I’m not surprised that the two senators most zealously trying to undermine American democracy to score political points with Donald Trump’s base – Ted Cruz, Texas and Josh Hawley, Missouri – are trained lawyers. That’s because I know how they were trained. Cruz attended Harvard Law School (like me) and was a member of the Federalist Society (like me wasn’t). Hawley attended Yale Law School and was president of the Federalist Society of that school. Together with Senators Tom Cotton and Mike Lee from Arkansas and Utah, they form the “Federal Society Caucus. “I’ve met apocalyptic horsemen who are less destructive.
The Federalist Society is a well-funded group of lawyers advocating a legal ideology that runs counter to a pluralistic, tolerant, liberal society. The organization advocates a theory of constitutional interpretation known as originalism, which states that in almost all cases the drafters of the constitution agreed with republican-leaning interest groups (gun manufacturers, big corporations, evangelical Christians, bigots, etc.). Its members are essentially fringe warriors of the counterculture who, after being doused in the fairy dust of the Koch brothers, are magically turned into mainstream brokers. They are organized in law schools and promise prestige and power to the relatively few law students who are ready to argue versus Civil Rights and Social Equality, and they reward these students with fantastic employment opportunities across the Republican Legal Institute. Virtually every conservative lawyer of national importance is an active member of the Federal Society or is on good terms with the organization.
In recent years, their influence has grown so great that almost every Republican presidential candidate or Senate seat pledges to appoint or confirm judges of the Federal Society. They use this promise as a whistle to signal to voters that they are against women’s rights, minority rights and LGBTQ rights without having to commit to reverse the achievements of the civil rights era through unpopular laws. This is partly because it seemed implausible to win a statewide or national office based solely on conservative extremism on standard issues (though disguised as trolling for constitutional concerns).
See you Donald Trump.
Trump has shown in two elections that there are still enough whites in this country to win a national election on a platform of white pride and “own the libraries”. Trump won in 2016 by offering a mix of white male patriarchy and economic populism, not delivering populism, and then getting even more votes for the second time, despite leading a pandemic that killed 350,000 Americans. He was only defeated (and he was defeated) by a fundamental wave of opposition, not by his politics (which is pretty standard Republican politics and cannot be told otherwise by any of these Lincoln Project folks), but by his personality. Crime and incompetence.
But Trump provided a template on how to lean into white cultural grievances and use them to foment a comprehensive attack on diversity, tolerance and pluralism within a liberal democracy. The Senate riders of the Federal Society noticed it.
As it stands now, it is so likely that Trump will run again in 2024. If he doesn’t, one can only hope that his base will splinter, as most cults do after their leader is raptured back into reality. But just in case Trump doesn’t run, members of the Federalistic Society Caucus are positioning themselves to recapture the Trump magic, this time with a stronger ideological bias.
Of those four senators, Hawley is the one who keeps me up at night. Lee doesn’t seem to want to be president, while Cruz wants it so badly that he is desperate. Cotton knocked the white predominance part down, but as his racist in The New York Times shownhe can only make headlines if he gets permission from an editor. Oh, the stations are going to have Cotton on TV because he’s going to say the crazy, but he does it in a laconic speaking style that pulsates with such obvious contempt that it gives people the Willies. Cotton is basically Stephen Miller with a train.
Only 39-year-old Hawley is the youngest member of the Senate and shows himself in his ability to generate free media headlines. He is energetic and sharp. He has become the Republican face of his party’s crusade against “Big Tech”, but for him it’s not just Twitter grievances and Parler tricks. He has taken over everything from Section 230 (the rule that protects social media companies from legal liability for user-generated content) to Mark Zuckerberg (he created an app when he had no friends) to “Lootboxes” (a Device in video games that encourages young children and adult men like me to play for real money). All of these fights make headlines, and since his opponents are generally so vile, most of these headlines are positive. I’m old enough to remember when Tipper Gore was treated like an uncool school girl for taking over the video game industry, but Hawley is treated like he’s fighting for the little guy even though both are ready to take the powers of the To use the state for the police and force private voting.
Just like Trump, Hawley has a knack for fake populism. His 2018 Senate campaign against Claire McCaskill turned him into something of a die-hard farm boy. In reality, he would likely use a silver spoon to pot a plant. He is the son of a banker who attended an elite prep school in Kansas City, followed by Stanford College and Yale Law School. From there he received a prestigious teaching scholarship to St. Paul’s School, a secondary school that has trained the WASP elite of New England since before the Civil War. And then he went to the Supreme Court where he worked for Chief Justice John Roberts.
Elite training has given Hawley a constitutional scholar reputation, but as is often the case with these FedSoc guys, his legal acumen is just a front for religious and cultural fanaticism. Hawley worked for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a law firm that specializes in bringing cases that justify discrimination in the name of religion. Hawley consulted there and wrote letters for Burwell v. Hobby lobby, the case that allowed tightly-knit corporations to discriminate against women seeking birth control. A 2019 profile on Hawley in the The new republic Illustrates that even his crusade against big tech is driven by his religious beliefs. The author Alexander Zaitchik quoted from his first speech in the Senate.
Hawley, he wrote, invoked an “epidemic of loneliness and despair … a society increasingly defined not by the real and personal love of family and church but by the cold and judgmental world of social media.”
I will blame Facebook for many things, but killing God is not one of them. Hawley’s criticism of social media as a moral black hole in our society shows what it leaves out: the role of big tech in spreading misinformation and disinformation. Republicans like Hawley want to prevent social media from spreading secular culture, but they don’t want to prevent it from spreading lies.
The replacement of secular laws with religious concerns is an essential part of the formation of federal society. After all, it was Hawley who used his seat on the Senate Judiciary Committee to declare that he would not approve a Supreme Court candidate if that candidate were not against Roe v. calf, an attitude so contrary to the concept of impartial justice that even the cowardly and two-fold Lindsey Graham would not admit it.
It doesn’t take a constitutional scientist to enforce a Christian dogma by law. It only takes an ideologist willing to give up secular principles under the guise of constitutional fidelity. Federal Society has been teaching people how to do this for decades. Hawley is one of her most eligible protégés for figuring out how to combine the now-common conservative appropriation of the Constitution with the faux-populism of Republicans who are too racist for Twitter.
Now Hawley has volunteered to play a leading role in Trump’s ongoing clown coup. There is no more pertinent charge against the ideology of Federal Society than the fact that one of its leading lights is throwing away the very foundation of democratic self-government – an election – in order to advance its legal agenda. I couldn’t have written a more fitting climax for this organization’s 40 year crusade if I had Quantum leapin Aaron Sorkin.
Like I said, Hawley knows how to do a headline. People should become more familiar with his game, and soon.