The Sunshine State’s Dark Bully

Dark Bully DeSantis’ ego and presidential ambition combine to spew out evermore autocratic, abusive, self-aggrandizing schemes and scams.

Many members of the extremist establishment have a new darling in dark bully Ron DeSantis. For example, the editor of the far-right National Review recently gushed that, second only to Trump, the Florida governor is “the hottest thing” in GOP politics: “Ron DeSantis is the new Republican Party.”

Interesting, because what characterizes Ron’s tenure (and prompts a collective swoon for him within the rightist hierarchy) is his strongman authoritarianism. Indeed, DeSantis puts the bull in bully, bellowing “culture war” hooey, demonizing immigrants, fabricating claims of voter fraud, promoting COVID-19 lies and so forth. Then he imperiously asserts government power to bully majority will, local communities, workers, the poor, Florida’s environment, truth, fairness, honesty and democracy. Consider one of DeSantis’ autocratic moves that, curiously, thrilled many who once professed to be small-government “conservatives.” They are now cheering for him to go national with his reliance on Big Government Boss-ism to usurp the people’s democratic authority.

Like other Republican-run states, DeSantis’s Florida keeps manufacturing ways to restrict voter participation, in particular blocking African Americans from the polls. In 2018, however, Floridians themselves rebuked the suppressors by approving a ballot measure to expand the electorate. A whopping 65% said YES to eliminating a vindictive lifelong ban on voting by ex-felons — people who had served their time. This long-overdue measure of simple justice (approved, in fact, by a much bigger margin of voters than DeSantis got that year) reenfranchised about 1.4 million former felons.

But wait — DeSantis had old Jim Crow up his sleeve! In 2019, he rammed a mean technical gotcha into state law, preventing former felons from voting until they pay in full all court fines (many arbitrarily and unfairly assessed years ago for things like marijuana possession). The fines can run thousands of dollars, so the new law priced a big percentage of these newly eligible voters out of democratic participation. It’s nothing but a crude partisan poll tax to keep a select group of poor people from casting ballots.

The extreme ugliness within DeSantis has yet to be fully plumbed. Indeed, it keeps surging as his ego and presidential ambition combine and combust, spewing out evermore autocratic, abusive, self-aggrandizing schemes and scams. For example, Florida’s supreme leader announced that he intends to form his own military force, a state army that would report only to him (bypassing the U.S. chain of command) “to protect the state” in case of “emergencies.” What’s an emergency? He’ll decide.

To relax, DeSantis turns to a favorite hobby: Monitoring, scolding and proscribing Floridians’ free speech rights. Stifling a human reality that even young kids know, DeSantis has outlawed potentially comforting discussions in elementary schools about sexual orientation and gender identity that don’t conform to Ron’s uptight Republican puritanism. His excellency has mandated that social studies textbooks not include (Get this!) any component of “social justice.” Nor can schools teach anything that would “denigrate the Founding Fathers” or examine institutional racism in America. Ron adamantly opposes what right-wingers call a “woke” society — he wants one that’s asleep.

Sound asleep. Dark bully DeSantis went wacky this year, inviting right-wing activists to review and help ban math textbooks. Yes, math! These screechers object that some real-life topics like race and wage disparities are being included in math problems — never mind that that might make math relevant to today’s students. His cadre of reviewers also rejected elementary school math books, alleging that they promote “socialist” values such as encouraging kiddos to “work together” on problems and “disagree respectfully.” DeSantis’s political censorship binge has nixed 42 math books for daring to “incorporate prohibited topics.”

All of this comes at taxpayer expense, of course, but most intolerable is the steady drip-drip-drip of power it drains from America’s democratic ideals and commitment to the common good. I can’t say that DeSantis is the worst that the GOP will try to put in the White House in 2024, but he is a signpost of an increasingly assertive American fascism.

Jim Hightower