WASHINGTON — Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley pushed back against the national reckoning over systemic racism in a speech Friday, presenting the U.S. as a nation that had “liberated slaves” and positioning himself as leader of a new nationalist movement.
Hawley addressed the American Conservative Union’s annual CPAC conference in Orlando and urged the crowd to embrace “a new nationalism” during a speech likely meant to serve as an audition for a future presidential run.
He launched a critique of the reckoning that has taken place nationwide in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis last year.
“We heard that we are systemically racist. You heard that once or twice? We heard that the real founding of the country wasn’t in 1776, it was in 1619 or whatever. We heard that America is founded in lies and evil. That’s what we’ve been told. All of that is false. All of that is a lie,” Hawley told the cheering audience. It was a reference to The New York Times’ Pulitzer Prize-winning 1619 Project, which examined the legacy of slavery and takes its name from the year the first slave arrived on American soil.
“Part of standing up to the oligarchs in tech and in the media and in the liberals is reclaiming our history and saying it is good and we are proud to be Americans. We’re proud to have lived in a country that started with nothing and became the greatest country in the face of the earth. We’re proud to be in a country that liberated slaves.”
Hawley’s version of U.S. history omits the fact that the Constitution as drafted protected slavery and that emancipation took place only after a bloody Civil War in which 11 states attempted to secede from the union to preserve the power to own human beings.
This is not the first time that Hawley has offered a unique interpretation of U.S. history as he opposes progressive efforts to confront the nation’s racist history.
Last year, he quoted “The Gettysburg Address,” Abraham Lincoln’s eulogy for the Union Army’s dead, as he argued for the preservation of Confederate officers’ names on military bases.
Hawley voted against the National Defense Authorization Act, the bill which funds the military, because it included language to change the names of 10 bases named after Confederates. Those bases received their names during the era of segregation in the south.
The speech covered many themes from Hawley’s previous CPAC appearances — including his call to break up tech corporations. But it addressed other themes, including border security, the issue that catapulted former President Donald Trump to the White House five years ago.
All of these ideas were presented as elements of a “new nationalism,” which Hawley argued would protect the concept of citizenship and prevent “oligarchy,” a term for rule by a powerful few, from taking root in the nation.
Hawley’s penchant for populist polemics have disturbed his political mentor, former GOP Sen. John Danforth, who has disavowed his past support in Hawley.
“This whole business of there’s a conspiracy out there and there’s bad people who are doing you in, it’s a terrible corruption of our political system to do that. It’s an infection and we’ve got to get rid of it,” Danforth said in January.
The speech comes less than two months after Hawley became a figure of national controversy following his decision to object to President Joe Biden’s electoral victory. It was a move his critics say helped create the atmosphere that led to the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, when a pro-Trump crowd stormed the buildings with Confederate flags and other symbols of white nationalism.
Missouri’s Black leaders have largely decried both the riot and the effort to object to Biden’s victory as an attack on Black voters.
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas told The Star earlier this month that Hawley’s role in “inciting a riot” had permanently altered his relationship with the Missouri senator after collaborating with him on housing issues earlier in his term.
“I am a Christian and believe in forgiveness no matter the situation,” Lucas said. “I do however believe as I represent the people of Kansas City we need to make sure we work with those who respect our government … and respect common decency.”
Hawley has repeatedly rejected criticism of his Electoral College objection and leaned into the backlash in fundraising pleas and cable news appearances. He received huge applause at CPAC when he referenced it and presented himself as a foil to Biden.
“I just want to say to those people who say to us, ‘Oh, you’re the past. Your moment has passed. It’s over. It’s Joe Biden’s America now.’ I just want to say, we’re not the past. We’re the future,” Hawley said. “We represent the future of this country. We represent the next generation of the country. We represent what’s coming next.”
Photos: Hundreds gather in St. Louis calling for Hawley to resign
About 300 demonstrators gathered, spoke and concluded a protest by painting a sign, "Resign Hawley" in the middle of Broadway on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021, outside the historic Old Courthouse in downtown St. Louis. Speakers called for Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo), to resign following a seizure and occupation of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. by an angry Pro-Trump mob. Hawley was the first Senate Republican to announce he would raise objections to the Electoral College results.