The bug-eyed MAGA red hats who pack Donald Trump rallies aren’t attending political events so much as a worship services, with Trump as the angry white tribe’s messiah. And while Trump may be a blovating racist, a narcissistic despot, a cowardly liar, an unfit sociopath, and a gelatinous greedhead, he’s not American fascism’s chosen one.
In the theology of American democracy’s collapse, Trump is John the Baptist, paving the way for an actual totalitarian theocrat who would pull the lever for the trap door that would leave the American Republic swinging in the wind. Trump is too weak, too vain, and too greedy to pull it off. Over decades, he’s made too many dubious deals, laundered and spent too much dirty money, and hurt or swindled too many people for his past not to blow back on him.
Trump will do a substantial amount of damage and, eventually, he’ll be gone. But the 63 million people who elected him will still be here. They want white so-called Christian order. The next object of their affection will learn from Trump. He (and it will almost certainly be a he) will be smooth, well-groomed, telegenic and, when the occasion calls for it, even soothing. He’ll be smooth, young, focused, and not prone to the man-baby fits of temper that have revealed Trump’s core weakness. And he’ll believe in the same autocratic despotism as Trump.
Enter Josh Hawley.
The lean, square-jawed, 38-year old Stanford and Yale law school grad taught at St. Paul’s School in London and lived in D.C., clerking for U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and practicing law with one of the capital’s old silk-stocking firms before re-discovering Missouri on a map and moving back to his birth state in 2015, just under the residency deadline to run for attorney general in 2016.
Hawley even picked up cred from the people who still think reasonable, soft-spoken, bow-tied Republicans still exist by attaching his political barnacle to the hull of the Danforth name and fortune. Episcopal priest and former Republican U.S. Senator John Danforth, heir to a fortune because his grandfather’s horse and cattle feed business morphed into Ralston-Purina, describes himself as Hawley’s “mentor,” the same word he used to describe his relationship with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. And despite his self-proclaimed reputation as a “moderate” Republican, Danforth has sponsored two men who represent what used to be the far-right extreme of GOP politics.
Even though Hawley has endorsed all of Trump’s positions, from his white nationalist border crackdown to his abuse of power and incendiary racial rhetoric, he resembles Vice President Mike Pence more than Trump. Pence, in addition to fawning over Trump’s authoritarianism, is a white Christian nationalist, probably best known before Trump as the Indiana governor who supported a law requiring funerals for aborted fetuses.
Hawley’s religious extremism wears a Brooks Brothers suit and a Yale Club tie, but it has the same dangerous, apocalyptic world-view as Pence, Franklin Graham, and any other huckster who expects Jesus to return any minute now wielding a fiery sword as the flames of End Times consume the world.
In a 2012 essay for the Patheos religious blog, Hawley disguised crackpot theology with $50 syntax when he wrote, “Isn’t immanentizing the eschaton precisely what Christian citizens should be doing?”
“Immanentizing” means “to make something immanent or immediate”; “the eschaton” means “the final event of the divine plan, the end of the world.” Hawley was arguing that so-called Christian citizens should do everything they could to speed up the arrival of End Times, so the final battle between good and evil can be waged. Then believers will be transported skyward in the Rapture, and the Earth will be left as a lifeless cinder floating through space.
Remove the Ivy League pedigree and the polysyllables, and you have an extremist vision the Taliban or ISIS would easily endorse. Later in the essay, Hawley wrote, “Government serves Christ’s kingdom rule; that is its purpose.”
These aren’t metaphors. These are a precise, clear statements of intent to create a Christian nationalist state. But just as Muslims, Jews, and non-believers are excluded from this theocracy, so are progressive Christians and the social justice gospel of many black churches.
If Americans should have learned any lesson from Trump’s campaign, it’s that when an oligarch tells you what he intends to do, don’t laugh. Listen. Trump made it clear what sort of strong-man, racist rule he intended, and he did just that. So when Hawley writes that government is created to serve conservative Christian ends, listen up.
Hawley’s said that birth control is pretty much the same thing as abortion and that sex trafficking was caused by the sexual revolution of the Sixties. He’s said Trump’s clearly racist immigration restrictions and crackdown are necessary for American security. He has verbally and literally embraced Trump, and his actions reveal an extremist political core that makes him Trump’s perfect heir.
Investigations by both the Kansas City Star and the Post-Dispatch revealed that right-wing political consultants took over much of the day-to-day operations of the Missouri Attorney General’s Office almost the moment Hawley was inaugurated. Running the office as a springboard for Hawley’s national political ambitions rather than as the state’s top prosecutor cost Missouri taxpayers tens of millions of dollars in unnecessary lawsuit settlements.
Hawley successfully argued the Hobby Lobby case before the U.S. Supreme Court, so now employers can refuse to cover birth control in employee’s insurance plans because of so-called religious objections. Hawley’s still-pending lawsuit would overturn ObamaCare and allow insurers to deny coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.
Hawley’s public persona is so smooth, polished, and telegenic that he can take bad policy and deliver it with a calm certainty, not Trump’s volcanic tantrums.
John the Baptist was smart enough to recognize the chosen one when he saw him. Trump’s not. We should be. Josh Hawley is American fascism 2.0.
Charles Jaco is a journalist, author, and activist. Follow him on Twitter at @charlesjaco1