Damnatio Missouriae

Josh Hawley is wrong. The Chinese didn't invent cancel culture. The Romans did.

IN A DESPERATE ATTEMPT to salvage his tattered reputation, Josh Hawley, the seditious Senator from Missouri who infamously championed the violent insurrection attempt of January 6, this week penned an op-ed in Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post lamenting the “muzzling of America.” As a piece of writing, the essay is complete garbage—a fourth-grade-reading-level embarrassment. As persuasive argument, it’s even worse. Here’s how it begins:

Have you checked your social credit score lately? You might want to. Mine seems to have taken a nosedive this month. You might want to see how yours is doing.

Everyone knows what a credit score is. But social credit scores are new. They’re the latest corporate import from Communist China…And they’re the latest form of cancel culture in this country.

First of all, the Chinese did not invent cancel culture. The Romans did. Damnatio memoriae, they called it—in English: the condemnation of memory. If the Romans canceled you, you didn’t get to go on all the rightwing news shows whining, in Trump-like fashion, about how poorly you’ve been treated. You weren’t given inches in a provincial newspaper to spew propaganda to the Roman people. If the Romans canceled you, you were fucking done. After they hacked you to pieces and tossed your dismembered remains into the Tiber, they purged you from the historical record. Statues were toppled, paintings destroyed, inscriptions chiseled off coins. If anyone so much as uttered your name, he would be put to death.

That, Joshie my dude, is cancel culture.

Do you know why certain Romans suffered damnatio memoriae? They tried to overthrow the government! They, ahem, incited insurrection. They gathered armies, which they saluted in much the same way that Josh Hawley saluted the MAGA troops on his way into the Capitol on January 6, and they marched on Rome—and they were defeated, and they were put to the sword, and they were expunged from the historical record.

Roman insurrectionists did not merely have their book deals “canceled” by a “corporate publishing house,” only to be published by an “independent”—but presumably no less corporate—publishing house. This seems to be Hawley’s biggest gripe. Well, that and his voice being “muzzled” by an “alliance of leftists and woke capitalists”—an alliance, it should be noted, that does not include FOX Broadcasting, Fox News, Fox Business, Fox Sports, FX, NatGeo, Fox 2000, Fox Searchlight Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox Animation, Fox International Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, The Wall Street Journal, CIO Journal, Dow Jones Newswires, Barrons, MarketWatch, and HarperCollins—the largest publishing company in the world—which are all owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. Luckily for Hawley, the Fascist media mogul thinks the Fascist member of Congress is jake.

This is nothing new for Josh Hawley. While a student at Rockhurst High School in Kansas City, Hawley wrote an op-ed defending the Oklahoma City bombers, which is at once shocking and not shocking at all. “Many of the people populating these [militia] movements are not radical, right-wing, pro-assault weapons freaks as they were originally stereotyped,” he opined. “Dismissed by the media and treated with disdain by their elected leaders, these citizens come together and form groups that often draw more media fire as anti-government hate gatherings.”

Hawley’s hard-on for militia groups has only intensified as he finishes puberty…er, enters middle age. In his New York Post screed, this Man of the People warns of the unnamed “powerful”—a shadowy cabal in which he, one of just 100 U.S. Senators, is somehow not included—seizing the “opportunity to consolidate their control over society and to squelch dissent,” as if the insurrection he trumpeted three weeks ago was not trying to accomplish just that. “[T]hose who believe in the First Amendment and the fundamental principles of American liberty must now take a stand,” Hawley writes, before adding ominously: “while we still can.”

That he published this drivel in a major newspaper available on every street corner in the largest city in the United States, and on every web browser from sea to shining sea (the New York Post has no firewall), is a self-own. His free speech is not being abridged. To the contrary, Josh Hawley is free to say whatever he damned well pleases. And unfortunately, he has a lot to say. There is no shortage of Josh Hawley content, and no platform on which said content is not available. His equine smirk is still visible on Twitter, on Facebook, on YouTube, and all over the evening news.

No, what Josh Hawley objects to are the consequences of free speech. He doesn’t like that his widespread vilification led to his book deal being kibboshed, to Hallmark and other corporations suspending political donations to his campaign, to Kansas City blue bloods closing their checkbooks to him. In other words, he’s totally fine with curtailing free speech, if that free speech adversely impacts Josh Hawley. And the “corporate publishing house” he excoriates? Newsflash: That giant corporation didn’t kill the book deal to censor him, but rather to protect its bottom line. Market forces sealed his fate. That’s how capitalism works. When we consider 1) his opposition to speech that doesn’t jibe with his own, and 2) his obvious antipathy toward corporate America, what other conclusion can we draw but that the “import from Communist China” derided in that crappy op-ed is Josh Hawley’s own warped value system?

The Emperor Caligula, paragon of Roman debauchery, suffered damnatio memoriae when he was finally overthrown. One of the many crazy things he did was install his favorite horse in the Senate. That horse was called Incitatus. Caligula’s hope was to one day elevate Incitatus from Senator to Consul, but that did not come to pass.

I’m sure Josh Hawley can relate.


Photo credit: Hawley is erased from Francis Chung’s iconic AP Images photo.