Tag Archives: Florida

Worse Than Trump

Ron Desantis (Taliban: Florida) has announced his campaign for President in a widely-mocked, glitch-filled Twitter appearance, so it may be time to re-read a February New Republic essay “A DeSantis Presidency Could Be Even Worse Than Trump.”

The sub-head is brutal: “Donald Trump was and is a lazy, ignorant narcissist. The Florida governor is a smart, motivated, very right-wing Catholic who wants to remake America as he imagines God wants it to be.”

The article preceded DeSantis’ precipitous plunge in the polls, and takes seriously the possibility of DeSantis capturing the GOP nomination. Back in February, before the general public became more familiar with DeSantis’ agenda (autocratic) and personality (wooden/off-putting/missing), the Florida Governor was viewed as relatively sane and intelligent, at least compared to Trump, and many in the public  assumed that meant DeSantis would be a better president than Trump.

The following paragraphs from the essay reminded me of a gloomy conversation I had with a friend the weekend after the 2016 election. Her most hopeful prediction–which turned out to be very accurate–was that Trump’s manifest incompetence would prevent him from actually enacting much of the damage he was promising.

DeSantis differs from Trump in several ways. While Trump couldn’t care less about “critical race theory” or transgender people, and simply throws stuff into speeches at his rallies that get the biggest reaction, DeSantis is a deeply conservative Catholic and a true believer in the culture wars he engages in. The other key difference is that DeSantis is a Harvard- and Yale-educated lawyer, while Trump skated through a bachelor’s in business where one of his professors called him “the dumbest goddamn student I ever had.”

The damage Trump was able to do was limited by his lack of discipline, ignorance of how the system worked, laziness, and lack of motivation. He is simply a narcissist who likes feeling rich, powerful, and important. DeSantis, however, is none of these things. He is not lazy. He has discipline, motivation, and an intimate knowledge of how to use the system to get what he wants. DeSantis fully intends to remake America the way he believes God would want it to be, and his knowledge of law and governmental structure allows him to do it on a scale, and with a precision, that Trump could only dream about.

The essay noted that DeSantis was pursuing what it called “one of the most aggressively authoritarian agendas in the country” by using two primary strategies: “capturing the referees and strategic ambiguity.”

DeSantis quietly packed both the Florida Board of Medicine and the New College Board of Trustees with ideological fellow travelers to bend institutions to their will. The Board of Medicine now includes campaign donors, Catholics who substitute the Vatican’s positions for that of professional medical organizations, and proponents of conversion therapy, while the surgeon general of Florida is an anti-vaxxer. 

The strategy is to move the decision-making process out of the public spotlight by giving important decision-making authority to people who can’t be held accountable at the ballot box. (Diane Ravich recently noted that DeSantis had gutted Florida’s open records law–another ploy to keep that “capture of the referees” hidden from public view.)

And that “strategic ambiguity”?

DeSantis has made persistent war on “woke” education–from public schools to state universities.

The DeSantis administration swore up and down that the “Florida Parental Rights in Education Act” (the “Don’t Say Gay” law) was simply there to protect vulnerable young children from being exposed to dangerous or obscene ideas, images, or writing. In reality, it was deliberately vague and overly broad. When schoolteachers and librarians reached out for guidance on what is allowed, they were met with silence by the DeSantis administration. This left them with the choice: Do we remove everything from school libraries, or do we risk the potential legal consequences of annoying his administration?

Back when we had a legitimate Supreme Court, employment of this tactic was repeatedly struck down for creating a “chilling effect,” that violated the First Amendment.

The article lists a truly terrifying number of ways a DeSantis administration could use these strategies in support of a radically Rightwing  culture war agenda. I would encourage you to click through and read it all if I thought this little martinet had a realistic chance to be President, or even the Republican nominee. But since February, when this essay was published, Americans have learned a lot about Mr. DeSantis.

Current polling reflects the public’s response to DeSantis’ repetitive attacks on  “wokeness” and the strategic stupidity of picking a stubborn, petty fight with Disney (Florida’s largest employer and largest tourism draw), among other unforced errors.

And really, no one wants to have a beer with this guy.


Guess What’s “Inappropriate”

The rule of law.

Many pundits–including yours truly–throw that term around, assuming readers understand its elements. I think most Americans do recognize one of those elements–the principle that no one is above the law, that the rules apply to everyone, very much including Presidents and lawmakers.

There are other principles that are less-well understood, however, and one of them is specificity. If laws are to be obeyed, they must be explicit. They must describe the behaviors being prohibited (or required) clearly, in terms that allow citizens to fully understand them. When courts strike down laws for being unconstitutional, it is often because those measures have been found to be unconstitutionally vague.

That required specificity is among the many, many things that far too many legislators ignore. Texas comes immediately to mind, but the following example is from Ron DeSantis’ Florida–a state that is beginning to resemble Viktor Orban’s Hungary.

As Daily Kos — among others–recently reported:

There are more than 500 entries for Florida in PEN America’s ever-expanding list of books banned in American schools. These include what should be obviously innocuous titles like the “Zen Shorts” series by Jon Muth, which are some of the best children’s books available to parents and teachers. This effort to remove books about Black and LGBTQ+ people and characters from schools and libraries is a part of a larger effort to sanitize our country’s history. Like almost all efforts that pass for conservative “policies” these days, citizens of all ages are widely opposed to the bans….

DeSantis and his team of book-banners also highlighted the need to criminally punish teachers or librarians who give out books people like DeSantis deem pornographic. Mind you, our federal government (and Florida itself) already has laws outlining what is and is not considered pornographic. And there are also laws that prohibit books, images, and videos that sexualize minors…

Judd Legum over at Popular Information has gotten his hands on some of the Florida books that have been banned and the stated reasons they were banned. You would be hard-pressed to figure out how the previous statements above have any bearing on the decisions being made about libraries in the Sunshine State.

The article links to PEN’s report on the multitude of books that have been removed from Florida classrooms and it’s as jaw-dropping as you might imagine. The extensive nature of the list is an artifact of an unconstitutionally vague statute–a truly excellent example of a law that violates the specificity required by the rule of law. That’s because, In Florida, while there may be a few books deemed “pornographic,” most of the books that have been banned are attacked under the “how vague can you get” term “inappropriate.”

Rather obviously, my definition of “inappropriate” and yours may differ substantially.

The linked article suggests that the DeSantis Administration finds books depicting racism in negative terms to be “inappropriate.” For example, the Florida Department of Education announced that it rejected 35% of social studies textbooks submitted to them. One of those–a book for 6th to 8th graders– was evidently rejected for containing the following section:

“New Calls for Social Justice

During the 2000s, one effect of an increase in the use or mobile devices and social media was the spread of images of police violence, sometimes deadly, against Black Americans. The deaths of Black Americans outraged many Americans and led to a crowing awareness of systemic racism that permeated the broader society.

In 2013, a new social and political movement called Black Lives Matter formed to protest violence against Black Americans. The movement called for an end to systemic racism and white supremacy.”

Lest anti-Semites feel neglected by Florida lawmakers’ focus on protecting racism, the state has also rejected education about the Holocaust, finding it “woke.”

Florida’s state education department rejected two new Holocaust-focused textbooks for classroom use, while forcing at least one other textbook to alter a passage about the Hebrew Bible in order to meet state approval…

“Modern Genocides” was rejected in part for its discussion of “special topics” prohibited by the state. The list of such topics includes terms such as “social justice” and “critical race theory,”a phrase that traditionally concerns a method of legal analysis but that Republicans have used pejoratively to refer to discussion of systemic racism in the United States. The department did not clarify which prohibited “special topics” the book included.

Florida evidently considers accurate history and support for civic equality as (equally-vague) “woke” and thus “inappropriate.”

Maybe we should get rid of speed limits and just prohibit “driving too fast.” We can trust the police to decide who’s speeding–right?

Just like we can trust Florida’s current government to decide what’s “inappropriate.”




Falling Off The Cliff..

America’s MAGA Governors are increasingly divorced from reality.

I was struck by the title of a recent op-ed by Eugene Robinson in the Washington Post: “Ron DeSantis’ political War on Disney Makes Trump Look Reasonable.”

You really have to fall far, far off the sanity cliff to make Donald Trump look reasonable, but Robinson makes a compelling case.

I mean, seriously, what kind of governor threatens the revenue of a company that is his state’s biggest private employer, No. 1 corporate taxpayer and most popular tourist attraction? For that matter, what kind of self-proclaimed conservative Republican believes a governor has the right to punish a corporation for publicly disagreeing with his policies?

The battle DeSantis has chosen to wage against Walt Disney World always seemed petty and ill-advised. It now looks obsessive and weird — and I fear it tells us something alarming about the man who is running second in the polls, behind Donald Trump, for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

DeSantis’ obsessive need to punish a private company that dared criticize him has evidently been supercharged by the fact that Disney outfoxed him.

DeSantis wanted to take away Disney’s near-total control over the county Disney World inhabits. An agreement from the 1960s gave the company its own taxing district –along with responsibility for policing, firefighting, road maintenance and other government-like duties.

DeSantis had a tough, “anti-woke” oversight board all set to take charge of the special district and show Disney who’s boss — only to learn, late last month, that the Disney-friendly outgoing board had signed an agreement stripping the new board of its power and allowing Disney to continue operating with near-total autonomy for the foreseeable future.

Rather than walking away from further confrontation, DeSantis is asking Florida’s legislature to reverse Disney’s maneuver while ranting about punishing the company — the state’s biggest employer — by developing the land around Disney World in ways that would repel paying customers. “Maybe try to do more amusement parks,” he said at a news conference. “Someone even said, like, maybe you need another state prison.”

As if attacking the premier tourist attraction in his state for daring to disagree with him wasn’t insane enough, DeSantis and his compliant legislature are also continuing their destructive vendetta against the state’s universities.

But they’ll have trouble out-crazying Texas.

Talking Points Memo recently reported on a vote by the Texas Senate to end tenure at the state’s three dozen or so public universities.

Many observers in Texas think it’s unlikely that the tenure ban will pass the GOP-controlled Texas House. I hope that’s right. But even if it dies there, we have to reckon with how far Texas senators were willing to go.

As the article noted,

SB 18 would eliminate tenure only for newly hired professors and would allow a university system governing board to set up its own system of “tiered employment” for faculty, as long as professors receive an annual review. 

But let’s not kid ourselves. Eliminating tenure for new hires would put Texas universities at an extreme disadvantage when recruiting faculty. It would cripple many graduate programs. It would inject politics deeply into university management and administration. It would allow state government to play the same kinds of games with higher ed that they love foisting on elementary and secondary educators.

In Florida, DeSantis has pursued an unremitting assault on state educational institutions–from censoring the books that can be used in its public schools, to “don’t say gay” bills, to a variety of attacks on anything the Governor–in his warped worldview–considers “wokeness” on college campuses.

Recent research suggests these attacks on their universities will dramatically reduce the number of high school graduates willing to consider pursing higher education in either state. Axios has reported on a recent study showing college choices increasingly affected by state politics.

Although both liberal and conservative high school graduates affirmed the importance of the state’s political climate to their choice of colleges, young liberals outnumber conservatives by some 2-1, making this a much bigger problem for Red states. One finding should concern Indiana as well as Florida and Texas.

Among all college students, the support for states that have greater access to abortion is by an overwhelming 4-to-1 margin, including two-thirds of Republicans who said they prefer states with less restrictive abortion laws. It’s also a pronounced winner among women (86%) and men (74%) alike.

Prospective students aren’t the only ones avoiding states with abortion bans. The Washington Post has reported a steep drop in applicants for obstetrics and gynecology residencies in those states–drops that will deprive residents of critically-needed medical care. 

DeSantis and Abbott are depressingly representative of today’s Republican lawmakers– a collection of loony-tunes aspiring autocrats pursuing suicidal policies repellent to anyone outside crazy MAGA world.

As my grandmother would have said, “A wellness it isn’t.”


Dueling Overton Windows?

Wikipedia tells us that

The Overton window is the range of policies politically acceptable to the mainstream population at a given time. It is also known as the window of discourse.

The term is named after American policy analyst Joseph Overton, who stated that an idea’s political viability depends mainly on whether it falls within this range, rather than on politicians’ individual preferences. According to Overton, the window frames the range of policies that a politician can recommend without appearing too extreme to gain or keep public office given the climate of public opinion at that time.

That leads to a question: what happens when what is considered “mainstream” in the bubble occupied by people on the political Right is wildly at variance with what is “mainstream opinion” in the rest of America? 

Most Americans find assertions about deep-state elites running the world while drinking the blood of young children to be unlikely, to put it mildly, but on the MAGA right, a significant number of QAnon folks actually believe those things. Fervently.  A troubling number of MAGA “warriors” believe Jews and Blacks are trying to “replace” White Christian Americans. An even larger percentage has fully bought in to Trump’s Big Lie, despite overwhelming evidence that has led more rational Americans to find it preposterous.

I hadn’t really thought about the possibility of incompatible Overton Windows until I came across a report by ProPublica about the Right’s effort to brand The League of Women Voters as a leftwing–probably “woke”– organization.

The nonpartisan League of Women Voters has been facing a nationwide backlash after decades of going about its business of surveying candidates, registering voters, hosting debates and lobbying for its causes with little fuss.

ProPublica reported in August how the volatile political climate has caught up with the league, with conservatives increasingly portraying it as a decidedly liberal entity. Since that story was published, we’ve seen candidates reject invitations to debate and try to undermine the league’s work in registering new voters. In September in Illinois, then-Lake County Board member Dick Barr, a Republican, publicly apologized for a Facebook post in which he called the league “partisan hags.”

This week, the group found itself once again in the middle of a political controversy. This time it was in Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis has sought to reshape a wide range of discourse, including by making it easier for public officials to sue for defamation and restricting discussions of systemic racism in workplace trainings. The league revealed that it had been denied permission by the Florida Department of Management Services to hold an outdoor rally on the steps of the Old Capitol in Tallahassee under a new DeSantis administration rule requiring groups to first get sponsorship from a sympathetic state agency.

The League’s Florida president was asked about the “increasingly difficult environment” occupied by the 103-year old league, due to positions that it has long championed– positions that used to be seen as nonpartisan, and that have historically been considered entirely “mainstream” by both Republicans and Democrats.

As she noted, the League promotes civic discourse, freedom of academic thought, and ready access to the ballot box. It has never supported or opposed any political party or candidate. Which raises a question: when, exactly, did those positions make the organization “leftwing”? 

I think I know.

The website of the Indiana League opens with the following statement:.

The League of Women Voters is a nonpartisan civic organization
that encourages informed and active participation in government,
works to increase understanding of major public policy issues,
and influences public policy through education and advocacy.

There’s the evidence! Talk about an admission of “wokeness”! “Informed” participation? “Understanding” of major policy issues? Those goals are clearly part of the liberal-left effort to encourage knowledge and education (and–gasp!– maybe even respect for science and fact…).

Woke, woke, woke!

The League became Leftwing when “education is dangerous”  became an article of faith on the Right– when some 25% of the American public decided that teaching really is a subversive activity, that learning accurate American history is a commie conspiracy, that letting Black people vote– and for that matter, entertaining the very concept of “inclusion”–are signs of the Beast, or at the very least, anti-American.

How long have demonstrably untrue (and arguably insane) ideas been embraced as “mainstream” in the bubble inhabited by Fox “News” viewers, MAGA warriors and Christian Nationalists? 

And more consequentially, how do we repair a breach between irreconcilable world-views? How do we penetrate the information bubble that insulates a troubling number of our fellow Americans from reality– and produces a separate, manifestly delusional, Overton Window?


Well, I Guess We Know What “Wokeness” Is

If we ever thought the current war on “wokeness” isn’t an effort to dumb America down–to keep the kids from learning about times when the country failed to live up to its principles, to keep them from reading books that might stretch their horizons or (horrors!) make them aware of the existence of folks unlike Ma and Pa–Florida is disabusing us of that error.

Ron DeSantis is updating the old lyrics. Remember “How will we keep them down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree”? In Florida, it’s now “How will we keep them in the GOP after they’ve learned to think?” (Indiana’s legislators are singing along…)

Talking Points Memo has the most recent abomination emanating from the sunshine state.

The Florida statehouse launched another strike in Gov. Ron DeSantis’s “anti-woke” war with a new bill this week aiming to hand more control of school administration over to the governor and his political appointees.

House Bill 999, introduced on Tuesday by Rep. Alex Andrade (R-Pensacola), proposes to give boards of trustees nearly unanimous power over state university faculty hiring, allow professors’ tenure to be reevaluated “at any time,” remove critical race theory and gender studies from college curricula, and bar spending on diversity, equity and inclusion programs.

The bill also digs in on DeSantis’ obsession with shutting down any educational instruction on race and systemic racism, stating that general education courses must not “suppress or distort” historical events, reference identity politics like critical race theory, or define U.S. history in ways that contradict “universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.” Instead, the courses must “promote the philosophical underpinnings of Western civilization and include studies of this nation’s historical documents, including the United States Constitution, the Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments thereto, and the Federalist Papers.”

Of course, “suppressing and distorting American history” is precisely what this bill–and the “anti-woke” movement– would do.

DeSantis’ administration has actually threatened teachers that they will be charged with felonies if they allow students to check out unapproved library books. His rejection of an AP African American Studies course for “lack[ing] educational merit” (!!) made national headlines (as did the disgraceful acquiescence of the College Board that “corrected” its curriculum.)

Decisions that are typically made with university presidents and boards of trustees in cooperation with faculty and staff – like setting up core curricula and deciding which departments should close, would be handed exclusively over to the board – members of which are appointed by the governor.

What Daniel Gordon, a historian at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and author on academic freedom , finds “particularly striking” about the bill is that it doesn’t require trustees to consult university faculty before hiring new professors. “This contradicts a principle, well established by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), that [sic] professors in a given discipline have the expertise needed to select a new faculty member in the discipline,” he told TPM. “Math professors are the people best equipped to assess applications for a professorship in math!”

In January, DeSantis announced plans to defund diversity, equity and inclusion programs in every public university in the state.

If these appalling measures were limited to Florida–if this out-and-proud racism and anti-intellectualism were limited to just one arguably deranged office-holder– it would be bad enough. But as the linked article notes, DeSantis’ “anti-woke” proposals are clearly intended to appeal to a “very specific breed of Trump voter as he mulls a 2024 bid.”

We all know what that “specific breed” believes.

DeSantis is evil, but not stupid. He clearly intends to ride the tide of White Supremacy to the White House, and he just as clearly believes that there are enough voters who share his racism, misogyny and homophobia to put him there.

A 1939 article from the Atlantic said it best.

THE early Americans were determined that education should be free from political control. Being liberals in the original and true sense of the term, they believed in the integrity of the individual as opposed to the despotism of the state. This integrity or dignity of the individual was, of course, basic in democracy. Among other things, it implied the right of the citizenry to think independently, to seek truth honestly, and to determine without political interference what should constitute the education of their children….

It was the experienced judgment of these early liberals that education, religion, and the press should be free from political domination. These were the institutions of thought. They had to be untrammeled if the individual was to be free. Hence it came about that early America produced a peculiar system of education, its outstanding characteristic that it was to be supported and controlled by the people, by parents, by citizens — but not by the state.

I guess our Founders were woke.