The very dangerous heir apparent
Many Americans hoped that Trump was an anomaly, brought to power by a combination of American laziness (in 2016, more people stayed home than voted for either candidate) and russian interference (Report of the Select Committee on Intelligence, 116th CongressSenate Report 116-XX; The Mueller Report, Summary Vol. 1). For those, Trump’s defeat signaled a combination of “phew, it was close” and the expectation of a return to “normal.”
Perhaps these four years of government hell, culminating in the January 6 coup attempt, would serve as a lesson in recognizing that this precious democratic republic is a fragile thing requiring constant vigilance to survive and thrive. And perhaps we could celebrate that decency and compassion won out over rudeness and hatred, concern for others over self-glorification, intelligence and knowledge over superficiality and incompetence, and value of all instead of only a powerful and privileged few.
Maybe. But then again, maybe Trump was just the start. Perhaps it is the anarchists who have learned the lessons. Maybe Trump was just a dress rehearsal for the next autocrat, someone whose dedication to power is untrammeled by democratic principles. In fact, for an aspiring despot, democracy is a dirty word because it means that all are dignified, all are equal, all are entitled to equal rights, and no group is better or inherently privileged over another. For Trump and his cronies, democracy itself is anathema.
Trump provided the next despot-in-training with a roadmap, complete with GPS. There is already a third of the population waiting for the next iteration. And the next might be smart. Not smart, mind you, just smart and very dangerous.
The current governor of Florida has named himself America’s next chief autocrat, and he has a sycophant Republican legislature that accommodates his fascist leanings. Yes. This word. This is not said lightly. So let’s see if his actions support the label.
• DeSantis has reinforced distrust of valued and trusted institutions and the people associated with them such as public schools, public health, the ballot box, and the independent press, all hallmarks of a healthy and functioning democracy (theguardian.com/us-news).
• Republicans used to believe in local decision-making, but now we have “the state”, via its governor, dictating what will be taught and what will not be taught, which is fact or “a matter of opinion” and whether a company or private organization has the ability to set their own policies (nbcnews.com/news/us).
• To ensure that certain subjects are not available to students, “the state” has helpfully provided a list of over 200 books that must be banned as they may create “discomfort” (Miami New Times). Imagine that. Goebbels would be proud.
• DeSantis does not tolerate any deviation from its decrees. Freedom of expression is good as long as it imitates his own. Those who disagree, whether individuals or a private company, will be punished. Ask Disney. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch called DeSantis’ threat to hamper the company’s operations “an abuse of government power in the service of ideological fervor.” And there’s more. He threatened a $27.5 million fine against Special Olympics because they needed proof of vaccination to compete in the games in Orlando (Newsweek). Many of these Olympians have compromising health issues, but it doesn’t matter. No one is exempt from DeSantis’ proclamations. The final punishment was meted out to the Tampa Bay Rays who had the nerve to tweet their support for gun safety. DeSantis curtailed the boom by vetoing $35 million for a new practice facility (The New York Post).
• Public dissent, a First Amendment right of protest, will not be tolerated. Florida’s “riot” law “could effectively criminalize the protected speech of hundreds, if not thousands, of law-abiding Floridians,” according to the U.S. District Court judge who struck it down (courthousenews.com/florida).
• DeSantis, in an obvious voter suppression effort, overruled his own lawmakers and, all alone, redrew the congressional map of the state by distributing black voters from Florida’s 5th and 10th districts into more Republican districts. A federal judge blocked his efforts, calling them “unconstitutional” and that “it diminishes the ability of African Americans to elect the representative of their choice (vanityfair.com/news).
• Seemingly aiming for a trifecta in court defeats, DeSantis’ big election law was also overturned. The judge agreed with voters who sued the state, saying the bill “tramplifies the right to vote, unnecessarily making it more difficult for all eligible Floridians to vote, unduly burdening voters with disabilities, and intentionally targeting people with disabilities.” minority voters – all improve the electoral prospects of the ruling party” (The Washington Post).
• DeSantis created a separate law enforcement agency tasked with “election integrity”. These armed officers, who guard certain precincts on election day, can make warrantless arrests not only of voters, but also of election workers, officials and judges (nbcnews.com). Intimidation? No.
• DeSantis has sworn he’ll sign legislation allowing open carry without a license “before I’m done as governor” (cnnpolitics.com). Just imagine the next argument at your favorite bar, a questionable call from a referee or a political discussion with your neighbor. All these aggrieved people, now fully armed – and everywhere. What could go wrong?
These actions are not those of a public servant who wants “We The People” to participate freely in government. DeSantis is a scared dictator unable to tolerate dissent, critical-thinking decision-making, full access to available knowledge, civil rights, voting rights for all who are eligible, or local decision-making responsive to people. local needs. And like his mentor, he’s a bully. Disobey him or question him and punishment is sure to follow. No one is exempt. Just watch him yell at students to take off their “ridiculous” masks. He no doubt verified that none of them had a compromising condition or younger brothers unable to be vaccinated.
These are the actions of a dictator. There are plenty of other examples of our governor’s fascist tendencies, but not enough space to give DeSantis his due. Hopefully Florida voters will, before he takes his authoritarian power nationally.
Marsha Shearer is a resident of The Villages.