Tag Archives: DeSantis

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.

Speaking Of Florida…

Speaking of Florida…

Ron DeSantis–the delusional and dangerous governor of Florida–is evidently doubling down on his insistence that government has no business protecting the public health via vaccine mandates.

According to The Week,

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) on Thursday stepped up his fight against the White House over COVID-19 restrictions, calling for a special legislative session so the state’s Republican-dominated Legislature can block President Biden’s vaccine mandates. “We have an opportunity here to take additional action, and I think we have to do it,” said DeSantis, who also has vowed to challenge Biden’s mandates in court. “I think we have got to stand up for people’s jobs and their livelihoods.” Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls said his office had not received details on the plan for a special session. Biden in September said his administration would impose vaccine mandates on federal workers and businesses with more than 100 employees, prompting criticism from Republicans who said getting vaccinated should be a personal choice.

I don’t have any special insight into whether DeSantis is really as stupid as he sounds, or whether he has decided that his political future rests with the delusional Trumpian base of the GOP, but this latest bit of theater is driving rational observers over the edge.

The hypocrisy is bad enough. This sudden libertarianism is jarring, coming as it does from Republicans who have waged culture war on behalf of government’s right to dictate everything from citizens’ right to smoke weed to who they can marry and and how they must reproduce.

What is especially infuriating, however, is the insistence that protecting others from serious illness and possible death should be a matter of “personal choice.”

As most readers of this blog are aware, I spent six years as the Executive Director of Indiana’s ACLU. I came to that position as a libertarian Republican (a category that no longer exists in the GOP, despite these sudden dishonest exhortations about “personal choice.”) I was–and am–a believer in what is called the libertarian premise, the  Enlightenment construct that says citizens are entitled to pursue their own telos, their own life goals–in today’s jargon, entitled to “do their own thing” and make their own “personal choices”–so long as they do not thereby harm the person or property of a non-consenting other, and so long as they are willing to accord an equal liberty to others.

The legitimacy of government action rests on those caveats.

There can certainly be arguments about what constitutes sufficient harm to justify government rules and regulations. Those arguments have been especially relevant to so-called “victimless crimes.” We distinguish, for example, between the guy who gets drunk in the privacy of his own home and the guy who gets drunk and takes to the road in his car. People who smoke in their own homes and cars are free to do so, but we have regulated smoking in public places ever since medical science discovered that passive smoke  endangers others. We argue whether the gambler who sustains losses poses a threat to others sufficient to legitimize laws against gambling, and whether the driver who doesn’t “buckle up” endangers anyone but himself.

The argument that vaccination is a “personal choice” doesn’t fall into that category.

Previous epidemics have not spawned similar, widespread debates about government’s right–actually, government’s duty–to protect public health. American courts, including the Supreme Court, have upheld both vaccination and quarantine mandates, because they are most definitely not matters of personal choice. A decision to forego vaccination for a non-medical reason is a declaration of disregard for ones fellow-citizens. Period.

If today’s insane Republicans want to risk their own lives in order to make a political statement, I’m fine with that. When they want to risk the lives of other people, not so much.

In Florida, a large percentage of the population is composed of elderly folks who are particularly vulnerable to the pandemic, That makes DeSantis’ opposition to vaccination especially heinous. He isn’t protecting “personal choice;” he’s signaling his willingness to add to the 59,000+  deaths the state has already suffered from COVID.

He has made a “personal choice” to elevate politics over morality.He’s despicable.