Everything junior Missouri Senator Josh Hawley does, day in day out, is an exercise in sneering opportunism. Maybe he loves playing the right-wing bad boy, gobbling up airtime, stoking cultural outrage, alongside the relentless smirking he does into the black hole of whatever he imagines his future consists of. We know, he knows, that the most resonant image of him is from Jan. 6, his fist aloft supporting those who led the violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. He shouldn’t hold a position of any power.
In May, the Washington Post traced his political path up to that moment, and to where he is now—a Republican who feels his far-right crown is nigh. Here, through the looking glass we find ourselves in, Hawley’s shamelessness is being rewarded.
His latest beat, presumably to drum up funds and right-wing clicks, is to gaslight anyone who will listen about masculinity—or more specifically what he calls the Left’s attack on masculinity. This, like a lot of what Hawley says, is a cobbled-together, non-thesis made up of absurd claims, lies, and baseless insults. But if it keeps the coffers full, and his face on any TV screen anywhere, then Hawley judges it worth his time and energy.
And so to the National Conservatism Conference in Florida last week, where Hawley first joked about the media calling him “a racist, a fascist, or a Nazi.” He didn’t answer any of these charges or address his past words and actions. He merely made a joke about being saddled with the labels that he said made him think what did he “have to lose” by attending the conference.
First, it is telling he would attempt to make a joke about being widely held to be a terrible human, implying he clearly doesn’t care if you think any of those things about him may be true. Then there is the fact there is not a laugh-line here, or in his terrible idea of a joke about trick-or-treating with his kids while dressed up as Attorney General Merrick Garland, “threatening parents” with retaliation if they don’t do as they were told.
Even at the National Conservatism Conference, this barely raised a laugh, but Hawley was only getting started. As is by now rote in right-wing culture wars, he invented a thesis—that the Left had declared war on men and masculinity. Then he made up that the Left was winning this imaginary war. Then he made up that conservatives were victims of it—when the truth is they have successfully stymied progress in LGBTQ and other minorities’ fights for equality over the years. Then he wound himself up to a bubbling cauldron of passion about this utter load of nonsense he had invented.
When the Right has nothing to say, nothing to fight on, they have a culture war. The next elections will be about these wars, with convenient bogeymen summoned into timely existence—in the Virginia gubernatorial race we saw it around Critical Race Theory, and to that we can add trans kids playing sports or seeking proper healthcare. (Hawley reframes discrimination against trans teenagers as “the bizarre war on women’s sports.”)
The war is strange, mostly because of the fake mantle of victimhood Hawley and other bullies assume. They are the ones with power, yet claim powerlessness as they simultaneously punch down on the more marginalized and vulnerable. Raise a word against them, and they whine about being “silenced” and “canceled.”
At the National Conservatism Conference, Hawley said the Left was attempting to “give us a world beyond men,” and that they were currently in control of the “commanding heights of American society… This is their hour, and they’re determined to use it.”
None of that is true. The Right has waged a relentless war on social progress, and equality legislation—and are in the ideological ascendant in Republican-controlled state legislatures, while maintaining they are somehow the victims should any objection be raised to their constant malign policy-making and bullying.
It was also telling that Hawley had nothing to say about his own sweeping claim that “the Left” sees America as “systemically racist, structurally oppressive, hopelessly patriarchal.” Instead, he moved on to declare that the Left was involved in “the deconstruction of American men.”
It was “the Left” in Hawley's telling who wanted to redefine traditional masculinity “as toxic.” It was “the Left” who demonized courage and assertiveness, which they see as “a threat to society.” This patchwork of lies and nonsense was why—no evidence provided—Hawley made another massive rhetorical leap into the idea that men somehow are in crisis.
If Hawley really cared about American men struggling with their identities and purpose, he might consider the benefits of paid family leave. He might consider how workplaces and social structures would be better engineered with equality between the sexes in mind. He might look to a massive overhaul in how we live and how are paid that would benefit both men and women.
But no. Hawley wants to conjure up his fevered imagining of an idealized vision of gender relations. “Can we be surprised that after years of being told that 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?” he asked—without considering that there is nothing wrong with any of those three things in moderation.
But also: where are the statistics proving this? Where is any evidence? If Hawley is right, what is he arguing for? Male primacy? That the only thing to restore male pride is excessive male privilege.
It is instructive that what is missing out of Hawley’s future vision is women. Presumably they are expected to accommodate whatever is necessary to rescue men from their darkened rooms of 24-hour-a-day masturbation and gaming.
Whatever. The Left hasn’t attacked “courage, independence, and assertiveness,” as Hawley claimed. This, he said, had “long been regarded as vital to self-government. Observers from the ancient Romans to our forefathers identified the manly virtues as indispensable to political liberty. We must seek a revival of strong and healthy manhood in America. We need the kind of men who make republics possible.”
How to put this? We do not need any lectures on “manly virtues” from someone who himself undermined the democratic ideals of this country less than 12 months ago, and who when he poses for photos near farm equipment does so in the worst manly-virtues drag imaginable—ironed jeans and freshly pressed shirt. Josh Hawley is the antithesis of manliness, masculinity, or indeed anything any thinking man would ever aspire to be.
The gaslighting continued, as it always does for this dweeb who’s never happier when, in front of an audience, is lying about being silenced. “I’m not here tonight to tell you that men are victims,” he said. “The last thing we need more of in the United States today is the victim mindset.” This is precisely what he had been claiming in his 26-minute, cretinous speech.
Hawley wasn’t done. Asked about his verbal spew on Axios on HBO, he said that, “I think what the Left is doing is attacking America. They’re saying America is systemically oppressive, and we are systemically responsible.” Here, Hawley identifies yet another piercing social question, and yet again does not answer it.
He hopes it sounds absurd. He hopes we will harrumph as he does over its absurdity. But no. It just hangs there, unanswered, and not as absurd as he hoped. He claimed “the Left” was telling men, “You’re part of the problem. ... Your masculinity is inherently problematic."
Question: Who has said this on the Left? When?
“As conservatives, we've got to call men back to responsibility,” Hawley said. “We’ve got to say that spending your time not working… spending your time on video games, spending your time watching porn online… is not good for you, your family, or this country.”
Hawley seems so stuck on the issue of playing video games and watching porn online—why? Is this something he knows about personally? Where is his evidence this is a wider social problem? Has he got statistics, or has he been going around his neighborhood, covertly watching men through bedroom windows in their boxer shorts?
He says his idea of a man “is a father… a husband. A man is somebody who takes responsibility.” Does this mean he does not see gay, bi, trans, and heterosexual single men, or men without children, as real men? How many men fall short of Josh Hawley’s rigorous standards? Say there are men who like a couple of beers when they are out, but, gently buzzed, don’t betray their country when they get home? Are they real men?
Republicans have got to tell men to stop playing video games and watching porn, he said. Hmm, I’m not sure this is going to win a lot of male votes in the upcoming election, and when Axios asked Hawley—as I pondered above—for actual proof to back up his creepy theorizing he muttered something about “many years” of policy-making.
Ah yes, the “Men Must Masturbate and Play Video Games” legislation under Obama. We remember it well.
“I think you put together lack of jobs, you put together fatherlessness, you put together the social messages that we teach our kids in school, I think we’ve got to confront that and its effects,” Hawley said. This comment almost has some sense threaded in it, but again he leaves the questions it raises unanswered—and Hawley was also not asked what kind of policies he was advocating for to see his conservative vision through.
In the Axios interview, Hawley was asked about his support of the insurrectionists. “I don’t know who came into the Capitol or not. If they did come into the Capitol and they violated the laws, they’re criminals, and they should be prosecuted—and they’ll get no support from me.”
His actions speak otherwise. In his lectures about what it takes to be a real man, what threshold of personal responsibility must be met to meet his standard of masculinity, Josh Hawley has singularly failed to practice what he preaches.
My only advice to Hawley’s constituents, particularly the men of Missouri, is to keep their drapes tightly shut at night. One never knows who might be outside, looking in.