Excerpts from “Mother Jones” DeSantis Article

(“Laboratory of Autocracy” by Pema Levy)

The following are some quotes from the “Mother Jones” article by Pema Levy, the July and August (2023) issue. It is important to learn these things about the second most popular Republican nominee, especially since the leader of that pack is Donald J. Trump, who was arraigned on 37 felony charges today in Miami. (No, that is not a joke.)

“DeSantis has demonstrated a path to power based on circumventing the democratic process and preying on fear of minorities—a template that is already being adopted by GOP legislatures around the country. If DeSantis becomes president in 2 years, critics warn, his brand of authoritarianism could take hold from Washington, D.C.  ‘If you’re uncomfortable with the book banning, imagine giving him the keys to the U.S. Department of Education. If you’re uncomfortable with the migrant flights dumping people in a deserted parking lot somewhere, imagine giving him the keys to Border Patrol and ICE.  If you’re uncomfortable with the way he goes after voting rights, imagine the same conversation that Donald Trump was having with Georgia election officials, demanding they “find” votes he needed, but it’s Ron DeSantis on a call that’s not being recorded. DeSantis would finish what Trump started, which is wrecking our democracy.”

That was the closing statement of this article, but the evidence in the article demonstrates that “his governing style is the logical evolution of Trumpism, from a chaotic politics of reprisal to a calculated system of repression and power-grabbing.”  Florida Watch’s Anders Croy says, “This really is what’s coming to the country.  Florida, essentially, is a laboratory of authoritarianism right now.”

Early on, DeSantis won a fight to take over the power to dictate maps for voting, and dismantled 2 majority Black districts.  He appeared at the Villages, the massive retirement community and Republican stronghold that covers 32 square miles of central Florida and touted his “Freedom First Budget.” He bragged about his cuts, his latest show of power. “While the governor’s office defends the cuts as fiscally responsible decisions, critics believe that DeSantis was making an example out of them for opposing his redistricting takeover.” As one observer (a Democrat who served in the state House until last November) said, “I’ve never seen a group of people so willing to give a governor a blank check.” The GOP super majority retroactively authorized DeSantis’ Fox-ready stunt of flying asylum seekers from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard. They also gave DeSantis the power to appoint the board that would oversee municipal affairs at Disney World. This is all part of Disney’s escalating feud over DeSantis’ “Don’t Say Gay” law.

Many have commented on DeSantis’ lack of charm. He is not a back slapper and does not seem comfortable trying to become one. Therefore, “the only way that he’s going to be able to move his agenda is through fear and intimidation.” The former agricultural commissioner who served alongside DeSantis in the Florida Cabinet said DeSantis never joined in when other fellow members bantered about their families or exchanged pleasantries. In 2019 when on a trade mission to Israel DeSantis always stood apart from the 3 other members and never rode in a vehicle with them. He wouldn’t engage in friendly chit chat in the elevator, either.

As the article describes, authoritarian personalities are not always charismatic. Putin is an example. Turkey’s Erdogan, likewise.   As a New York University historian (author of “Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present”) said, “People who come from the realm of bureaucracy don’t necessarily have to be charismatic because they want to be feared and not loved. Now, somebody like Trump needs to be loved as well as feared, but DeSantis just wants to be feared.  His remoteness is actually a shield which helps him to be ruthless and dominant.”

A baseball player and fraternity brother at Yale recalls DeSantis as “so charmless.” After he graduated from Harvard Law School he served as a Navy attorney at Guantanamo Bay and Iraq. In 2008, back in Florida, he took an assignment as a federal prosecutor and ran for Congress in 2012. He spent 3 House terms as “a loner” and a “backbencher.” When the opportunity to run for Governor arose, he sucked up to Trump on Fox News for his primary endorsement.

Trump gets by mostly by saying stuff, not doing stuff. DJT talks much more than he throws punches. He throws more punches than he lands. Says this former colleague, “DeSantis can’t win that way.  He has to do stuff. DeSantis has hollowed out state government, filling out key posts with loyalists, which is similar to DJT. The academic term is “autocratic capture.” During his first term in office, DeSantis installed 75% more donors in senior government roles than his predecessor Rick Scott had done in the same time span.  These sorts of power grabs are “a cornerstone of authoritarianism” and certainly we saw it with Trump in office.

Ron DeSantis-crop.jpg

DeSantis in 2021

FROM WIKIPEDIA:  DeSantis signed a 2013 “No Climate Tax Pledge” against any tax hikes to fight global warming.[50] He voted in favor of H.R. 45, which would have repealed the Affordable Care Act in 2013.[51] DeSantis introduced a bill in 2014 that would have required the Justice Department to report to Congress whenever any federal agency refrains from enforcing laws.[52][53][54] In 2015, DeSantis was a founding member of the Freedom Caucus, a group of congressional conservatives and libertarians.[33][55][56]

DeSantis opposes gun control, and received an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association.[57] He has said, “Very rarely do firearms restrictions affect criminals. They really only affect law-abiding citizens.”[58]

DeSantis was a critic of Obama’s immigration policies, including deferred action legislation (DACA and DAPA), accusing Obama of failing to enforce immigration laws.[59][60] In 2015 he co-sponsored Kate’s Law, which would have increased penalties for aliens who unlawfully reenter the U.S. after being removed.[61] DeSantis encouraged Florida sheriffs to cooperate with the federal government on immigration-related issues.[62]

In 2016, DeSantis introduced the Higher Education Reform and Opportunity Act, which would have allowed states to create their own accreditation systems. He said this legislation would also give students “access to federal loan money to put towards non-traditional educational opportunities, such as online learning courses, vocational schools, and apprenticeships in skilled trades”.[63]

In 2016, DeSantis received a “0” rating from the Human Rights Campaign on LGBT-related legislation.[64][65] Two years later, he told the Sun-Sentinel that he “doesn’t want any discrimination in Florida, I want people to be able to live their life, whether you’re gay or whether you’re religious.”[66]

DeSantis proposed legislation that would have ended funding by November of that year for the Mueller investigation of President Trump.[68] He said that the May 17, 2017, order that initiated the probe “didn’t identify a crime to be investigated” and was likely to start a fishing expedition.[69][70]

DeSantis’ Books:

DeSantis released a book in February called “The Courage to be Free” in which he said:  “American has entered a post-Constitutional order where federal agencies have become an all-powerful 4th branch of government that must be “brought to heel” to restore democracy. This is, in effect, declaring war on our judicial system and our voting system.  Says the author Levitsky, “In almost every autocracy, we find one of the first moves is to pack the state—whatever state agencies exist.”

DeSantis championed an Orwellian 2022 law known as the Individual Freedom Act, also referred to as HB 7. It restricted educators’ ability to teach concepts like critical race theory, structural racism, sex discrimination, white or male privilege and affirmative action. The law limits how private employers can discuss such issues. The law is generally referred to as the Stop WOKE Act. There is a threat in college classrooms that students might turn in their teachers. The law was  passed by the Republican dominated House in 2021, intending to combat perceived discrimination against campus conservatives by authorizing students to secretly record professors in order to bring lawsuits or report them to school authorities. With that kind of Big Brother Is Watching mentality, it has become more difficult to attract top-notch talent to teach in Florida’s schools and colleges. Students are asked to fill out an annual Intellectual Freedom and Viewpoint Diversity survey as an oversight tool.   “These efforts call to mind a surveillance state, where snitching is encouraged, the government keeps enemies lists, and free speech is censored.”

DeSantis orchestrated a take-over of New College, a small Florida liberal arts school. He installed culture war provocateur Chris Rufo on its board. Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska ended up in charge of the University of Florida without any disclosure of the process. A secret search continues at New College for a new president and DeSantis’ handpicked board fired its president, naming the Governor’s former Commissioner of Education as its interim leader. A quote:  “They want the hiring process to be about who politically toes the governors’ line.”

As the article says, “DeSantis’ attack on academic freedom has already taken a toll.  Despite years of growth in the center’s graduate program, Morse says, this fall enrollment will go down by more than half, as many admitted students declined offers, usually citing Florida’s political climate. And departments without enough enrollment get closed. As long as they just scare people away and make Florida a hostile area for this kind of work, that can achieve the same goal as an outright ban. The onslaught of rules, surveillance, lawsuits, lists, and bans has created an atmosphere of chaos and fear on Florida campuses.

Trump was known for whipping up political mayhem, but on a day-to-day basis he seemed to largely unleash it on his inner circle.  DeSantis, by contrast, strategically deploys chaos to advance his political priorities.

In November, Judge Mark Walker blocked the Stop WOKE Act in higher education, writing that “one of the 8 prohibited concepts is mired in obscurity, bordering on the unintelligible and features a rarely seen triple negative, resulting in a cacophony of confusion.”

University of Law Professor Mary Anne Franks says, “DeSantis, we need to remember, is a product of Harvard Law School. His attempts to punish Disney, for instance, his attempts to restrict what private employers are doing—he knows that that violates the First Amendment.  What he is trying to figure out is, can he remake the law?  Can the new far-right conservative movement, which seems to be a kind of might-makes-right movement, can he put that into effect?”

People are now refusing to communicate in certain ways. The House speaker requested that e-mails be turned over.  “By starting with the list-making and searching people’s e-mails, now, people are on edge.  Graduates have contacted the program asking to be removed from alumni lists. Everyone is starting to see the possibility for increased surveillance.” Said one Florida department chair, “A few people have come out to me, some of them department chairs, who said, ‘We’re not getting candidates for our searches.’” As the article concludes, “DeSantis is willing to burn this entire system in the fire of his own political ambition.  But the mess he’s creating with these attacks on public ed, both K-12 and higher ed, are going to significantly and deeply harm Florida for decades.”

After Disney came out against the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, the governor responded, “There is a new sheriff in town and accountability will be the order of the day.” Disney felt that it was “left with no choice but to sue over DeSantis’ targeted campaign of government retaliation.” (Disney World was hosting its first Pride night in June.) “DeSantis’ willingness to bend the power of government to punish Disney for having an opinion always meant that he would be willing to do that to individuals and small businesses, too.” DeSantis has been at the vanguard of the nationwide assault on transgender people and has gone after small businesses that host drag shows.

A University of Michigan sociologist who studies corporate political behavior describes what is happening because of DeSantis as “an existential crisis regarding the future of American democracy.”

DeSantis staged an attack on the voting rights of people with felony convictions. The law had changed 5 years ago to allow most felons who had paid their debt to society to vote, but DeSantis, after taking office, immediately set out to undermine the amendment. The system is impossible to navigate, but DeSantis said that the new voters must first pay all of their legal fines, fees and restitution, but did not make it possible for its citizens to find out if they have any such debts. Ex-felons who were trying to vote were arrested, including Nathan Hart. They had served their time and believed their voting rights had been restored. People convicted of murder or sex felonies were not allowed to vote.

Quote from the article:  “He likes to call us the Free State of Florida, but that freedom only applies to people that look like him and that think like him.  And if you don’t, then this state is not free at all.”

“After Democrats surpassed Republicans in voting by mail during the 2020 election, DeSantis signed a law that made postal ballots harder to obtain, limited drop boxes, restricted third-party registration efforts, and banned providing food and water to waiting voters.  Signing up to vote by mail now requires more forms of identification, and the request must be renewed every two years. The March municipal elections in Broward County fell by half from 2021 and the drop-off is predicted to drop off in 2024.

In conclusion, when I sold my businesses in 2003, my husband asked why I didn’t buy a second vacation home in Florida, rather than investing in a condo in downtown Chicago. I explained that my son and grand daughters and daughter-in-law lived in Chicago, whereas I know no one in Florida. “I would have to buy a ticket to fly to Florida, but I can hop in the car and be in Chicago in 3 hours, so why would I want to buy a place in Florida?” I also would add, “The only way I’d purchase a place in Florida is if I wanted to travel back in time.”