I realize that many people are probably sick of hearing about Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis now that he’s fallen in the polls and looks less like a real threat to win the GOP presidential nomination. He’s an unpleasant person and it’s vaguely uncomfortable to even read about him which is no doubt why his slide has invited what seems like dozens of new entrants into the race. They all now think they could be in second place in case Trump trips on the golf course and breaks a hip. It’s still quite early in the process, DeSantis has a lot of money and is, by all accounts, putting together a serious campaign so it’s too early to write him off. But there’s no need to dwell on his candidacy quite as much now that he’s lost his luster.
Still, it’s probably a good idea to continue to keep an eye on DeSantis regardless of his presidential ambitions. Of all the candidates, he best represents the next generation of GOP leaders and his political philosophy is something quite new for the Republican Party. It’s not the conservatism that dominated the GOP since the 1950s but neither is it Trumpism, to the extent that such a thing even exists without Trump. It’s a whole new ballgame.
As he has done in Florida, DeSantis plans to use the massive power of the government to inflict his own ideology on the country by force.
Trump is essentially all about Trump. He still says it all the time: “I alone can fix it” or, more recently, “I am your retribution.” Since he apparently considers himself the natural heir to the Sun King, Louis XIV, his view of government is essentially “L’État, c’est moi” and therefore anything that hurts him can be seen as an attack on the country. Despite all the hand-wringing about “what it all means” with reporters venturing out to the heartland every few weeks to figure out what it is that Real America really wants from the moment he won the nomination in 2016, all of politics and government has been about what is good for Donald Trump. MAGA isn’t an ideology it’s a cult of personality.
That is not to say that Trump doesn’t have his hobby horses, and they signal a populist turn on the right. His focus on trade wars and immigration and the promises to preserve the government safety net programs are classic populist policies. For whatever reason, these happen to be issues in which he formed a shallow interest years ago or instinctively understood would set him apart from the normal Republican, so he did manage to shift the GOP away from policies that had been fundamental to the party’s identity for decades. It wasn’t a coherent philosophy but he understood that this agenda had great appeal to the GOP base and anyway, the Sun King of Mar-a-Lago can do what he wants.
That element of populism is really all there is to an ideology like Trumpism. The rest is all about attitude, image and personality. DeSantis, on the other hand, has a fully developed political and governing philosophy and it’s something that is similarly unfolding all over the world. It’s not complicated. It’s authoritarianism.
As he has done in Florida, DeSantis plans to use the massive power of the government to inflict his own ideology on the country by force. There’s no need to go into all the ways in which DeSantis has demonstrated his willingness to do this. There have been endless articles laying out the atrocities from his assault on teaching history and recognizing LGBTQ rights to restricting voting, cruelty to immigrants and even bizarre attacks on Disney, the biggest employer in his state, all in the name of battling the “woke” left and consolidating power in himself and the Republican party. He’s leaving no stone unturned.
All of DeSantis’ assaults on the civil rights and civil liberties of those with whom he disagrees, and using government power to enforce it, simply cannot be defined as anything but authoritarian.
Just this week, he continued his ongoing quest to turn the entire Florida education system into a laboratory for instilling his belief system by banning information and views with which he disagrees. According to the Washington Post, “after signing legislation that blocks spending on campus programs for diversity, equity and inclusion “and another that requires “more than half of Florida’s public colleges and universities to change accreditors in the next two years,” DeSantis decided to sue the federal government over its policy to defund higher education institutions which are not properly accredited. This is all about using his power as governor to dictate what can be taught in Florida’s colleges (right-wing ideology) all while saying that he’s restoring academic freedom.
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Republicans have been trying to instill “traditional family values” in American society forever. There’s nothing new about that. But at the same time, they always pounded away at the idea of small government and individual freedom. There has often been tension between how they chose to use the law to enforce their values but DeSantis doesn’t even try to hide what he is doing. A master propagandist, he couches his power grab in paeans to freedom but the intent is clear as day.
As he said in a speech at Charleston College in April:
“I don’t think you have a truly free state just because you have low taxes, low regulation, and no COVID restrictions, if the left is able to impose its agenda through the education system, through the business sphere, through all these others. A free state means you’re protecting your people from the left’s pathologies across the board.”
That pesky First Amendment thing is a real problem isn’t it? This country needs big, strong men like DeSantis to protect “his people” from all those ideas that are bad for them. As he made clear in his recent pledge:
“I will be able to destroy leftism in this country and leave woke ideology in the dustbin of history.”
Only then will his people truly be free. (What happens to the people who hold those beliefs is not spelled out but I think you can use your imagination and you probably wouldn’t be wrong.)
Are Americans going to buy this fatuous definition of freedom? It doesn’t seem so, at least not so far. You can say the word “woke” over and over again and it won’t make people understand it and you can repeat the word “freedom” until you’re blue in the face and Americans just aren’t seeing six-week abortion bans and firing teachers for speaking about gay people as freedom. All of DeSantis’ assaults on the civil rights and civil liberties of those with whom he disagrees, and using government power to enforce it, simply cannot be defined as anything but authoritarian. Calling it “freedom” is absurd on its face and most people can see right through it.
Americans value the idea of liberty probably more than any country in the world. It’s enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and even the pledge of allegiance and no matter where you sit on the political compass most Americans will say that it’s important. I have a sneaking suspicion that DeSantis’ definition won’t scan for most people. There may be different ways of looking at the concept but declaring that the government needs to “protect” people from ideas they don’t agree with meets no one’s definition of freedom. In fact, it’s downright un-American.
about the threat of Ron DeSantis