This week Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) delivered a speech at the National Conservatism Conference where he discussed the state of American politics today. Senator Hawley also addressed the growing divide between cosmopolitan elites and the rest of America and the need for policies geared toward the great American middle.
Speech text as prepared for delivery:
As we gather tonight, we face a nation divided, a political class paralyzed, the old political programs in shambles, the future uncertain. For we have come again to one of the great turning points in our national history, when the fate of our republican government is at issue.
And I, for one, am eager, because it is time we talked once more about first things.
And I, for one, am hopeful, because in the heart of this nation American strength has not failed. It is only waiting to be recognized, to be called upon, to be given voice. And that is our challenge, and that is our duty, in this hour.
Let’s be frank. For too long now, this country has been badly led. We have been governed by a political consensus forged by a political class that has lost touch with what binds us together as Americans. And it has lost sight of the basic requirements of liberty.
Since the days of the city-state, the republican tradition has always viewed self-government as a project bound to a particular place, practiced by citizens loyal to that place and loyal to the way of life they share together.
But the reigning political consensus shows little interest in our shared way of life. Worse than that, it denigrates the common affections and common loves that make our way of life possible. It undermines the kind of labor and economy on which our way of life depends.
For all intents and purposes, it abandons the idea of the republic altogether.
In its place, the leadership class have tried to build a new state in their own image, one that exists cut off from our history, separate from our shared beliefs—beyond borders and beyond belonging.
That project has failed. And what they have left us instead is the curse of faction.
The great divide of our time is not between Trump supporters and Trump opponents, or between suburban voters and rural ones, or between Red America and Blue America.
No, the great divide of our time is between the political agenda of the leadership elite and the great and broad middle of our society. And to answer the discontent of our time, we must end that divide. We must forge a new consensus.
We must recover and renew the dream of the republic.
That work begins with a clear assessment of where we stand.
For years the politics of both Left and Right have been informed by a political consensus that reflects the interests not of the American middle, but of a powerful upper class and their cosmopolitan priorities.
This class lives in the United States, but they identify as “citizens of the world.” They run businesses or oversee universities here, but their primary loyalty is to the global community.
And they subscribe to a set of values held by similar elites in other places: things like the importance of global integration and the danger of national loyalties; the priority of social change over tradition, career over community, and achievement and merit and progress.
Call it the cosmopolitan consensus.
On economics, this consensus favors globalization—closer & closer economic union, more immigration, more movement of capital, more trade on whatever terms. The boundaries between America and the rest of the world should fade and eventually vanish.
The goal is to build a global consumer economy, one that will provide an endless supply of cheap goods, most of them made with cheap labor overseas, and funded by American dollars.
But it’s about more than economics. According to the cosmopolitan consensus, globalization is a moral imperative. That’s because our elites distrust patriotism and dislike the common culture left to us by our forbearers.
The nation’s leading academics will gladly say this for the record.
MIT Professor Emeritus Leo Marx has said that the “planet would be a better place to live if more people gave [their] primary allegiance ‘to the community of human beings in the entire world.’”
NYU’s Richard Sennett has denounced what he called “the evil of shared national identity.”
The late Lloyd Rudolph of the University of Chicago said patriotism “excludes difference and speaks the language of hate and violence.”
And then there’s Martha Nussbaum, who wrote that it is wrong and morally dangerous to teach students that they are “above all, citizens of the United States.” Instead, they should be educated for “world citizenship.”
You get the idea. The cosmopolitan elite look down on the common affections that once bound this nation together: things like place and national feeling and religious faith.
They regard our inherited traditions as oppressive and our shared institutions—like family and neighborhood and church—as backwards..
What they offer instead is a progressive agenda of social liberation in tune with the priorities of their wealthy and well-educated counterparts around the world.
And all of this—the economic globalizing, the social liberationism—has worked quite well. For some. For the cosmopolitan class.
Whom it has not served are the people whose labor sustains this nation. Whom it has not helped are the citizens whose sacrifices protect our republic. Whom it has not benefited is the great American middle.
Because in this bargain, foreign competitors get to make the goods, and we just buy them. And then they buy up American companies with the profits.
And yes, in this bargain there are lots of jobs—jobs on Wall Street, or in Hollywood, or in Silicon Valley. Because the truth is, the cosmopolitan economy has made the cosmopolitan class an aristocracy.
At the same time, it has encouraged multinational corporations to move jobs and assets overseas to chase the cheapest wages and pay the lowest taxes.
And it has rewarded these same corporations for then turning around and investing their profits not in American workers, not in American development, but in financial instruments that benefit the cosmopolitan elite.
And where has this left middle America?
With flat wages, with lost jobs, with declining investment and declining opportunity. We don’t make things here anymore—at least, not the kinds of things a normal person without a fancy degree can build with his hands.
And small towns like the one where I grew up in middle Missouri struggle and disappear—and a way of life is lost.
And it’s not just the small towns that struggle.
Just about any American worker without a four-year college degree will have a hard time in the cosmopolitan economy.
Maybe that’s one reason why marriage rates among working class Americans are falling, why birth rates are falling, why life expectancy is falling.
All the while an epidemic of suicide and drug addiction ravages every sector, every age group, every geography of the working class.
Theodore Roosevelt once wrote that “the Roman Republic fell” when “the sturdy Roman plebeian, who lived by his own labor, [and] who voted without reward according to his own convictions” ceased to exist. Our present-day leaders seem determined to repeat the experiment.
Is it any surprise that in the last half century, as our leaders have pursued a program the American middle does not espouse, does not support, and does not benefit from, that public confidence in American government has collapsed?
Is it any wonder that American voters regularly tells pollsters they feel unheard, disempowered and disrespected?
Because who now listens to the American middle? The cosmopolitan agenda has driven both Left and Right.
The Left champions multiculturalism and degrades our common identity. The Right celebrates hyper-globalization and promises that the market will make everything right in the end, eventually … perhaps.
In truth, neither political party has seemed much interested in the American middle for quite a long time. And neither has seemed much interested in the republic the middle sustains.
But the old political platforms have grown stale. And the old political truisms now ring hollow. The American people are demanding something different, and something better.
It’s time we ended the cosmopolitan experiment and recovered the promise of the republic.
Let’s start with this. America is not going to become the rest of the world. And the rest of the world is not going to become America.
We are a unique nation with a unique history and a unique purpose in the world.
That history began 2000 years ago, when the proud traditions of the self-governing city-states met the radical claims of a Jewish rabbi, who taught that the call of God comes to every person, and the power of God can work through each, so that every human being has dignity, and standing, and can change the world.
And so the idea of the individual was born.
And our first forbearers brought that radical conviction to these shores and reshaped the republican tradition.
They built a new republic governed not by a select elite, as in the days of old, but by the common man and woman, grounded on the premise that it is the common man and woman who are the noblest of citizens.
And now we must carry their work forward.
We must recognize that a republican nation requires a republican economy, because citizenship is not just a title, it is a way of life. To be a citizen requires independence, it requires the power to participate in your community, to provide for your family, to make your own decisions.
And for those things, our citizens need work. They need jobs. And they need them in the towns and communities where they live, not just in the cities on the coasts.
Because a good job is about more than good money. It’s about being able to make your own life. It’s about being able to build a home. It’s about being able to look your neighbor in the eye and know that you’re their equal. And we need those jobs in America.
And that will require change. Because an economy driven by money changing on Wall Street ultimately benefits those who have the money to start with, and that economy will not support a great nation.
So we need new thinking and new policies to bring the work that makes for citizenship to every person in America willing and able to work.
That means encouraging capital investment in the great American middle, in our workers, not just in financial assets.
That means investing in research and innovation in the heartland of this country, not just in San Francisco and New York.
That means challenging the economic concentration that stifles small producers and family enterprises.
That means new pathways for skills and job training, so Americans can get the tools they need, and the respect they deserve, without the mountain of debt that the higher-education monopoly now imposes—and I have proposed new legislation to this end just today.
It means trade policies that put American workers first, that prioritize them over cheap goods from abroad, that encourage the real production of real things here, and not just arbitrage schemes by the great corporations.
It means an immigration system that rewards and nourishes American labor rather than devaluing it.
And this is only a beginning. Because work must be our priority and work must guide our policy. Economic growth is important, and rising equity prices are well and good, but above all we must get good work for the American people, the kind of work that makes self-government possible.
And we must rebuild our sense of shared purpose and belonging. Because self-government cannot exist without these either.
Our national solidarity has been broken by the globalizing and liberationist policies of the cosmopolitan agenda. Now we must forge it anew.
And so at this moment in our nation’s history, we must work to raise up a generation united in a common love for our distinctive achievements as a people. And that means we must teach our children who we are, without apology.
We must join together to renew the bonds of family life, to honor the claims of kinship and the covenant of marriage. Marriage should be prized in our national policy, not penalized. And from taxes to healthcare, families should get the support and pride of place they deserve.
To rebuild our common purpose, we must protect our communities of faith. Because religious faith has fueled our history and shaped our aspirations and bettered our society.
It is not the role of government to promote Christianity or any religion. But let us be clear: our government should not hinder or diminish religious expression. We need strong religious communities, active in civic life, protecting the vulnerable, defending the weak. Because these communities have helped make us who we are as a people.
In all this, our aim should be clear: to renew the way of life on which our republic depends, to renew the great American middle who make our republic possible, to renew our common venture in freedom as a people.
There is much work to do. There is much need to meet.
But there is much cause for hope.
For in the heart of our society, American strength has not failed. The kind of people who built this nation are here still, waking early and working late, manning the fire department and coaching the Little League, helping the neighbor who just lost a spouse, donating their gas money to a needy family halfway around the world.
They are there, living with the dignity and quiet grace that is the hallmark of the American people. And they are waiting to be summoned.
I wonder if you remember the story of Horatius at the bridge. It happened in the early days of the Roman republic, sometime around 500 BC. The Etruscan army, the story goes, marched on Rome to invade, and the Roman defenses were caught off guard.
Eventually the fighting coalesced around a bridge leading across the Tiber into the city. All was chaos. The Roman generals, surprised and unsure, were falling back. The city seemed in great peril.
But a junior officer named Horatius thought otherwise. He saw that if the Roman army could simply hold the bridge long enough for the city to reset its defenses, the republic could be saved. So as the senior officers retreated, he advanced.
Macaulay tells us that as he charged to the front line, Horatius looked over his shoulder to the hills of Rome, and glimpsed his own home there, and knew it was worth defending. And so he took his stand.
We know, with the benefit of history, that the Roman republic was still quite young. Its most glorious day were still ahead. But Horatius didn’t—couldn’t—know that as he took up his position. He knew only that
To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds
For the ashes of his fathers
And the temples of his gods.
Now we too need courage in our nation’s moment of need. Now we too need bravery born of love for the place we call home. For our republic is yet young, and our greatest days are yet unwritten—if we will stand.
So let us stand together, let us stand for love of country and hearth and home, let us stand with the conviction of Horatius. For —
In yon strait path a thousand [men]
May well be stopped by three:
Now who will stand on either hand,
And keep the bridge with me?