It’s Worse When They Know Better

I tend to attribute a significant percentage of America’s governance problems to either stupidity or ignorance. Those aren’t the same thing; ignorance is simply a lack of knowledge, and it can be remedied by providing individuals with the relevant information. Stupidity, on the other hand, is an inability to understand or learn–lack of intellectual capacity.

When we view the antics of the loony-tune members of the misnamed “Freedom Caucus,” we are mostly looking at people who either lack intellectual capacity or who are too emotionally disabled to grasp complexity, nuance or the difference between fact and fiction. Or both. (Which raises significant questions about the people who voted for them, but that’s a separate issue….)

Policymakers who simply don’t “get it” can do a lot of harm, but generally, that isn’t their intent. They just don’t know what they don’t know.

The people who make my skin crawl, however, are those like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, elected officials who dishonestly pander to the MAGA cult despite clearly knowing better.

Hawley recently raised eyebrows with a phony Patrick Henry quote.It was actually a quote from 1950’s white supremacist paper that Hawley attributed—surely knowingly—to Patrick Henry.

When people responded by pointing out the falsity of the attribution, Hawley tweeted that he’d “owned the libs” and appended a quote supportive of Christian Nationalism, this time attributed to a speech by John Quincy Adams, “The Declaration of Independence first organized the social compact on the foundation of the Redeemer’s mission on earth.”

Now, Hawley attended Stanford as an undergraduate. He went to Yale Law School, where he was on the law review. It is highly unlikely that he is unaware of the wide variety of religious beliefs held by the nation’s founders. As the linked article notes, they ranged from guys like

Patrick Henry, who went around handing out Bible tracts and whose theology seems to have been something that would still be recognized as “evangelical Christian” today. There were guys like George Washington, who belonged to the Anglican Church but attended services at a variety of churches and was deliberately vague about endorsing any particular form of religious belief. There were a large number—including Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, Ethan Allen, and James Monroe—who styled themselves as Deist. To get a couple of Founding Mothers into the mix, Abigail Adams and Dolly Madison were also Deists….

The truth is that a diligent search by anyone seeking to find a founder who agrees with their own view can almost certainly find it, because those guys had a lot of very different views on religion. That includes Franklin, who just didn’t seem to think about it much, and who when religious friends told him he should study up and get himself “saved” near the end of his life, informed them that he didn’t think it was worth the bother as he would know the truth soon enough.

Just about the only thing this diverse group really agreed on when it came to religion was that they wanted to keep it out of their government. Their own experience with state religions of all types showed that religion was harmful to the state, and the state was harmful to religion.

While the linked article does a good–and factually correct–job of correcting the record, what it doesn’t do is speculate about the motives for Hawley’s particular form of dishonesty. Those motives confound me.

It is one thing for an intelligent man to be conservative (although in all fairness, today’s right-wingers are radicals, not conservatives). It’s another thing entirely to knowingly and intentionally lie–and worse, to choose a lie that is blatantly obvious and easily challenged–in the service of Christian Nationalism.

An article in Vanity Fair pointed out that Hawley–who also fancies himself an expert on “masculinity”– helped spread Trump’s election lies. In fact, Hawley’s lies have kept Politifact busy. But being routinely called out on those lies hasn’t deterred him.

One study of habitual liars found that the more a person lies, the easier it becomes for them to prevaricate, which in turn makes them more likely to lie. Clearly, Hawley–and Cruz and others like them–believe that pandering to a MAGA base composed primarily of people who lack the knowledge to recognize the falsehoods will serve them politically.

People who know better probably aren’t their voters anyway.

If this behavior is, as it appears, the result of cold calculation, it’s chilling. Unlike the Congressional dingbats, politicians like Hawley and Cruz are by definition very bad people, and the evil they do is anything but inadvertent.

Evidently, power really is an aphrodisiac.


  1. “If this behavior is, as it appears, the result of cold calculation, it’s chilling.” Sheila; how can you question “IF?” this is a cold calculation? The current UNconservatives are going about their cold, calculated bullying the way Hitler went about seeking his “final solution” to the Jewish problem by doing away with all humanity in government. The House pissing contest is seeking out those who were most obviously upholding their Oath of Office by protecting democracy to call before them to “question” their actions of indicting and prosecuting those who used criminal tactics to aid Trump and his White Nationalist, pseudo christian party. Even their placement of the few women in positions of authority have a sexist base; look at who those women are and their actions. They are an embarrassment to women and will be removed if or when the UNconservatives reach their goal of power and control.

    “The people who make my skin crawl, however, are those like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, elected officials who dishonestly pander to the MAGA cult despite clearly knowing better.” These are intelligent, deliberate actions taken by Cruz, Hawley, Gaetz, Jordan, Taylor-Greene and currently slyly hiding in the shadows, Mitch McConnell.

    “People who know better probably aren’t their voters anyway.” Your term “probably” is again questioning the whys and wherefores of the actions of all of them who are seeking out those the party KNOWS do not know better for their money and their votes. And they appear to be winning using these tactics.

  2. The religious beliefs of the nation’s founders are irrelevant. They consciously and specifically prohibited the establishment of a national religion by including that prohibition in the Constitution’s First Amendment. They knew persons who were the 18th Century version of Cruz and Hawley, power-hungry politicos who pander to the small minded. The Constitution is the decisive and only reference of importance to this issue.

  3. I remember watching Trump on TV when he was getting 24/7 media coverage as President. I noticed that he was positively gleeful when he was telling the most outrageous and hurtful lies. When he attacked others with demeaning nicknames and false accusations, he visibly swelled with pride. As you point out, there is something worse than either ignorance or stupidity. It is the evil of a sadistic personality. He pulled like-minded people up out of the gutter and gave them a home in the modern Republican Party.

  4. Sharon; and he is still applauding himself with those small, stubby fingered hands.

  5. Power and money…selling out to billionaire oligarchs is a quick way to become a millionaire. All they have to do is pander to the MAGA base, stop progressive legislation, and pass along tax breaks and funding for billionaires’ pet projects.

    A decent free press would crush these buffoons, but the press is controlled by the same billionaires controlling the politicians.

    Finally, Ivy League diplomas aren’t what they used to be either. 😉

  6. Pretty interesting that a bunch of folks claiming to “Christians” are so willing to violate the commandment about not bearing false witness, in other words don’t tell lies. And these same folks claim the other political team hates religion. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to imagine why if the statement were true.

  7. Thanks, Sheila, for your comments this morning.
    People need to know that the far right of the Republican Party is not just the crazies like Margorie Taylor Green , Bobert, and the nut jobs of Texas. Powerful men with calculation and knowledge are plotting AND acting to destroy the country. They meet up in the back rooms of Congress and the board rooms of big business. They cajole over lunch at the club after a game of golf, and they have the money to hide, manipulate and direct others to do their dirty work. Their manners are impeccable and their social graces as smooth as glass. Still, any moral base to their character is absent. They above all others are the dangerous ones.

  8. The foundation of conservative politics is to be self-serving. They believe that if everybody was, things would work fine under market and cultural forces. They were closer to right in those thoughts in a place far away and a time long ago. Even when I was born eight decades ago when there were 2.5B of us on a much simpler, less connected planet, we could operate more like that.

    One of the consequences though is that under that belief system, there’s no reason to update. There’s no reason not to assume that still works and resist any learning that does not support your belief. Keep your head down, your ammunition dry, and charge ahead amid, though not cognizant of, the turmoil. Disconnect. People who do not agree with you are simply wrong because they are not you, so why learn anything different from them?

    What if the world has changed profoundly? Be self-sufficient and unaware. Problem solved.

    That’s closer to a religious belief than ignorance or stupidity.

  9. Hypocrisy, thy name is MAGA! Imagine what a second tRump presidency would be. Now that he knows how the game is played, he would fill his cabinet with sycophants, using recess appointments. Every new regulation would be aimed at increasing his power. This is the time for all of us to do whatever we can to make sure that never happens!

  10. And let’s not forget the wretched creatures from Florida and Alabama, Rick Scott and Tommy Tuberville. Remember, a tuber is a root-centric vegetable like a potato. Scott, Hawley, Cruz, et. al. are not ignorant or stupid – as Sharon suggest: They are pure EVIL. And yes, what does it say about the brain-addled voters who put these wretches into office? It says that accepting evil is normal to people who embrace bigotry and hate as they’re driving personal forces.

    Tuberville IS, however, dumber than dirt. He belongs in the pantheon of stupid along with MTG and Boebert. Their hate, bigotry and backwardness is worn on their lapels as a sign of pride.

    But what to do about it? I don’t think just trotting out the “Vote Blue” memes is enough. The DNC (Oh how I wish Stacey Abrams was the chairperson) has to go into attack mode. We are in a bar fight for the salvation of our democracy, and you don’t win bar fights by throwing napkins.

  11. Vernon – whoa, baby …so right on. “We are in a bar fight for the salvation of our democracy, and you don’t win bar fights by throwing napkins.” You also don’t win it with identity politics…

  12. Yes, but insistent ignorance…glorying in stupidity, is different!
    John Adams, in a letter related to the treaty that ended the Barbary pirates preying on U.S. ships,
    wrote, overtly specifically, that the country was not founded on any religious principle.

  13. So…ignorance or stupidity? What difference does it make when we lose our democracy? Every ounce of energy used to “talk” about such instead of to “action” is…take your pick, ignorant or stupid…or both…Fiddle on while our Rome burns…

  14. Indiana’s Rep Jim Banks should be included in this group of evil liars. He is known to frequently spew his lies on Newsmax and Fox and he is totally Pro-Trump MAGA. As far as I know, he doesn’t do interviews on other networks because he knows they would instantly shut down his lies.

    If you reside in Central and Southern Indiana you may not know much about Banks, but be assured he is evil and and self-rightious. He was an ALEC sweetheart in the state legislature and in DC he has proved that he continues to sell what little may be left of his soul. The Club for Growth financed him into Congress and will now be the biggest funder for his senate campaign. Banks basically had Braun’s senate job wrapped up until a wealthy republican from southern Indiana, John Rust, joined in as his competitor a few days ago. Like Braun, this Rose Acre Farms board chair has the money to fund his own campaign. While I know very little about him at this time I believe he couldn’t be worse than Banks.

  15. Horrible people, but they do want to continue to win elections. If it wasn’t this, Hawley and Cruz and many others would be throwing some other kind of red meat to the base. They want to win and they need the psychopaths they’re created to do it. Hence, the trolling.

    It’s not like it’s even him/them directly when it’s Twitter and any time other than in-person. They hired either genuinely loony or savvy PR people to run their accounts. Again, they want to win.

  16. Ivy Leaguers aren’t what they used to be (if they ever were). Those such as Cruz and Hawley acted criminally in aiding and abbeting Trump’s attempted overthrow of our government, but don’t hold your breath waiting for their indictment(s), even with a firebrand such as Jack Smith at the helm. Power corrupts; always has, and with the battle cry of Politics! current fascist captors of the Republican Party are virtually immune to prosecution. Cruz and Hawley are free to roam while the poor slobs who showed up at the capitol on 1/6 for the crime those two aided and abbeted are doing time, though even here we are finding the very unusual appeal by the government of the time given by courts of law upon conviction of some of the defendants.

    We have a more serious and long term problem than Trump, i.e., Trumpism. It will take time to end it, which will require several consecutive and overwhelming wins at the polls to erase, among other things, so let’s get on with it.

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