The Next Great White Dope
Ron DeSantis has already displayed enough swagger and stupidity to become the GOP's 2024 front-runner
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Imagine being the party whose last President came to power after losing the popular vote, but cheated his way to the White House through a combination of illegal foreign interference, rampant campaign corruption, and personal crimes committed by a thug lawyer.
Your party’s President ran the most corrupt Administration in history, treated Presidential pardons as reward for loyalty from members of his criminal gang, acted so recklessly during a pandemic that he caused more than half a million preventable deaths, exploded the national debt (without a peep from the “Tea Party Caucus”), then completely crashed the economy, making 2020 the worst year for American jobs since World War Two.
After a humiliating election defeat, your President used fascist propaganda techniques to promote a “Big Lie” about election fraud and then actively incited a violent insurrection in a last-ditch attempt to overthrow US democracy.
Because your President was known for his clownish makeup as well as his would-be authoritarianism, one of his most popular nicknames was “Orange Mussolini.”
Now imagine that your party is being challenged to move beyond the corruption, disgrace and humiliating failure that symbolize the fascistic “Orange Mussolini.”
And your best idea is to pick someone slightly less orange.
Enter Ron DeSantis
With or without Trump in the race, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis now leads the GOP pack ahead of the 2024 election, according to this month’s “straw poll” at the Western Conservative Summit.
According to Joe Scarborough, one of the media lapdogs who helped elect Trump in 2016 before turning against him and declaring himself an Independent in 2017, many Republicans are saying this about DeSantis: “He’s Trump with the things we love about Trump and none of the liabilities.”
Even the increasingly-out-of-touch Bill Maher has bought into the DeSantis hype, echoing the Sean Hannity line of bullshit that the Florida Governor handled the pandemic better than his Democratic counterparts. Spoiler alert: He didn’t.
The idea that a “Great White Dope” like DeSantis could be on a list of possible Presidential candidates, let alone at the top of it, should be ridiculous in any sane democracy, especially when you consider his attitudes to some of the major issues facing America, such as: 1) Covid-19 (deny it); 2) Election integrity (destroy it); 3) Police brutality (encourage it); and 4) Free thought (police it).
1. Covid-19: Deny it
When I first wrote about the soaring number of Covid-19 deaths in US nursing homes on April 11, 2020, “the C.D.C. was not even keeping an official tally of nursing homes with coronavirus cases” and Florida was not sharing its nursing home data with news organizations.
In May, with an unmasked Mike Pence, the nominal head of Trump’s Coronavirus Task Force at his side, a swaggering Ron DeSantis bragged about his astonishingly low Covid numbers, weeks after prematurely reopening his state.
Things, of course, went downhill from there. By August, as if to prove it wasn’t going to go away in the heat like a miracle, the virus was killing Floridians in record numbers, day after day.
By December 2020, when Florida became the 3rd state to register one million Covid cases, a South Florida Sun Sentinel investigation discovered that DeSantis had: “suppressed unfavorable facts, dispensed dangerous misinformation, dismissed public health professionals, and promoted the views of scientific dissenters” who supported the governor’s own reckless (i.e. Trump-like) response to the pandemic.
The reality was that DeSantis lied and people died.
As Mary Ellen Klas, the Tallahassee bureau chief for the Miami Herald, told Slate last December:
(In June) he was saying the state’s numbers were on the decline and that meant that it was time to reopen the state. But in fact, the numbers were rising. Just days before his announcement date, they started to see numbers rise because it was a couple of weeks after the Easter holiday and people had gathered. So instead of telling the public that that’s what his numbers were showing, he said that things are on the decline.
In an April 2021 column discussing DeSantis, The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Will Bunch called the Governor, “a spokesman for the ‘free-dumb’ movement of opening America up without a coronavirus care in the world,” noting that “Florida’s recent, out-of-control Spring Break” had “coincided with yet another surge of COVID-19 among the state’s younger population,” even as, “wealthy friends and patrons of the governor were able to hop the coronavirus vaccine line.”
DeSantis failed to prepare his state for Covid-19 or learn the harsh lessons from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut during the first wave of nursing home deaths.
Like many GOP Governors, DeSantis spent most of 2020 denying the reality of Covid-19 and sacrificing thousands of lives in a desperate and failed effort to help Trump’s re-election campaign.
Florida’s Covid-19 horror story continues in 2021. Despite doing half as much Covid testing as NY has done since the pandemic began, Florida now has the same number of coronavirus cases.
And while America as a whole is at the point with the vaccine where virtually every new death could be considered “preventable,” Florida is now leading the nation in new cases and new deaths. On Friday June 25, the state registered 6X more new cases and 6X more Covid deaths than NY.
There’s a reason why the Twitterati call the Florida Governor #DeathSantis.
2. Election integrity: Destroy it
In May this year, DeSantis put Florida on the Republican voter suppression bandwagon when he signed a new law to protect the “integrity and transparency” of the state’s elections.
One clue about the bill’s actual intent—to stop minorities voting—could be deduced from his decision to sign the bill live on Trump’s favorite morning show Fox & Friends.
Even though Fox News “did not request or mandate” that the event “be exclusive,” DeSantis took it upon himself to ban the pesky local media from the nationally televised event.
As with other recent GOP laws that, in The New York Times’s terminology, “disproportionately affect voters of color,” the new Florida law is surgically designed to discriminate against non-white voters (who might be expected to vote for Democrats) when it comes to actually participating in elections:
Voters of color are most reliant on after-hours drop boxes, critics of the law say, as it’s often more difficult for them to both take hours off during the day and to organize transportation to polling places.
Florida made headlines in 2012 when its long voting lines discouraged more than 200,000 voters, the majority of whom, it was estimated, would have gone to Obama over Romney.
In 2018, DeSantis won his gubernatorial race by only 33,000 votes. In 2020, Trump won Florida by just 3%.
Instead of adapting Republican policies to attract more voters in the future, DeSantis has embraced the party’s notion that the easiest way to cling to power is to simply prevent the other side’s supporters from voting.
3. Police brutality: Encourage it
In addition to helping the GOP suppress the vote without any evidence of voter fraud, DeSantis is leading the charge to stifle protest, despite the fact, “Florida experienced little of the violence seen elsewhere in the country last summer following Floyd's death.”
In April 2021, the Governor signed the nation’s toughest anti-protest law, making it OK to run down protesters with cars.
That’s right. His answer to people protesting police brutality is not to remedy the brutality, it’s to intimidate and silence the Black Lives Matter movement by granting civil immunity for people who drive their cars into crowds of protesters.
4. Free thought: Police it
And DeSantis isn’t done yet. For all the talk of GOP opposition to “cancel culture,” the Florida Governor isn’t just attacking protests he doesn’t like. He’s attacking free speech itself.
This week, DeSantis signed a bill that sends the Thought Police into Florida’s public universities and colleges, requiring them to survey students, faculty and staff about their beliefs and viewpoints in order to support ‘intellectual diversity.’
As Sarah Jones writes in New York Magazine:
Florida’s survey bill carries with it an inherent threat: If you express speech the governor doesn’t like, punishment may follow. This is not unusual for foes of so-called critical race theory, who have fixed their sights on subjects that are not critical race theory at all. They seek to root out the accurate teaching of history, diversity training, and anti-racist education from public schools. That isn’t just an attack on the academic quality or the diversity of public education; it’s an attack on free speech, and it has become vicious.
According to the Editorial Board at The Miami Herald, “Joseph McCarthy would’ve loved” DeSantis’s new law, which uses “twisted logic” to target academia in ways “that have been hallmarks of anti-democratic regimes.” And, says the Herald, the survey is expected to have a “chilling effect”:
University budget cuts might be looming if our supreme leaders — er — lawmakers don’t like what the survey results show, bill sponsor Sen. Ray Rodrigues and DeSantis suggested Tuesday.
DeSantis’s efforts to restrict teaching of ideas he doesn’t like is, of course, part of the national GOP effort to clamp down on telling students about things that happened in what the rest of the world calls “recent history.”
Things have gotten so bad that dozens of organizations including the American Association of University Professors, PEN America, the American Historical Association, and the Association of American Colleges & Universities, put out a joint statment on June 16 that read in part:
Americans of all ages deserve nothing less than a free and open exchange about history and the forces that shape our world today, an exchange that should take place inside the classroom as well as in the public realm generally. To ban the tools that enable those discussions is to deprive us all of the tools necessary for citizenship in the 21st century. A white-washed view of history cannot change what happened in the past. A free and open society depends on the unrestricted pursuit and dissemination of knowledge.
These are scary times. DeSantis is part of a party and a vast right-wing media complex—led by Fox News—that thrives in “opposition” to progressive ideas and policies. Tapping into white victimhood is what they do best. The reality that Republicans retain the power to block national legislation while enacting draconian, anti-democratic laws at the state and local level doesn’t matter.
Republicans raise more money and Fox News generates higher ratings by selling fact-free grievance to a coalition of religious extremists, white nationalists and wild conspiracy theorists.
The GOP is now an anti-science, pro-stupidity party, eager to white-wash history and entrench minority rule by any means necessary.
If it’s not Trump in 2024, they’ll looking for a new Great White Dope to lead them forward. And right now, the guy spending most time practicing his Mussolini postures in front of the mirror is the dumb and deadly Ron DeSantis.