Ron DeSantis, humiliated in defeat, returns to Florida a bigger threat

Donald Trump stands astride his Republican Party like a Colossus. With his primary wins in Iowa and New Hampshire – and soon in South Carolina – the 2024 Republican presidential nomination is basically his. On his road to victory, Trump easily vanquished Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a “rival” to Trump’s control over the Republican Party who was elevated to that position by the mainstream news media and so-called traditional conservatives.

But DeSantis’s threat to Trump, which is also true of former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, was very much exaggerated and mostly a creation of the news media and DC beltway political consultant class. After all, why would Republican and MAGA voters want pretenders when they can have the real thing?

DeSantis can generously be described as having an odd personality, strained interpersonal skills, and in total a lack of charisma. Possessing one of those traits would be difficult for an otherwise gifted politician in the age of TV and 24/7 news media spectacle to overcome. DeSantis was cursed with all three.

When DeSantis announced that he was ending his campaign and then basically bowed before Trump, the news media, commentariot, pundits, and many among the public laughed and mocked him. Such a reaction may feel good in the moment, especially for Democrats and others who are desperate for some type of victory, however fleeting and insignificant, in a time of such great anxiety and worry about Trump’s enduring power and the future of American democracy and society. However, there is nothing funny about Gov. Ron DeSantis and the extreme harm – including lost lives – and misery and other suffering that he has caused, and is continuing to cause, the people of Florida and other Republican-controlled parts of the country that are imitating him.

DeSantis put in place policies during the COVID pandemic that led to the unnecessary deaths of tens of thousands of people in Florida.

At DeSantis’ command and encouragement, Florida, like other red states, has implemented a thought crime regime where teaching the real history of Black Americans, and the country’s complex history more generally, has been banned and replaced with right-wing patriotic education that “does not make white children uncomfortable.” Florida’s fascist authoritarian thought crime regime includes such measures as banning books, harassing, and firing teachers and other educators who are not in agreement with the goals of the white right and neofascist movement, defunding school programs and departments, and rubbleizing the once respected New College of Florida. DeSantis’ Orwellian thought crime regime is an extension of a decades-long campaign by the American right-wing and “conservative” movement to destroy public education as part of a much larger project to end social democracy.

DeSantis and his allies have also worked feverishly to roll back the civil and voting rights of Black Americans, by for example empowering Jim Crow era “election police”, engaging in racist gerrymandering, and putting in place a de facto poll tax. DeSantis has also provided cover for neofascist right-wing street fighting gangs and paramilitaries to use Florida as a type of main operating base.

DeSantis has taken away women’s reproductive rights and freedoms. He has also de facto engaged in human trafficking and kidnapping by transporting many dozens of migrants and refugees from Latin and South America from Florida to New York — in the cold of winter —  through trickery and against their will.

DeSantis knows that “the cruelty is the point.” To that end he and his regime and their agents have targeted the LGBTQ community by attempting, and succeeding, to erase them from public (and private) life through laws and provisions that make their literal personhood a crime. Leaders fulfill a permission function in society: by dehumanizing the LGBTQ community – and in particular transgender people – DeSantis is legitimating mass violence against them.

There is a great human cost of DeSantis’ war on transgender people and other members of the LGBTQ community, which includes individuals and entire families being forced to flee the state of Florida, public humiliation and harassment, loss of jobs and stable employment, and a range of other harrowing and horrible experiences. Journalist Jeff Sharlet has highlighted the human cost of DeSantis’ policies and the emptiness of celebrating his dropping out of the Republican primaries.

 “As a parent of a trans enby kid attending public school in NH, I’m scared of what’s coming in this allegedly ‘moderate’ state,” Sharlet wrote on Twitter. “I’m scared of what’s coming if Trump returns. This, below, is foreshadowing. It’s also real people’s lives. DeSantis isn’t a joke. He’s a sadist.”

At the Philadelphia Inquirer, Will Bunch weighs in on DeSantis’ bounty of cruelty:

I’m totally here for the DeSantis jokes, and I hope they don’t stop coming. But I also feel compelled to point out that the way that this small man in search of a balcony conducted himself these last couple of years is really no laughing matter. In the end, DeSantis’ presidential aspirations clung to two things: How much money he could raise from the wealthy, and how many points he could score by dunking on the dreams of the poor, the young, the different, or the struggling.

The modern political innovation of DeSantis — if it can be called that — was taking the kind of blustery rally-stage bravado that characterizes Trump and using his GOP majority in Tallahassee to turn that into all-too-real laws or initiatives. The New York Times Opinion writer Jane Coaston said it best on X/Twitter Sunday when she wrote that “DeSantis’ campaign was like ‘we’re the most online people alive and we’re going to performatively use the state to hurt people you don’t like, just tell me the group and I’ll go hurt them.’”

There are so many examples of folks whose lives have been turned upside down by DeSantis, including a lot of people who decided to leave the state as a new breed of political refugee….

DeSantis’ 2024 presidential campaign will be remembered as nothing more than a punchline. But the American carnage he imposed on everyday people to make himself feel big will stain the red clay of the Florida peninsula for many years to come.

Mocking and laughing at Ron DeSantis because of his failures in the 2024 Republican primary exemplifies a much larger error made by too many that helped to birth our democracy crisis in the first place. The American right-wing thinks in decades and centuries about power and movement building. By comparison, the American centrists, institutionalists and center-left mostly think in terms of weeks and months and election cycles. The mainstream 24/7 news media and commentariot are even more short-term in thinking and ability to conceptualize and understand politics and power.

DeSantis is a prototype for Trump’s successor as leader of the American neofascist movement. DeSantis is also relatively young. He will come back stronger and more polished from his losing experience in the 2024 Republican primaries. Ultimately, DeSantis, because of his education and deep understanding of the law and how to exploit the vulnerabilities in America’s institutions is actually a much greater threat than Donald Trump.

DeSantis is still governor of Florida and the cruel policies he put in place, and which will continue (and get worse) have not ended.

All of those people who are mocking and laughing at DeSantis should remind themselves of Malcolm X’s famous teaching that, “If you stick a knife in my back 9 inches and pull it out 6 inches, there’s no progress. If you pull it all the way out, that’s not progress. The progress is healing the wound that the blow made.. And they won’t even admit the knife is there.”

Instead of laughing, such voices should instead be working hard to get justice for all of the people whose lives have been lost, hurt, and otherwise negatively impacted and diminished because of DeSantis’ policies and actions in Florida. But laughter and mocking are far easier, and demands much less, than asking those hard questions about justice and what it will require in the long-term to defeat DeSantis, Trumpism, and the larger culture of cruelty that today’s neofascists and the larger right-wing and “conservative” movement have drawn energy from and made much worse here in America and around the world.

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