The sedition of Senator Josh Hawley — The media again fails to recognize aberrant and dangerous behavior by a politician for what it is

Image for post
Image for post
Senator Josh Hawley and President Donald Trump

Missouri Republican Senator Josh Hawley took an oath of office to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic” and to “bear true faith and allegiance” to the Constitution. Hawley, a graduate of Yale Law School, is well aware that his planned action to try to block the formal certification by Congress of the election of Joe Biden as president on January 6th has no basis in law or in fact.

Hawley’s attempt to persuade Congress to eschew its limited role under the Constitution by disregarding both the state certification of election results and the Electoral College is a clear violation of his oath of office. It may also constitute the crime of sedition.

A story just as important as Hawley’s failure to “bear true faith and allegiance” to the Constitution is the general failure (again) of the mainstream media to recognize aberrant and dangerous behavior for what it is. Reporting Hawley’s plot to overthrow the rule of law in the United States in the context of political posturing, which has been the usual approach, grossly understates the threat.

One can debate whether the attempt by President Donald Trump and his followers to persuade GOP-controlled state legislatures in states won by Biden to nevertheless appoint electors to the Electoral College committed to Trump constituted an attempt at a “coup.” There at least was a far-fetched legal theory, which I refer to as the “Gorsuch Doctrine,” behind that unsuccessful effort.

There is no debate, however, about what Hawley is doing. He is orchestrating a coup d’état. He seeks to keep Trump in the White House by defying the will of state voters, state legislatures, the Electoral College, and the letter and spirit of the law. His claims of election fraud are a pretext, rejected by the courts.

To call Hawley’s action anything other than a coup attempt mischaracterizes and trivializes it. He should be expelled from the senate if he follows through on his plan.

Trump has actively promoted “wild” protests by his supporters in Washington, D.C. on January 6th to pressure Congress to reject the results of the Electoral College. He has hinted at imposing “martial law” to stay in office, if necessary.

Image for post
Image for post

Civil war would erupt in this country if Hawley is successful in getting Congress to overturn the election results and preventing Biden from being sworn in on January 20th. Trump then would invoke the Insurrection Act to maintain his grip on power. Hawley is fully cognizant of the consequences of his actions.

Hawley’s conduct, aimed at overthrowing the legitimately elected government of the United States, satisfies the dictionary definition of sedition. Whether it amounts to the crime of seditious conspiracy under 18 USC § 2384 is another matter. Suffice it to say that the action by Hawley and his allies in Congress in concert with the threats by Trump to use military force to back the coup warrants a close look by the Department of Justice once Trump is gone.

The mainstream media, with some exceptions, has reported this story in a political context by assuming that Hawley’s primary goal is to ingratiate himself with Trump and Trump’s supporters in preparation for his own presidential bid in 2024. That may be, but it does not change the basic nature of, or the damage done by, his actions.

The important story is the unprecedented attempt by a United States senator to replace representative democracy in the United States with authoritarianism through a coup — not that he may have some ulterior political motive. Hawley’s ulterior political motives come under the heading of “so what?”

The media’s approach is maddeningly similar to its general failure for four years to report Trump’s behavior in the context of his mental disorder. His words and actions were portrayed in their superficial political contexts, with the important story of how those words and actions were products of his psychopathology going untold. It was a pattern that resulted in a systematic understatement of just how dangerous Trump could be. Well, now we know why mental health experts were trying to warn us about Trump’s psychopathology.

The discouraging reality appears to be that the mainstream media does reasonably well covering everyday politics and run-of-the-mill politicians. They quickly prove to be out of their depth, however, when confronted with politicians whose behavior is aberrant and dangerous for reasons they do not seem to understand. Whether out of ignorance or timidity, they cannot make the tough calls.

It is highly unlikely that Hawley and his fellow seditionists will succeed in their efforts, and Joe Biden almost certainly will be inaugurated on January 20th. It would be a mistake, however, to ignore the gravity of Hawley’s actions. An effort must be made to hold him accountable — for one thing, I would like to hear him state under oath that he really believed that the election was stolen from Trump by vote fraud. Even someone as amoral as Hawley might squirm doing that.

Trump, Hawley, and their ilk sowed seeds of doubt in the legitimacy of Biden’s election by spreading unfounded rumors and making allegations that they knew were false. Turning around and using doubts that he helped create by his own lies as the purported justification for his coup attempt puts Hawley in an unenviable position should he be required to defend his actions before any type of tribunal. A good argument can be made that the disinformation campaign was nothing more than preparing the ground for the coup attempt.

And regardless of what happens to Hawley, it is important that members of the public grasp the dangerousness of his conduct so that such unconstitutional, anti-democratic actions do not become normalized as simply another form of partisan politics. That will happen only if the media calls out his seditious conduct and attempted coup for what they are.

In my opinion, one must believe in democracy and the rule of law to be considered a true American. Hawley has earned the label “unamerican,” and for our own future well-being we should make sure that the label sticks. There can be no path back to political redemption for someone who tries to overturn a free and fair election in this country.

Retired lawyer, former prosecutor, former social worker, Army vet — former lots of things. Commentary published in Washington Post, Baltimore Sun and elsewhere.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store