The America that Josh Hawley described in his first major Senate floor speech Wednesday is a bleak place where working people suffer from an “epidemic of loneliness and despair” so profound that record numbers have been driven to suicide.
“Fewer young people are getting married or starting families,” the Missouri Republican said. Americans, he said, are bombarded by violence, video games and “the relentless status-seeking” of social media. “Drug addiction is surging. The opioid menace has ravaged every sector, every age group, every geography of working people. But it’s not only pills. Heroin, cocaine, fentanyl and of course marijuana have flooded our streets and our homes.”
And everywhere “deaths of despair are mounting” among farmers, soldiers and young people, Hawley said.
A “profound poverty of hope” is to blame, he added, in a dark echo of former President Barack Obama’s “audacity of hope.”
Hawley’s grim view of an America in crisis recalled President Donald Trump’s inaugural speech about “American carnage.” Like Trump, Hawley painted a picture of a country in decline — and in desperate need of renewal led by a Washington outsider.
“The message that Washington has sent our whole society is loud and clear: our elites are the people who matter—and those who aspire to join them,” Hawley said. “Everyone else is pathetic or backwards. And millions of Americans are left with the sense that the people who run this country view them with nothing but contempt and value them as nothing but consumers.”
The 13-minute speech did not contain any policy specifics. Instead, the 39-year-old Stanford and Yale Law graduate from Lexington, Missouri, concentrated on the plight of working class Americans in the heartland. He said they feel “forgotten” by aristocratic elites running the economy and the country.
Today’s society benefits those who shaped it, and it has been shaped not by working men and women, but by the aristocratic elite,” said Hawley.
“Big banks, big tech, big multi-national corporations, along with their allies in the academy and media—these are the aristocrats of our age. They live in the United States, but they consider themselves citizens of the world. They operate businesses or run universities here, but their primary loyalty is elsewhere, to their own agenda for a more unified, progressive—and profitable—global order.”
The message is consistent with Hawley’s belief that the GOP is undergoing a populist realignment, and that the party needs a way to retain those voters in a post-Trump era.
“It’s time to reclaim America’s revolutionary heritage and reassert the democracy of ‘We the People,’” Hawley said.
“To those who despair at the task ahead, I say the hour is not too late, the crisis is not too deep for the determined effort of a great people,” he said. “And to those who feel forgotten and unheard, I say this is your time.”
A handful of Republican senators were on hand in the mostly-empty Senate chamber to hear Hawley deliver the speech, including Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, Republican Whip John Thune of South Dakota, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley and Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse.