As horrifying as I find the prospect of TFG (aka Donald Trump) retaking the Presidency, the idea of Ron DeSantis in the Oval Office makes me even more nauseous.
At a gloomy brunch a couple of days after the 2016 election, a friend opined that the only thing that would save the country was TFG’s obvious incompetence. She was right–so many of the administration’s efforts failed because TFG’s ragtag group of “captains of industry” had absolutely no idea how government operated (or, in many instances, what governments are for.)
Ron DeSantis poses a significantly greater threat. He’s smart. And as Ezra Klein has recently written, he thinks Trump didn’t go far enough toward the dark side.
Klein says it’s a mistake to dismiss campaign books written by politicians. He thinks we “can learn a lot about people by paying close attention to how they want to be seen.” And he notes that Ron DeSantis’s “The Courage to be Free”–while not a good book– is a revealing one.
As I read through it, I started marking down every time he told a story about using the power of his office to punish or sideline a perceived enemy or obstacle. There is his bill to make it easier to sue tech companies if you feel they’re discriminating against your politics. Here are his laws limiting what teachers can say about gender identity and imposing criminal penalties on medical providers who offer certain types of gender-affirming care. There’s his effort to punish Disney for opposing his anti-L.G.B.T.Q. laws by removing its self-governing status. Here’s his suspension of Andrew Warren, the state attorney for Hillsborough County, because Warren declined to enforce laws criminalizing abortion. There’s the bill to increase criminal penalties against rioters during Black Lives Matter protests.
Then there’s what DeSantis wants to do, but hasn’t yet done. He thinks the federal government has become too “woke” and too liberal, and Congress should “withhold funding to the offending executive branch departments until the abuses are corrected.” He is frustrated that President Donald Trump didn’t do more with an authority known as Schedule F that can reclassify around 50,000 federal employees to make them more like political appointees, enabling the president “to terminate federal employees who frustrate his policies.” He tried to make it easier to sue media outlets for defamation, though that plan got bogged down in the Florida Legislature. Outside the book, he has called for a national “reckoning” on Covid and promised to hold people like Dr. Anthony Fauci “accountable” for the damage he believes they’ve caused.
Klein hones in on the essence of DeSantis’ view of Trump–and his own approach to governing. DeSantis argues that, despite Trump’s complaints about the “deep state,” he didn’t use the power of the Presidency to destroy what DeSantis regards as the “threatening forces of the left.” (My friend would argue–correctly–that this was due to Trump’s incompetence, rather than an absence of bile.) Whatever the reason, as Klein reports, “DeSantis is trying to show, in vignette after vignette, that he has both the will and the discipline to do what Trump did not.”
DeSantis delights in describing the methodical, relentless effort he put in to bending the state of Florida to his will. He describes winning Florida’s governorship and ordering his transition team to “amass an exhaustive list of all the constitutional, statutory, and customary powers of the governor.” Much of the rest of the book is an exhaustive, and at times exhausting, account of how he used them.
In media coverage of his campaign, DeSantis emerges as a humorless martinet, utterly unable to engage with people in retail politics. Klein notes that he also can’t bring himself to
“extend even a modicum of compassion to his opponents. When he describes the George Floyd protests he doesn’t spare even a word condemning or grieving Floyd’s murder. His anti-L.G.B.T.Q. agenda is unleavened by even the barest sympathy for L.G.B.T.Q. kids.”
Despite painting a truly appalling picture of Florida Man, Klein warns readers not to underestimate his chances–a warning that sends chills up and down my spine.
If American voters needed any further confirmation of the Republican Party’s U-Turn from political party to cult, DeSantis might be that U-Turn’s poster boy.
The GOP of my younger days was firmly opposed to what the party characterized as government over-reach. It was so averse to the exercise of federal authority, especially, that the party opposed many programs and regulations that were clearly warranted. Today, however, Republicans like DeSantis are enthusiastic about wielding government power– so long as government is imposing an agenda benefitting Republican oligarchs and culture warriors, and ensconcing Republican politicians in office.
There’s a reason Neo-Nazis support DeSantis. He’s a fellow fascist.