Tag Archives: DeSantis

It Isn’t Just The Crackpot Caucus…

In one of those daily multiple fundraising emails that fill our inboxes, Adam Schiff coined a perfect phrase. Referring to the numerous GOP nominees who are proponents of the “Big Lie” and various other conspiracy theories, he warned that many of them are poised to join “performance artists” like Marjorie Taylor Greene in the “Crackpot Caucus.”

Schiff’s point was that the growing presence of crackpots in Congress has diminished the ability of the federal legislature to do the necessary–albeit less entertaining– work of governance.

He’s right–but our current problems go far beyond the crackpots. People like Greene are embarrassments, but by and large, they are too incompetent–and too busy mugging for the cameras–to devise or pass legislation. They can and do “gum up the works,” but  getting bills passed is evidently beyond them.

America’s most serious problem right now resides in other branches of government: in courts packed with partisan Trumpian know-nothings, and state administrations headed by dangerous and ambitious governors. One of the most dangerous of those governors is  Trump wanna-be Ron DeSantis of Florida.

I generally try not to label unpleasant and unprincipled people “evil,” but that word does come to mind when thinking about DeSantis. His assaults on LGBTQ citizens and public school teachers,  and his persistent efforts to suppress the votes of those likely to vote Democrat are egregious–and unsettlingly effective.

DeSantis most recent attack on voting rights really does merit the “evil” label.

As the Brennan Center explains:

In 2020, Gov. Ron DeSantis bragged that Florida’s elections were the “gold standard.” That was an exaggeration, but he was right in one sense: the elections there, as in the rest of the country, were secure and not marred by fraud.

That left DeSantis with a dilemma in his shadow race against Donald Trump for the GOP presidential nomination. How to prove that he, too, could recklessly undermine democracy? His answer was an election crimes police squad, announced last year to great fanfare.Did it discover Italian spy satellites switching votes? Dominion machines using ballots made in China? Bushels of ballots?

No — it discovered voters caught in the act of voting.

Rather than identifying some shadowy network of deep state operatives, state election police have found a tiny handful of people, many of whom were themselves victims of government incompetence.

Here’s the story:

As many of you probably read at the time,  in 2018, by a very substantial margin, Florida voters amended the state’s Constitution. They ended a  felony disenfranchisement system that had been characterized as a notorious remnant of Jim Crow. That system  barred people who had a felony conviction from voting for the rest of  their lives. The system had kept 1.7 million otherwise eligible people from voting.

Then the Florida Legislature stepped in. It undermined the law, requiring citizens who had just had their rights restored to pay off fines and fees before voting.

The Brennan Center sued, warning that the new requirement would lead to chaos, because the state provided no way for people to check to see if they had unpaid fees and so were eligible to vote.

The experience of Kelvin Bolton illustrates the consequences.

In 2018, after Floridians overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative to restore voting rights to most people with past convictions, the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections sent officials to county jail to help inmates register for the next election. Kelvin Bolton proudly signed up along with other people in exactly the same situation. According to Bolton, the officials failed to tell him about the requirement that he pay outstanding fines and fees.

Even if Bolton had known, there was very little he could have done. There is no centralized database you can use, no number you can call, to find out whether there are outstanding fees. Here’s an indication of how maddening the process is: When the Brennan Center was developing a resource for people attempting to restore their voting rights, we quickly determined that it had to be aimed at lawyers. No layperson could reliably navigate this Kafkaesque labyrinth. And yet, DeSantis and his election police apparently take the position that formerly incarcerated Floridians vote at their own risk.

Under DeSantis,  Florida adamantly refuses to help these ex-offenders. The state  allows people with felony convictions to register, then prosecutes them if it finds outstanding court debts.

Worse, Florida once again imprisons people –at considerable taxpayer expense– who were only attempting to cast a vote, a practice  that intimidates and deters eligible voters who fear that the election police will come for them, too.

“All in the name of proving that there is in fact fraud happening, to give credibility to those who have staked their political careers on its existence.”

Florida under DeSantis: Even worse than the crackpot caucus.

 

Whose Religious Liberty?

Well, finally! A lawsuit just filed in Florida raises an important and far too frequently ignored aspect of the First Amendment’s religion clauses. What happens when “religious liberty” becomes a code word meaning “Liberty for my particular religion’s doctrine, but not for yours?”

The Supreme Court majority that (according to the leaked draft opinion) will overturn Roe v. Wade within the next few weeks is composed of Catholics who have been very vocal about the importance of protecting religious liberty–as they evidently define it. The problem is, their definition of liberty differs from that held by a very large number of Americans who believe that all citizens are free to follow the doctrines of their particular religions. When applied to the issue of abortion, for example, people whose beliefs prohibit it are protected from measures requiring it, and people whose beliefs allow (or even, in some situations, require) it can follow their beliefs.

In other words, if your beliefs prohibit abortion, you don’t have to have one. If they don’t, you can.

That definition of religious liberty is at the heart of the lawsuit filed in Florida. According to the Religion News Service, 

A new Florida law prohibiting abortion after 15 weeks with some exceptions violates religious freedom rights of Jews in addition to the state constitution’s privacy protections, a synagogue claims in a lawsuit.

The lawsuit filed by the Congregation L’Dor Va-Dor of Boynton Beach contends the law that takes effect July 1 violates Jewish teachings, which state abortion “is required if necessary to protect the health, mental or physical well-being of the woman” and for other reasons.

“As such, the act prohibits Jewish women from practicing their faith free of government intrusion and this violates their privacy rights and religious freedom,” says the lawsuit, filed last week in Leon County Circuit Court.

The lawsuit adds that people who “do not share the religious views reflected in the act will suffer” and that it “threatens the Jewish people by imposing the laws of other religions upon Jews.”

The new Florida law has exceptions only for terminations necessary to save the life of the mother or prevent serious injury, or for a fetus with a fatal abnormality. It does not contain exemptions for pregnancies resulting from rape, incest or human trafficking.

The Rabbi of the synagogue that filed the lawsuit was quoted as saying that when separation of religion and government crumbles, religious minorities often suffer. And he noted that DeSantis had signed the law at an evangelical Christian church.

This lawsuit is yet another illustration of an element of the expected decision that has received far too little attention: it goes to the very heart of current constitutional jurisprudence, which is concerned with drawing a line between those matters that government can properly regulate and those that are to be left to the individual. Reversal of Roe attacks the conceptual underpinning of a doctrine known as “substantive due process,” which is focused on where that line must be drawn, and the very simple–and very profound–question: who decides?

In a free country–a country that takes liberty seriously–who gets to decide what prayer you say, what book you read, who you marry, whether and when you procreate?

For the past fifty years, with some hiccups, American law has answered that question by respecting the rights of individuals and religious communities to determine those and similarly personal issues–issues that the Court has dubbed “intimate”–for themselves. I would argue that the right to make our own personal, medical, political and religious decisions in the exercise of our individual consciences is the proper definition of liberty.

(Decisions to forego mask wearing and other decisions that endanger others, not so much.)

America is currently going through a wrenching transition. Religious and racial groups that were once so dominant that minority communities and their beliefs were (at best) marginalized and ignored are losing their cultural dominance, and many members of those groups are hysterical about it. Others are simply clueless–so insulated within traditional ways of understanding the society they inhabit that they are unable to understand the claims of those who differ–as Jewish law differs from much of Christianity on the issue of abortion.

“Freedom for me, but not for thee” isn’t freedom at all. It’s privilege, and privileges can be withdrawn. What’s that observation we civil libertarians love to quote? “Poison gas is a great weapon until the wind shifts.”

Either religious liberty is liberty for adherents of all religions, or it isn’t liberty at all. This lawsuit illustrates the danger of letting government make decisions that favor the doctrines of some religions to the detriment of others.

 

The Rear-View Mirror

Like many who read this blog, I get the Letter from an American from Heather Cox Richardson. Richardson is a historian, and the great benefit of her Letters is that they provide what I like to think of as a look in humanity’s rear-view mirror.

Driving a car requires checking the traffic behind us in order to navigate the road ahead. History serves much the same purpose (which is one of the many, many reasons why the rightwing hysteria over teaching the country’s history of racism is so deranged…)

A few days ago, Richardson shared an “aha” moment.

It has been hard for me to see the historical outlines of the present-day attack on American democracy clearly. But this morning, as I was reading a piece in Vox by foreign affairs specialist Zack Beauchamp, describing Florida governor Ron DeSantis’s path in Florida as an attempt to follow in the footsteps of Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, the penny dropped.

She proceeded to outline the political currents prior to the election of Trump: the evolution of today’s GOP into the pro-oligarchy party, following what she described as the usual U.S. historical pattern to that point– “in the 1850s, 1890s, 1920s, and then again in the modern era, wealthy people had come around to the idea that society worked best if a few wealthy men ran everything.”

Each of those periods was a reaction to the expansion of civil equality. Richardson reports that wealthier Americans protected their privileged status by playing on the racism of  poorer white male voters– telling them that passage of laws protecting equal rights was really a plan to turn American governance over to immigrants or to Black or Brown Americans.

The idea that poor men of color voting meant socialism resonated with white voters, who turned against the government’s protecting equal rights and instead supported a government that favored men of property. As wealth moved upward, popular culture championed economic leaders as true heroes, and lawmakers suppressed voting in order to “redeem” American society from “socialists” who wanted to redistribute wealth. Capital moved upward until a very few people controlled most of it, and then, usually after an economic crash made ordinary Americans turn against the system that favored the wealthy, the cycle began again.

When Trump was elected, the U.S. was at the place where wealth had concentrated among the top 1%, Republican politicians denigrated their opponents as un-American “takers” and celebrated economic leaders as “makers,” and the process of skewing the vote through gerrymandering and voter suppression was well underway. But the Republican Party still valued the rule of law. It’s impossible to run a successful business without a level playing field, as businessmen realized after the 1929 Great Crash, when it became clear that insider trading had meant that winners and losers were determined not by the market but by cronyism.

Trump deviated from the usual cycle in one way–he didn’t care about enriching the oligarchy, only about enriching himself, his toadies and his family. Despite his  repellent personality and embarrassing ignorance of government and policy, he was especially dangerous because he turned the Republican base into a cult that no longer respected the rule of law.

Richardson warns that Trump’s deliberate destabilization of faith in our democratic norms is especially dangerous because it creates space for two right-wing, antidemocratic ideologies. Two current Republican governors model those ideologies: Abbott in Texas, who is pursuing the South’s Civil War insistence on “states’ rights,” and DeSantis in Florida, who is emulating Viktor Orbán’s “soft fascism.”

Orbán has taken control of Hungary’s media, ensuring that his party wins all elections; has manipulated election districts in his own favor; and has consolidated the economy into the hands of his cronies by threatening opponents with harassing investigations, regulations, and taxes unless they sell out.

DeSantis is following this model right down to the fact that observers believe that Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill was modeled on a similar Hungarian law. DeSantis’s attack on Disney mirrors Orbán’s use of regulatory laws to punish political opponents (although the new law was so hasty and flawed it threatens to do DeSantis more harm than good).

Richardson counsels us to look in that rear-view mirror–to access the knowledge and tools that history provides to defend democracy from the ideology of states’ rights.” But she also warns that, because the rise of “illiberal democracy” or “soft fascism” is new to us, we need to understand how it differs both from Trump’s version of autocracy and from the old arguments for states’ rights.

At risk of over-extending my somewhat strained analogy, Orbanism represents a massive pothole on the road to democratic self-governance and civil liberty–a pothole requiring us to drive carefully and keep our eyes on the road– ahead and behind.

Trading Places

Many, many years ago, I joined a Republican Party that no longer exists. I was attracted to it–despite its longtime extreme-right “fringe”–because its rhetoric and philosophy was mainly that of classical liberalism: limited government, the rule of law, and the social contract.

Limited government, by the way, is not the same thing as small government–classical, 18th Century liberalism stood for limiting the ability of government to intrude into areas of citizens’ lives where government doesn’t belong. Determining where to draw that line has always been subject to debate, of course, and the GOP of my time was, admittedly, too often willing to pass intrusive  laws against “sin,” and resistant to necessary business regulations.

Back then, however, most Republicans took pride in the party’s history: the party of Lincoln had been the anti-slavery party while the Democrats had ruled the South and defended the ownership of some humans by others.

Over the years, America’s two major parties have essentially traded places, and I am only one of the many Republicans who realized that the party had morphed into something that had very little in common with the one we’d originally joined.

I thought about just how complete that switch has become when I read a recent column comparing Jared Polis, the Governor of Colorado, with Ron DeSantis of Florida, by Jennifer Rubin.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), a 2024 presidential aspirant, has told cruises how to run their businesses. And he has threatened to raise taxes on Disney in retaliation for speaking out against the hateful “don’t say gay” bill. These are things you might expect from a petty authoritarian such as Hungary’s Viktor Orban or defeated former president Donald Trump, who threatened companies that didn’t kowtow to his administration.

Now, DeSantis wants to go after the board of directors of Twitter. “We’re gonna be looking at ways the state of Florida potentially can be holding these Twitter board of directors accountable for breaching their fiduciary duty,” he bellowed on Tuesday.

In response to DeSantis’ assaults on businesses in his state, Colorado’s Jared Polis tweeted

Florida’s authoritarian socialist attacks on the private sector are driving businesses away. In CO, we don’t meddle in affairs of companies like @Disney or @Twitter. Hey @Disney we’re ready for Mountain Disneyland and @twitter we’re ready for Twitter HQ2, whoever your owners are.

The GOP pooh-bahs who constantly talk about “freedom” clearly don’t understand what freedom is. (Hint: it isn’t “freedom” to refuse a vaccination so that you can infect your neighbors, or “freedom” to pick on people of whom your church disapproves.)

Rubin defines it properly.

Polis also understands how powerful “freedom” can be — freedom to run your company, freedom to raise your child (and seek legitimate medical care for them), freedom to choose not to give birth to a child, freedom for teachers to teach about civil rights without being sued, freedom to cast a ballot in the most convenient way for each voter, freedom to learn math. It’s remarkable how much control the GOP wants to exercise over every aspect of Americans’ lives and the economy.

Indeed, in abandoning classic liberalism (limited government, the rule of law, etc.) in favor of an authoritarian, theocratic model, Republicans have defied an essential feature of democracy. This is what scholar Yascha Mounk describes in the Atlantic as “the recognition that there is a sphere of life in which everybody should be able to do what they like without having to worry about anyone else’s opinion.” Having decided that America’s identity is White, Christian and straight, the MAGA right now spends an extraordinary amount of time and effort stretching the power of government to boss around everyone else.

Classical liberalism limited the role of government to actions necessary to protect citizens from others’ wrongdoing. Government could–and should–prevent businesses from dumping toxic waste in the river or cheating customers; government should prevent the selfish or heedless from harming others.

Barry Goldwater famously said that government didn’t belong in your boardroom or your bedroom (he won an award from PFLAG, the LGBTQ rights organization.) Today’s Republicans are intent upon invading both.

Looking back, I think it’s fair to say that the GOP of my day believed in over-restraining government. (When Nixon established the EPA, it was seen in some quarters as a betrayal of Republicanism.) Today’s version, however, has totally abandoned any respect for freedom, civic equality and the rule of law.

DeSantis, Abbott and their ilk define “freedom” as the right of businesses to support their hateful policies and the right of citizens to obey their dictates.

 

 

Is Florida the Fourth Reich?

A couple of weekends ago,  Nazis demonstrated in Orlando. According to media reports, they screamed antisemitic slogans and threats against Blacks and Hispanics, waved swastikas, and assaulted a couple of people who stopped to argue with them.

According to Newsweek, Twitter users posted videos of the neo-Nazi rally and reported the slurs.

And a Florida resident posted to Daily Kos, 

In addition, the Nazis protested at several overpasses on I-4 toward Disney, with Nazi flags and a large “Let’s Go Brandon” sign with swastikas. Another one said, “Vax the Jews.” This protest followed another one in Mount Dora earlier. The fact is that antisemitic incidents in Florida rose by 40% since 2020. The undeniable rise of antisemitic demonstrations in Florida even got Sen. Rick Scott’s attention, and he condemned them in a tweet. Democrats, including the candidates for governor and senator, strongly condemned the Nazis. However, the two incumbents they are running against, Ron DeSantis and Marco Rubio, have remained silent. 

It’s bad enough that DeSantis refused to condemn the demonstrations; his spokesperson was worse. She tweeted “How do we even know they’re Nazis?” and suggested they might  have been Democrats “pretending.”

If this were a one-off, DeSantis’ silence could be attributed to oversight, overwork…something. But no one who has followed DeSantis and his enablers in the Florida Legislature is likely to give him the benefit of the doubt. (There’s a reason The New Republic made him their “Scoundrel of the Year.”)

A Miami newspaper recounted “Eight Times DeSantis ‘Accidentally’ Did Racist Stuff.”That article was written during DeSantis’ gubernatorial campaign, and started as follows:

After enough racism scandals involving a particular political candidate, you’d think everyone might just admit that person is simply racist. Yet a whole lot of people — from bad-faith conservative pundits to easily fooled reporters — continue offering excuses for Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis’ infamous statement on Fox News that Andrew Gillum would “monkey… up” Florida.

At best, that gaffe implies DeSantis, who is a seasoned lawyer with degrees from Harvard and Yale, is so ignorant he doesn’t know it’s a really bad idea to use the word “monkey” when talking about a black person.

But claiming his use of the word was a simple accident is also hard to believe because DeSantis has a clear, repeated pattern of making offensive and/or outright racist statements, hanging out with racists, and defending other people who are also racists. It’s past time that DeSantis — long considered the most right-wing Florida congressman who is running on a platform of fealty to Donald Trump and pure anti-immigrant bile — lost the benefit of the doubt.

The article enumerated the reasons DeSantis isn’t entitled to the benefit of the doubt: among other things, he spoke at a Muslim-bashing event alongside Milo Yiannopoulos and Steve Bannon, defended a supporter who advocated”bringing back the hanging tree,” leveled a slur at AOC’s ethnicity, and was moderator of a Facebook group that was a haven for racist memes.

Since he’s been governor, of course, he has worked hard to out-Trump Trump. His anti-vaccination, anti-mask, anti-mandate efforts have received wide publicity, but those efforts are arguably not targeted at minorities–they’re unforgivably dangerous to the health of all Florida citizens (especially the elderly, and Florida has more than its share of elderly folks.)

Other measures are more clearly bigoted.

 DeSantis and Republicans in the state legislature have joined the campaign  against what DeSantis calls”woke” schools. As this Washington Post article describes it:

As part of the “stop-woke” agenda of Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), Florida lawmakers are now considering bills that would allow almost anyone to object to any instruction in public school classrooms. DeSantis wants to give people the right to sue schools and teachers over what they teach based on student “discomfort.” The proposed legislation is far-reaching and could affect even corporate human resources diversity training.

While the legislation mirrors national efforts to ban critical race theory in schools, the debate in Florida has turned especially raw and emotional, a testament to how central multiculturalism is to the state’s identity. Many parents and teachers — who note that critical race theory is not taught in Florida’s public schools and is already banned under state law — fear the legislation would force teachers to whitewash history, literature and religion courses.

 In Florida, more than 1 in 5 residents are foreign-born and nearly half the population is Latino, Black or Asian American. That might explain DeSantis’ multiple new voting restrictions.

DeSantis and GOP lawmakers have also advanced a bill opponents are calling “don’t say gay.” It would effectively forbid classroom discussions of sexual orientation.

 One proponent of the “anti-woke” bills gives the racist game away: “To say there were slaves is one thing, but to talk in detail about how slaves were treated, and with photos, is another.” 

It is indeed.