adherence to Christian moral norms as the societal standard, a profound sense of rootedness in one’s local community, and a willingness to cherish strong traditional patriarchal families.
Hawley opens by pronouncing the predicament of modern America, declaring boldly: “We are in crisis—a loss of respect and work, the decline of home and family, an epidemic of loneliness and despair.” Hawley sees this predicament as profound in its consequences.
Though educated at both Yale and Stanford, Hawley appears imbued by a sense of noblesse oblige, the notion that the well-to-do must possess a sense of duty and social obligation to those who are less fortunate. What separates him from the elites is that Hawley identifies with the values of “the Great American Middle,” which constitutes the middle/working class that powers the economic engine of the United States. He opens by declaring, in part:
I grew up in a small place in the middle of Missouri, a town called Lexington that sits atop the bluffs of the Missouri River along old Highway 13. It’s a simple place, but a proud one. Union and Confederate soldiers clashed there early in the Civil War, and the town cherishes that memory, proud to have mattered in the nation’s history. People there believe they matter still, that their way of life represents something valuable to America.
Having identified with small-town America, Hawley connects his native Lexington, Missouri to the rugged pioneering spirit of hard work and family values that built the United States from its impetus:
These are the people who explored a continent, who built the railroads, who opened the West. These are the workers whose labor launched the Industrial Revolution and whose ingenuity made the American economy the marvel of the world. These are the families that have rallied to this country’s flag at every hour of danger, and who shoulder the burden of defending our nation even now.
Hawley proceeds to identify a social crisis emanating from American civil society’s retreat from the values and spirit of “the Great American Middle,” in declaring, “But the great middle who made this country hasn’t been respected by its leadership class for too long.” Here indifferent elites and their policy prerogatives are rightly correlated with the contemporary despondency and dissolution of the stability of “the Great American middle.”
Hawley sounds a trumpet blast of opposition to indifferent elites: “For decades, the ruling elite who controls the country’s commanding heights—the media, academia, Hollywood, and of course government—have embraced priorities starkly at odds with the values and needs of the American middle.” Herein he points out the elite opposition to the traditional nation-state, casts derision upon their aversion to populist economic nationalism, and Hawley highlights elite rejection of Christian religious values in favor of “skepticism,” and surmises their preference for radical social engineering agendas over the spirit of strong local communities: “They favor globalism over national solidarity; social change over community; skepticism over faith.”
Hawley’s prognosis is reality-based:
“Washington has followed their lead, avidly promoting a politics of elite values and elite ambition. For thirty years or more, the policies of both parties have favored the wealthy and the well-educated who live in our mega-cities, and those who aspire to join them. But if your ambition is not to start a tech company but to work in the family business, to serve not on a corporate board but with the local PTA, Washington tells you that you don’t matter and you’re on your own.”
All of this is deemed problematic, and the solution rests not with the customary indifference to the middle, but recognizing the profound role of bad public policy in effecting such economic, political, and social outcomes by perverting incentives, negating stability, rewarding failure, punishing success, subsidizing immorality, and diminishing opportunity.
(Incidentally one Major League problem that the Republican Party has faced in modern times is the stereotype (somewhat emanating from reality) that the leadership of the political party is simply apt to reflect the economic interests of the wealthy and affluent who are often out-of-touch with the American middle, if not actually indifferent to their interests. Romney embodied the stereotype of an indifferent, out-of-touch Richie Rich Republican who lacks the character to look out for “the Great American Middle,” whether during his days as an investment banker at Bain Capital or while playing the politician. The message of these Romney Republicans are inevitably at odds with the articulation and understanding of the social crisis of our age in Hawley’s op-ed “Restoring the Great American Middle.”)
For Hawley, “the Great American Middle” is the bastion of America’s original success. Dormant within it are the values needed for effecting America’s renewal — all manifest in cultural, economic, political, and spiritual terms. Hawley notes that America’s success historically depends on the stability and prosperity of “the. . . Middle”: “Our broad and popular democracy depends on the American middle. Without it, we decline toward hierarchy, oligarchy, and the rule of the elites. That decline is already well underway.”
Hawley stands athwart his Republican contemporaries inside the D.C. Beltway who forever identify the interests of the rich and powerful with the American middle class by default. Make no mistake, the Trump campaign was a success in large part because it articulated a message that resonated with “the Great American Middle” in its frustration with Richie Rich Republican elites no less than the limousine liberals, progressive social engineers and Marxist radicals of the Democratic Party.
Hawley notes by implication that much of the nation’s recent economic growth is channeled into the coffers of America’s elite class, but seldom translates into a rising quality of life, and increased earnings for “the Great American Middle” who are left to grow more despondent, suicidal, unstable, and economically insecure year-over-year. “This economy was made by the people who profit most from it, our leadership class of C-Suite executives, big banks, big tech, and D.C. policymakers.” During the financial deregulation of the 1990s that led to the financial sector meltdown of the 2000s, incentives were in place for CEOs to pilfer their companies by running up debt in order to inflate short-term stock appreciation, and buoy their executive compensation bonuses at the expense of their shareholders, the long-term financial stability of their companies, and the macroeconomic stability of a nation. We see the persistence of this problem in stock buybacks that accompany the Federal Reserve’s loose monetary policy; and all of the monetary expansion is channeled into the coffers of the rich who have near zero-interest rates, while the middle class is allowed to languish with diminished earning power amid rising food, energy, and health care costs. American founding father, Gouverneur Morris observed, “The rich will strive to establish their dominion and enslave the rest. They always did. . . they always will. They will have the same effect here as elsewhere, if we do not, by the power of government, keep them in their proper spheres.” It belongs to we, the people to bridle the influence of these indifferent elites with: (a.) their Social Darwinistic sink-or-swim neo-liberal economics, (b.) their policy preferences that esteem illegal aliens over citizens, (c.) degenerate Hollywood values that have diminished the greatness of our nation and the morality of our people, and (d.) sapped the vitality of “the Great American Middle” of which Senator Hawley speaks.
Hawley’s elucidation upon the perilous consequences of Washington elites is worth quoting at length:
But in places like the one where I grew up, the good-paying jobs are moving overseas or south of the border or maybe to cities on the coasts. And once-vibrant towns decline, taking with them the network of neighborhoods, schools, and churches foundational to middle class life. ¶ The crisis is as much social as economic. The American middle is battling an epidemic of loneliness and despair. Fewer young people are getting married or starting families. Drug addiction is surging. The opioid menace has ravaged every sector, every age group, every geography of working people.
¶And everywhere, deaths of despair are mounting—among farmers, among soldiers, most shockingly, among the young. The young are the hope of our society, but in America today they are choosing to take their own lives in alarming numbers: for teenage girls, the suicide rate doubled between 2007 and 2015. The leadership class frequently notes that our nation has never been richer, but the tragedy of youth suicide betrays a profound poverty of hope.
Hawley highlights the alienation and despondency of America’s youth. His bleak prognosis and penetrating concluding analysis notes: “The sum of it all is that too many Americans are losing their standing as citizens.” We see this manifest in the Democratic Party’s proclivity for advancing the interest of illegal aliens at the expense of “the Great American Middle” and “citizens” in general. “They are losing their voice in the life of this nation.” We see this in the prevailing voter fraud and the voting patterns of recent, left-leaning naturalized immigrants who are frequently at odds with America’s cultural core. “And that means they are losing their liberty.”
Because being a free person—being an American—isn’t just about what you can buy. It’s about the pride that comes in supporting your family; it’s about contributing to your community; it’s about looking a neighbor in the eye and knowing you’re his equal. ¶It’s about respect. And too many Americans aren’t getting it.”
Indeed the American elites have no respect for “the Great American Middle,” and they’re actually hostile to it. This has been manifest in the imprudent remarks of misnamed so called ‘conservatives’ like David French of the National Review and Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard who profess the wish that the ‘white trash’-working class would simply die off, and be replaced by some mythical hard-working immigrants. Yet the statistical reality is that nearly two-thirds of immigrants are here for the welfare programs.* Money spent on illegal aliens displaces social capital available for our own citizens. As Hawley notes, this has been the result of the conscious political choices of indifferent elites. Now is the political hour for a populist political leadership to do its part to sweep away the influence of these indifferent Romney Republicans who represent the interests of the elites at the expense of “the Great American Middle” in asymmetrical fashion. Hawley rejects the neo-liberal economic orthodoxy so popular with elites. “The leadership class tells us that all of this is the result of forces beyond anyone’s control. That’s a convenient excuse, but a false one.”
Indeed as Polayni quipped “laissez-faire was planned,” and the abandonment of the American middle class to the unfettered, unregulated, cowboy capitalism of the neo-liberal, globalists, which was the product of conscious political choices, and it has profound implications for the economy it creates, and there are certain aspects of this global capitalism that are profoundly negative as it pulls apart families into atomistic particles. The detached individual in this malaise simply cannot cope with life alone absent the historical support structures of the intermediary institutions between the individual and the state — what Burke referred to as “the little platoons” and Alexis de Tocqueville dubbed “corps intermédiaires.”
Hawley dismembers the alibi of the elite in attributing the social crisis, that they sparingly acknowledge, to elite policies: “In fact, today’s economy and today’s culture reflect the deliberate choices of the elite.” Allowing illegal alien invasion was a choice as well: “Opening our borders to a massive influx of low and unskilled labor was a choice.” Advancing globalist neo-liberal policies while America’s manufacturing base imploded and high-wage jobs disappeared was a choice: “Incentivizing multinational firms to move production overseas was a choice.” Acting as though an Information Economy can replace an economy whose foundation of productivity relies upon the manufacture of actual tangible goods was a choice: “Favoring social media giants over domestic manufacturing was a choice. Each of these choices was opposed by our middle class. And in each instance, the elites didn’t care . . .” Here Hawley calls out the elites for their callous and conscious indifference. “The legacy of these [elite] choices is clear to see: national division and national decline.” The elites are indeed culpable for the American decline, and they aggrandize themselves financially and politically in asymmetrical fashion at the expense of “the Great American Middle.” “It is time we made different choices to benefit different people, the people who actually sustain this country, the American middle,” notes Hawley in a spirit of determination to buck the trend.
Today, it belongs to “the Great American Middle” to replace our current elites with a class of populist statesmen like Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri. Hawley has called for “the new politics of national renewal.” He notes, “We must begin by rejecting old orthodoxies—unfettered trade at any cost; a permissive immigration system; a tax code that favors corporate tax shelters and corporate offshoring; economic policy that rewards concentration—and put American workers first.”
Hawley’s economic vision is one rooted in the aphorism “America First,” as he articulates the ideal “new politics” with breathtaking clarity: “That means we must think more carefully about what economic success looks like. GDP growth is important, but it cannot be the sole measure of this nation’s greatness. And so it cannot be the only aim of this nation’s policy.” We cannot continue to countenance policy that aggrandizes the rich and powerful, while the middle languishes and is hollowed out. Hawley declares, “For our purpose is not to make a few people wealthy, but to sustain a great democracy. That means sustaining the workers and families who make democracy possible. And for that, we need not just a bigger economy, but a better one.”
Returning to his theme of worker solidarity, he notes, “We need a labor market that offers dignified, rewarding work to every worker who wants it, wherever they are from, whatever degree they have, whether their ambition is to start a business or simply to start a family.” Josh stresses the importance of encouraging “business investment in workers rather than capital hoarding,” which “will drive new opportunities to the towns and neighborhoods of the American middle class.” Hawley invokes the spirit of Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, as he notes that “neglect” must yield to efforts to “strengthen the associations that give working Americans control over their lives: neighborhood councils, schools, churches, and co-ops.”
Hawley stresses pro-natalist policies encouraging the procreation of strong, traditional families, and he notes the need of public policy that: “prioritizes strong marriages and strong families, where children know their parents and are nurtured by their love. That means parents and families should be rewarded and prioritized by our tax code. . .”
Hawley closes with a clarion call for Americans to possess “a better understanding of liberty.” Taking aiming at the libertarian ferment that reduces liberty’s calculus to the decisions of autonomous cogs in the machine, Josh Hawley prudently surmises, “For in the end, liberty is more than selling or buying or the right to be left alone. It’s the ability to have a say, to have a stake, and together, to set the course of our own history. That is the promise of our founding revolution, and that is the promise we must renew for this day.”
These “new politics of national renewal” are exactly what the United States needs. We should expect more leadership from Senator Josh Hawley, and get behind his presidential aspirations to run for the White House. If Hawley hasn’t proposed running for the presidency, someone should suggest it.