Missouri U.S. Senate candidate Josh Hawley talks to the media after a debate against incumbent Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill Thursday, Oct. 25, 2018, in...
Charlie Riedel

GOP senator: ‘It’s time we ended the cosmopolitan experiment’

Updated

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) has only been in Congress for six months, but he’s already managed to make an impression on many political observers.

In May, for example, Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern said the Missouri Republican “is vying with Ted Cruz for the mantle of most disingenuous, least principled senator.” Last week, TPM’s Josh Marshall added, “Hawley is one of the most dangerous figures in contemporary American politics, a more polished version of all of Trump’s hostility to democracy and the rule of law.”

Welcome to Capitol Hill, senator.

It’s against this backdrop that the 39-year-old Hawley spoke this week at the National Conservatism Conference, where the lawmaker shared his vision of what ails American politics. His office published a transcript of the remarks online, and there were elements of the speech that struck me as important.

Consider an excerpt from the remarks as written for delivery:

“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.”

In light of the rise of Trump, certain elements of far-right populism have become more common, though they often lack a slick veneer. It’s been a while, for example, since I’ve heard a sitting senator tie together progressive support for “multiculturalism” and the degradation of Americans’ “identity.”

And then, of course, there was Hawley’s stated concerns about “the cosmopolitan experiment.”

It was a word the senator returned to, repeatedly, in his remarks. The Republican lamented the “powerful upper class and their cosmopolitan priorities.” He condemned “the cosmopolitan consensus,” which includes its support for “globalization.”

Hawley proceeded to decry the “cosmopolitan elite,” the “cosmopolitan class,” and the “cosmopolitan economy.”

According to his Wikipedia page, the senator has a degree in history from Stanford, so I suspect he has some understanding of the political weight the word “cosmopolitan” carries. If not, he should.

As Jeff Greenfield wrote a couple of years ago, after the White House’s Stephen Miller complained about a journalist harboring a “cosmopolitan bias,” the word is “a cousin to ‘elitist,’ but with a more sinister undertone…. In the eyes of their foes, ‘cosmopolitans’ tend to cluster in the universities, the arts and in urban centers, where familiarity with diversity makes for a high comfort level with ‘untraditional’ ideas and lives.”

Greenfield’s piece wasn’t a direct response to Josh Hawley’s speech – it predated the remarks by two years – but it might as well have been.

As for what the senator intends to replace the “cosmopolitan experiment” with, the Missouri Republican touched on several broad themes. It’s a vision based on an abandonment of globalism, a skepticism toward multiculturalism, a rejection of a government led by the “elite,” an embrace of religion, and an emphasis on “national solidarity” – which Hawley believes has been broken by “liberationist policies.”

To understand the future of far-right populism, which will continue to exist after Trump exits the stage, start with the senator’s speech.

* Update: The Atlantic’s James Fallows noted that the word “cosmopolitan” has an ugly history in countries like Germany and Russia.