Standing up for Civil Discourse

Erin Hawley’s op-ed shouldn’t distract us from the insurrection

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I went to Yale Law School with Sen. Josh Hawley and his wife, Erin Hawley (then Morrow). I thought she was sweet, warm, and friendly. She didn't seem like the kind of person that would date Josh, let alone marry him. They shared conservative values, but I was surprised that his arrogance and obvious lust for power didn't turn her off.

I'm told by those who know her better than I do that Josh promised her he wouldn't run for office. If so, I'm puzzled that she believed him. I had predicted for some time that he would be Senator some day, and others made similar assessments independently. Whether with enthusiasm or reluctance, she appeared in his campaign ads and was a fixture on the campaign trail.

But only last week did she wade into the media fray. Her Fox News op-ed decries a crowd of not more than 20 people who appeared outside her home on January 4. They came with bullhorns to protest Sen. Hawley's plans to overturn the presidential election. Home alone with her infant, she understandably felt threatened when they allegedly yelled and pounded on her door. When the police told the protesters that they couldn't protest in front of a home, they dispersed.

Targeting politicians' families with such intimidation tactics should never be condoned. But if Erin Hawley thought a small group of protesters making a ruckus outside her home was terrifying, she should be positively livid about the much larger, violent mob that actually broke into the Capitol. But she's not. Instead, she wrote an op-ed piously calling for civil discourse the week of Donald Trump's impeachment trial—and said not a word about the insurrection.

She didn't mention the five deaths on January 6 or even the Capitol Police officer who died that day defending politicians like her husband, nor the two officers who committed suicide shortly afterwards. Not a word, either, about those officers who suffered brain injuries, lost eyes and finger parts, had protesters smash in their heads, suffered heart attacks, or still have PTSD after battling the mob for hours. No sympathy for those officers, Members, staff, and Capitol employees who contracted COVID-19. All these victims have families who must share the trauma of what happened. Of course, it's much more uncomfortable for Erin to address this subject when those who caused that trauma were greeted by Sen. Josh Hawley with an approving raised fist.

Rep. Jamie Raskin described the raw terror experienced by his daughter, who joined him at the Capitol just days after her brother committed suicide. Tabitha Raskin had far more reason to fear for her life that day than Erin Hawley did in her home two nights earlier. That mob wasn't 20 people outside shouting; thousands stormed the building and broke down windows, beat down doors, and attacked everyone in their path.

Josh Hawley's words and actions are not Erin Hawley's responsibility. But if she wants to talk about civil discourse on national outlets, she must include the insurrection—which he helped to cause. Sen. Hawley has been one of the prime proponents of the Big Lie that the election was stolen, the motivating theory behind the insurrection. Married to the Senator or not, if Erin steps back out on that campaign trail with Josh, she should be judged the same way any independent political actor would.

Erin Hawley hasn't gone quite as far (yet) as Ginni Thomas, Justice Clarence Thomas' wife. On January 6, Ginni Thomas was sending messages such as "LOVE MAGA people!!!!" all over social media. But by positioning herself as the key victim of unruly protests in the United States the week of the impeachment trial, Erin is playing a clearly political role: distracting America from her husband's role in the insurrection and in the acquittal of Donald Trump. Once upon a time, I and others who knew her expected better of her.