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.