Josh Hawley, the senator perhaps best known for cheering on the crowd of Trump supporters storming the Capitol on Jan. 6, is refashioning his political identity around the idea that the United States is in disarray because men are no longer men. What exactly does he mean? He can’t really seem to articulate it. It’s definitely the Democrats’ fault, though.
The Republican from Missouri made his case most recently Sunday night on Axios on HBO. “The left is attacking America,” Hawley said. “They’re saying that America is systemically oppressive and men are systemically responsible.”
Hawley defines a man as “a father, a husband, someone who takes responsibility,” and says men need to start working and stop playing video games and watching porn. The Democrats are to blame, he says, because of job-killing policies that leave men with nothing to do but sit around and … fall short of Hawley’s version of masculinity. (The jobs report released last week found that unemployment dropped to a pandemic-low 4.6 percent in October, exceeding expectations.)
Hawley has been doing this for a while now, and with no more specificity than he managed in his interview with Axios.
“The left wants to define traditional masculinity as toxic,” he said last month at the National Conservatism Conference in Orlando. “They want to define the traditional masculine virtues, things like courage and independence and assertiveness, as a danger to society.”
It should go without saying that no one — not the Democrats or the even-more-ominous “they” — is decrying courage, independence, or assertiveness. The only significant example in popular culture of some perversion of these traits falling under the umbrella of “toxic masculinity” is in the context of sexual misconduct, or at least the type of entitled-to-everything mentality that leads to it.
It’s difficult to tell why exactly Hawley’s idea of masculinity is a prerequisite for a successful nation other than because he says it is. He cites the “ancient Romans,” but last time we checked things didn’t work out so well there. He also cites America’s forefathers, but as Hawley tells it things aren’t working out so well in the United States, either. This isn’t because the ingrained patriarchal values that have over 300 years led the nation to its current point of crisis. No, it’s because Joe Biden is allowing people to put an X on their passports instead of a male or female designation.
The lack of substance behind Hawley’s newfound obsession with men isn’t surprising. There isn’t much substance behind any of the Republican Party’s cultural appeals to the suburban and rural voters they’re trying to convince that the Democrats want to destroy America. Glenn Youngkin based his Virginia gubernatorial campaign around banishing critical race theory from the state’s schools despite the fact that critical race theory wasn’t even taught in the state’s schools. Youngkin was still able to defeat establishment mainstay Terry McAuliffe, but if Hawley wants to attain higher office — many believe he’s eyeing a run at the White House in 2024 — he’s probably going to need to come up with something better than championing bros’ rights.
He at least has a history of idolizing masculinity. The New York Times reported earlier this year that when Hawley was a student at Stanford, he hung above his bed a sepia-toned poster of a shirtless, handsome, very muscular male model cradling a baby. Hawley told the paper he didn’t remember the poster but that “he’s proudly pro-life.”