When the 25-year-old James Madison did not sign the Declaration of Independence, and when the rest of the Founding Fathers (never the Founding Mothers) that NC-11 Rep. Madison Cawthorn constantly evokes created the Constitution, the average life expectancy in the newly created U.S. was 38 years, give or take. So the minimum age of 25 for Congress, as per the 1787 Constitution, assumed an entirely different life experience than that of today. The equivalent age today, factoring the change in life span of 78 years, would be 51. Which is to say that Cawthorn needs another 26 years before he can approach anything resembling the maturity needed to be a Congressman. Or from another mathematical angle, a John or Abigail Adams would deem Cawthorn’s maturity level to be approximately that of an 11-year-old child.
Thank God I wasn’t a Congressman in my twenties. Not that I wanted to be, or could have been, and not that I might have gained even one vote. (“I Don’t Want To Be President,” a song by Johnny Guitar Watson, a wise and wry recognition of personal limits, wasn’t my theme song, but it should have been). When I think of my post-adolescent, collegiate self opining and legislating on a national stage with major stakes, well, I shudder. No. Just no.
There is a built-in blessing to not having too big a platform when you are at your most brash, least wise, know-it-all stage. Anyone who has lived through their twenties and has been allowed the grace to look back probably does so with considerable cringe and remorse. It’s like the Shakespearean character who observes that alcohol increases the desire but decreases the ability to make love—youth seems to increase the arrogance and self-righteousness of a would-be mover and shaker but decreases the wisdom. So pray that God or whoever saves us from our 20-something selves . . . unless we are Bob Dylan or James Madison. Or AOC.
Things are just out of proportion in our eager, flighty youth. Small things take on too great a weight, while major things don’t register on our consciousness. Sins of omission and commission abound. We don’t know when to speak and when to shut the hell up.
All of which makes it more puzzling (and depressing, and infuriating) that my home WNC district 11 would elect a 25-year-old Donald Trump wannabe with a history of lying, sexual predation, and jingoistic bullying to represent us in Congress. Especially when the choice was between this home-schooled college dropout and an actual veteran with experience and expertise and, yes, wisdom.
Cawthorn’s tenure in office (eight months and counting) has been a highlight reel of youthful Republican stupidity from the get-go. His first official act: telling his staff member to tweet “Cry more, libs” immediately upon hearing election results. His next official act: hyping the Jan. 6 crowd at the Stop the Steal rally and then later calling in to an extremist talk show to boast about packing heat in the House chamber.
Only a very young and foolish extremist could compile such a dismal record so fast. (Well, to be fair, some oldsters like Mo Brooks and Louie Gohmert could give a run for that money.)
So when I saw that our Misrepresentative had contributed an op-ed to the Mountaineer, I braced myself for the worst. The piece did not disappoint.
It arrived, of course, via Cawthorn’s “comms”—a tweet from his official account, with the clickbait message above a smiling headshot, “Partisan attacks during moments of life and death have no place in our political discourse.” Absurd, given his constant stream of abusive and threatening invective against the “radical left” and “Dems,” and given his grooming by his mentor, partisan-in-chief Donald J.
Totally understandable if smart people bothered to read no further, but if you dared wade in you would find Cawthorn self-righteously defending his response to the disastrous tropical storm Fred flooding in WNC. A previous article by Callie Pruett had pointed out his “lack of response and tone-deaf tweets during the flooding,” among other derelictions of duty.
Pruett’s piece struck a nerve, as she was viciously and shamefully trolled by misogynist Cawthorn supporters. And apparently Cawthorn was so thin-skinned about the truth that he (and/or his staffers) just had to write an op-ed attacking any criticisms. “How dare they criticize me, I’m Madison Cawthorn!” was the underlying tone, the same tone with which he recently berated a WV Congressman’s female staff member in the House over a minor sleight. Another tone layer was the boastful “I’m the first federal official on the scene!”–just days after tweeting the ridiculous Ronald Reagan quip about the scary words of “I’m with the government and I’m here to help.” So, based on the evidence before us, Cawthorn is either Reagan’s worst nightmare or he’s simply a motor-mouth trash talker who refuses to use language like a responsible adult.
Maybe Pruett didn’t acknowledge Cawthorn riding shotgun with a staffer to tour the destruction while calling various agencies, or his performative praying and laying on of hands (is that really what you want your Congressman to do?), but she accurately pointed out his “look at me” social posting during the crisis. And she, like all of us in WNC, had good reason to be skeptical of the rosy-cheeked, cigar-chomping Congressman-boy who abandoned his duties in DC to have a honeymoon with his trophy wife in Dubai, who skipped out on Congressional votes to speak at a CPAC convention, who globe-trots like a gangsta rapper on tour.
This was a disaster during a climate crisis and a public health crisis. Cawthorn has repeatedly demeaned attempts to respond to the climate crisis, and he has actually encouraged his constituents to violate public health measures regarding masks. Cawthorn’s idea of infrastructure is the hateful “Donument,” and his idea of public health is super-spreading the virus at school board meetings and hate rallies.
So of course we are skeptical. He has not only NOT earned any trust, but he’s poured gas on so many fires (and lied about so much of his work non-history) that we’d be fools to take him at his word for anything or to expect him to actually do his job.
And while decrying partisanship, he tweeted demands of NC Governor Cooper and President Biden (whom he never calls President) that they declare emergency status for the WNC flooding, three days AFTER the governor had already announced his declaration of emergency status.
Instead of helpful communication about available resources or volunteer needs or details of his purported plan (obviously he and staff were caught flat-footed), we are told by our Congressman, in his best Laura Ingraham-to-LeBron snide, to “Shut up and grab a shovel.”
For all of Cawthorn’s staff resources and boasting about “comms,” his official website offered nothing. Even as I write this, a week after the flood, search “flood relief” and find a months-old press release that uses the word flood in a different context. What if some young able-bodied WNC residents wanted to help shovel—could they find direction from Cawthorn and staff? Hardly.
Is there anything Gov. Cooper and Haywood County officials hadn’t already done that Cawthorn’s SUV prayer tour actually accomplished?
Expecting to rack up social likes and follows and to be thanked for simply doing one’s job is a tell-tale sign of narcissistic immaturity. And it’s disgusting in the context of a natural disaster. But to attack someone for merely pointing out your failings simply isn’t the stuff of a serious Congressional representative.
A character trait of a fool is to not be aware of one’s own foolishness. Cawthorn has given not the slightest clue of self-awareness, and he certainly hasn’t owned any of his foibles or more serious crimes (yes, crimes—see the 14th Amendment in relation to his Jan. 6 shenanigans).
Chalk it up to youthful folly. Or just plain, fully matured folly. But Cawthorn’s contempt for his constituents is part and parcel of a larger contempt for the truth. And that’s where the danger comes in. This Eddie Haskell of the Mar-a-lago and Bedminster pilgrimages is a key foot soldier in the attack on truth and the spread of disinformation that is tearing this country apart.
His flood of insane rhetoric and performative, Nazi-friendly MAGA gestures does irreparable harm to our state and our country. And as scary and deadly as tropical storm Fred was, the Cawthorn “comms” flood could have even deadlier consequences.