Tag Archives: Ron DeSantis

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.


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.

Florida Man…Again

For the past couple of years, comedians have focused on nutty things done by people–okay, men–who live in Florida, leading to a much-used meme about “Florida man.”

Maybe there’s something in the water that leads Florida guys to lose it–that would go part way, at least, to explaining Ron DeSantis. (Nothing I can come up with can explain the Florida voters who support him.)

Diane Ravich recently reported on  DeSantis’ headlong dive into authoritarian anti-Americanism.

Florida has become a Petri dish for potential fascism. DeSantis has made war on African Americans, on gays, on transgender people, on drag queens, on public schools, on higher education, even on private corporations (Disney). He likes to stand behind signs that declare Florida is “free,” but no one is free to disagree with him. That’s not freedom.

Now DeSantis has proposed to create a military force that answers only to him. To call out the National Guard, he must get federal permission. That’s not good enough for him. He wants a Florida state guard. Some other states have them, but they are not in the hands of a would-be dictator whose vanity knows no limits.

Ravich quoted a CNN report on the proposal that included the following paragraph:

But in a nod to the growing tension between Republican states and the Biden administration over the National Guard, DeSantis also said this unit, called the Florida State Guard, would be “not encumbered by the federal government.” He said this force would give him “the flexibility and the ability needed to respond to events in our state in the most effective way possible.” DeSantis is proposing bringing it back with a volunteer force of 200 civilians, and he is seeking $3.5 million from the state legislature in startup costs to train and equip them.

The thought of giving this tin-pot would-be dictator the authority to call out troops to “respond to events” triggers all kinds of questions. It doesn’t take much imagination to picture DeSantis using his chosen goons to break up peaceful demonstrations–or other “woke” events like those nefarious Drag Story Hours at the local library.

And speaking of DeSantis’ “war on woke,” Florida media are reporting on recent actions taken by judges Herr DeSantis has placed on the state Supreme Court

Florida judges no longer will need to learn how to at least try to ensure “fairness and diversity” while applying the law under a rule change that the Florida Supreme Court has adopted by a nearly unanimous vote.

Florida’s Code of Judicial Conduct still requires 30 hours of classes every three years about “judicial professionalism, opinions of the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, and the Code of Judicial Conduct.”

However, the court has stripped language mandating education in “fairness and diversity” to count toward the requirement.

The order was signed by Chief Justice Carlos Muñiz and by associate justices Charles Canady, Ricky Polston, John Couriel, Jamie Grosshans, and Renatha Francis. All but two of them–Canady and Polston– were placed on the court by DeSantis.

One Justice, Jorge Labarga, dissented strongly. Labarga, appointed by former Gov. Charlie Crist, wrote that  “this unilateral action potentially eliminates vital educational content from our state courts’ judicial education curriculum and does so in a manner inconsistent with this court’s years-long commitment to fairness and diversity education… Moreover, it paves the way for a complete dismantling of all fairness and diversity initiatives in the State Courts System. I strenuously dissent.”

And of course, DeSantis continues to wage war on education–especially, but not exclusively, higher education.

As one Florida newspaper has reported, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, Florida universities had been told to prioritize diversity plans. Two years later, DeSantis is gutting them. The report quoted one official saying “It takes years to get where we’ve gotten. It takes days to destroy it.” 

As the Guardian has reported,

Florida’s rightwing Republican governor, Ron DeSantis – and likely would-be presidential candidate for 2024 – has launched a relentless campaign of attack on higher education in the state, seeking to appeal to his party’s Trumpist base by positing that the state’s colleges and universities are a bastion of liberal extremism that needs to be reformed.

Last week DeSantis unveiled plans for a sweeping overhaul of Florida’s state university system that has left thousands of in-state students and faculty members feeling by turns indignant and dumbfounded as the man seen by many as Donald Trump’s only serious Republican rival set them up as a punchbag for his self-declared “war on woke”.

DeSantis may have trouble selling his “in your face” fascism to a national electorate. It’s hard to see how he might “pivot” to the center after winning the GOP nomination–even assuming he can wrest that nomination from Trump.

But “Florida man” is undoubtedly the (terrifying) face of today’s GOP.


An Ugly Omen

I’ll begin today’s post with a link to this report from The Week, but I’m reasonably certain that everyone reading this blog has already encountered reports about Ron. DeSantis’ most recent assault on the Constitution.

On the remote chance that you were vacationing in Bora Bora or blissfully hidden in an Amazon forest, I’ll explain: DeSantis refused to allow Florida schools to use a new Advanced Placement course in African-American studies, accusing it of being “woke.”

DeSantis has engaged in an unremitting war against “woke-ness”–otherwise described as any recognition that Black, Brown and LGBTQ people are citizens who are entitled to be treated as civic equals. My initial reaction to this latest eruption of racism in an effort to appeal to the increasingly racist GOP base was just to shake my head at this latest effort to protect Florida school kids from the evils of education.

Then came the reports prompting today’s headline–the utter capitulation of the College Board.

The alarming part of this story is that the College Board “completely bowed to his demands — and extremely quickly at that!” The nonprofit’s insistence that politics played no part in the decision is bunk. According to The New York Times, the writers and academics barred from the curriculum include Kimberlé W. Crenshaw, a Columbia professor whose work has been “foundational in critical race theory,” and author Ta-Nehisi Coates, “who has made a strong case for reparations.” More than 200 African American studies teachers said in a Medium post this gutting of the course amounts to “censorship and a frontal attack on academic freedom… Happy Black History Month.”

As Robert Kuttner put it in Kuttner on Tap in The American Prospect, DeSantis and the College Board were “enabling each others corruption.”

On Wednesday, after a threat from Gov. Ron DeSantis to ban the new Advanced Placement curriculum on African American studies in the state of Florida, the College Board released a watered-down version. The new curriculum is mainly historical. It deletes critical race theory and expunges or minimizes references to Black Lives Matter and the issues of reparations and Black incarceration. Some issues are removed from the AP curriculum entirely; others are left as optional topics for papers. The course still covers the slave trade and the civil rights movement but excises the work of several Black radical scholars.

Talk about following the money!

Like most Americans, I had previously been unaware that the AP courses offered to high school students capable of engaging with a more challenging curriculum are a branded product of the College Board. 

As Kuttner explained,

The College Board is a classic case of a large nonprofit that behaves exactly like a profit-maximizing business. Its annual budget is about a billion dollars a year, and according to its most recent tax filings, Coleman, its CEO, was paid $2.849 million in total compensation in 2020, which included $1.6 million in bonus and incentive compensation.

It turns out that the College Board’s income comes almost entirely from two sources: the fees it collects from SAT exams, and the money it makes from AP classes–licensing fees for use of the curricula and charges for the AP tests that allow students to earn early college credits.

But the SATs are on the ropes. Thanks to a long-standing campaign against the overuse of standardized testing by FairTest and other critics, at least 1,835 colleges and universities, a majority of all higher-education institutions, now either don’t use the SAT or make it optional. Its total revenue dropped from $1.1 billion in 2019 to $779 million in 2020, the year of its most recent tax filing. So the College Board is now even more reliant on AP curricula and tests.

That reliance explains a lot. According to Kuttner, there are currently 38 AP courses, including human geography, psychology, art history, and Japanese culture and language. The AP African American studies curriculum was new, poised to be launched in the 2023-2024 school year.

I had also been unaware of a growing movement to replace the College Board’s AP classes with “home-grown” curricula; the article quoted one principal explaining that having his own  advanced courses allows his school to be creative in curriculum, instruction, and assessment, and to respond to student interests.

Parents opposed to substituting local curricula worry about college acceptances in the absence of the familiar College Board classes. Kuttner notes that their worry “is fomented by that other famously corrupted institution, the U.S. News rankings. In ranking high schools, one major U.S. News weighting factor is how many kids take AP courses—”a perfect symbiosis between two unsavory education players.”

This “backstory” goes a long way to explain the College Board’s craven capitulation to the censors of the far right. It also strips away any belief that the Board’s mission is education.

It’s profit.

Briggs Gets It. Banks Doesn’t

James Briggs is currently an opinion columnist for the Indianapolis Star. (I say “currently” because for the past several years, the Star has employed one columnist at a time to opine about the news–usually national– arguably to distract readers from recognizing the extent to which the newspaper doesn’t cover state or local government. But I digress.)

I have tended to agree with Briggs’ take on the various matters he’s covered, and a recent column was no exception.The target was Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, and his retaliation against Disney for having the temerity to oppose his “Don’t say Gay” bill. Briggs wonders whether Florida’s break between business and the GOP will spread to other Red states.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ war on Disney feels like a potential breaking point for Republicans and big business.

The question is whether the rift will extend beyond certain regions (such as the Southeast) and personality-driven politics (DeSantis boosts his national profile by taking on that lib, Mickey Mouse) to alter the governing philosophy of Republicans in red states across the country.

As Briggs notes, the traditional alliance between the GOP and big business has become strained, as a number of corporations have responded to public opinion by taking political positions that have angered Republican culture warriors. He mentions Dick’s Sporting Goods, which led large retailers to stop selling semiautomatic rifles and ammunition in 2018, and decisions by Coca-Cola and Delta to oppose Georgia Republicans’ voting legislation last year.

The most famous Indiana example of government clashing with big business, of course, was the 2015 response of Hoosier business to the effort by then-Gov. Mike Pence and the Republican-controlled Indiana General Assembly to pass an altered version of the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act–a version that would have facilitated anti-LGBTQ discrimination. Business won that conflict.

This year in Florida, however, DeSantis’ obedient state legislature  passed a bill to eliminate a special district that enables Disney World to operate as its own municipality in the state. The effective date of the measure was delayed until after the midterm elections, undoubtedly because–if it goes into effect– it will raise taxes and shift enormous debt from Disney to Florida taxpayers. (Culture wars come at a cost…)

Some Indiana Republicans are agitating for that shift as well, most notably U.S. Rep. Jim Banks, who has called out Eli Lilly & Co. and bragged about being blacklisted by the Indianapolis drugmaker’s political action committee over objecting to Joe Biden’s election certification last year. Banks also is among 17 Republican members of Congress who wrote to Disney expressing opposition to extending copyright protection for Mickey Mouse beyond 2024.

The sentiment is simmering throughout Indiana. Rank-and-file Republicans in the Indiana General Assembly have been putting the state’s top companies on their heels in recent years, including the most recent session when they introduced legislation that would have all but banned employer vaccine mandates.

I find this 180 degree shift in Republican philosophy gobsmacking. The GOP used to be overly deferential, if anything, to corporate America’s freedom to manage its own business affairs.

Briggs is confident that Indiana will not follow DeSantis’ authoritarian lead. His reasoning is persuasive, but depressing. Essentially, he says Florida remains a state where people want to live and do business. It’s the eighth-fastest-growing state, and it has three of the 10 hottest housing markets. It’s “attracting the population and talent to drive a thriving business climate.”

Indiana is a tougher sell. Eli Lilly CEO David Ricks recently laid that out in brutal terms during a speech to the Economic Club of Indiana.

“Our education attainment in the state is not good,” Ricks said, as reported by WISH-TV. “The ability to reskill the workforce, I think, could improve. Health, life and inclusion, overall, I think, conditions rank poorly nationally in our state. And also workforce preparedness, also related to reskilling, is a liability for us.”

Ricks might have elaborated on that thesis, pointing out that Indiana’s infrastructure and overall quality of life don’t send welcoming messages to potential residents or businesses. “We’re cheap” isn’t exactly an enthusiastic endorsement. Add to our other visible deficits the voices of far too many of our elected officials; Banks isn’t the only embarrassment working overtime to appeal to the under-educated and overwrought GOP base.

Indiana’s Republicans have long since abandoned the statesmanship of Dick Lugar and Bill Hudnut. Instead, they are emulating the bigoted idiocies of Margery Taylor Green, Paul Gosar and their ilk.

As Briggs points out, Indiana needs big, high-paying employers–and those employers need workers who are unlikely to agree with Jim Banks, et al, on social issues. We aren’t Florida, “where oceans and warm weather in January have a way of making you forget about politics.”

These days, businesses will think twice about Florida–ocean or not–let alone Indiana.