OPINION: Florida’s governor, a potential 2024 presidential candidate, has been on a proverbial warpath against everything—from banning mask and vaccine mandates and the teaching of critical race theory to suppressing voting rights.
I know I am asking a rather loaded question. But it is one for which I have been desperately searching for answers. Florida is off the chain: neo-Nazi rallies, anti-CRT sentiments, debates on banning books, bans on vaccines and mask mandates and attacks on voting rights and fair elections. But worse than the state itself is its young Yale and Harvard Law-educated governor, Ron DeSantis.
Florida’s governor has been on the proverbial warpath against, well, everything. Yet, this man is the most likely 2024 Republican nominee, in my opinion. He is the new darling of the conservative right. Bold. Brash. A braggart. He’s has called teaching about the impact of race in American history “crap.” And he carps on and on about protecting freedoms and rights by attacking science, mask-wearing and vaccines as Florida has surged with COVID cases, hospitalizations and tragically, deaths.
Gov. DeSantis sounds a lot like someone else we know who lives in Florida—“the former guy” as he is now referred to on social media (“TFG,” aka Donald Trump). So let me break down some of the more concerning facts about this GOP rising star and why it should scare the hell out of us all. Let’s start with this most recent factoid: Just this past month, Florida legislators introduced a bill that would protect white citizens from feeling discomfort with teachings about America’s racial past.
DeSantis said this about critical race theory:
“In Florida, we are taking a stand against the state-sanctioned racism that is critical race theory. We won’t allow Florida tax dollars to be spent teaching kids to hate our country or to hate each other. We also have a responsibility to ensure that parents have the means to vindicate their rights when it comes to enforcing state standards. Finally, we must protect Florida workers against the hostile work environment that is created when large corporations force their employees to endure CRT-inspired ‘training’ and indoctrination.”
This statement happened in December when DeSantis announced the Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees, the so-called Stop W.O.K.E. Act, a legislative proposal that he and Republicans say will give businesses, employees, children and families the “tools” to fight back against woke indoctrination (*rolls eyes*). Further, he purports that the Stop W.O.K.E. Act will be the strongest legislation of its kind in the nation and will take on both corporate wokeness and critical race theory. This proposal by DeSantis builds on his previous actions to ban CRT and the New York Times’ 1619 Project in Florida’s schools.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis looks on during the third round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 10, 2021 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
DeSantis has embraced the phrase “Let’s go Brandon”—a euphemism for a vulgar attack on President Biden. He tortures Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the chief medical adviser to the president, by selling “Don’t Fauci My Florida” merch and “Freedom Over Fauci” flip-flops.
Another scary example of how out of control DeSantis and his Florida team of Republicans are was the reactions to the neo-Nazi rally that happened this past weekend. As other state legislators and even U.S. Sen. Rick Scott condemned the disgusting display of hatred toward Jews in Florida, the press secretary for Gov. DeSantis tweeted this: “Do we even know they are Nazis?” Christina Pushaw wrote in a now-deleted tweet, according to FloridaPolitics.com.
Her point was to compare these horrid creatures openly spewing hateful rhetoric at Jews to what the Lincoln Project did this past fall in Virginia at a rally for then-gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin—where they posed as neo-Nazis from the Charlottesville, Va., “Unite the Right” rally in 2017. This was a response from a spokesperson for the chief executive of a state, which has a very large Jewish population. It’s insane!
Let’s just call it what it is: Gov. DeSantis is Trump lite. He is maybe even worse. Why? Because, unlike Trump, he doesn’t really engage in the hyperbolic insults, offensive racial talk and animus that Trump does. He is smarter. Smoother. Slicker. He makes jokes. He positions himself as a champion of freedom and individual liberties, while all the while he’s suppressing them.
But to me, what makes DeSantis the most dangerous is that, in a state like Florida, where an evil horror like the Rosewood massacre took place in 1923, he lacks any understanding of that history and its Jim Crow vestiges in his own state. An entire peaceful Black community was wiped out and murdered by a band of white racists who burned their community down, buried their bodies and covered it up for decades—until history came calling, and my former law firm, Holland & Knight LLP, took up the case and won reparations for the victims. One of my mentors, Martha Barnett, was the lead counsel and the former president of the American Bar Association.
DeSantis has been a George Wallace-like figure trying to undo voting rights and the balanced teaching of race, history and civil rights in America. Case in point: Last May, DeSantis asked the Florida legislature to pass a restrictive voting rights bill. He signed into law the controversial voting bill, joining a host of other GOP-led states pushing new limits on voting in support of former President Trump’s baseless claims of fraud in the 2020 election. In signing the bill during an appearance on Fox & Friends, the Florida Republican highlighted provisions of the bill, including stricter voter ID requirements for voting by mail, creating limits on who can pick up and return completed ballots and banning private funding for elections. He was very proud of himself.
Here’s the bottom line, as we all continue to focus on “TFG,” we have a much more dangerous problem brewing. His name is Gov. Ron DeSantis. We had all better make sure that in 2024, this man and the other guy get nowhere near the White House. Or Democracy may just end.
Sophia A. Nelson is a contributing editor for theGrio. Nelson is a TV commentator and is the author of “The Woman Code: Powerful Keys to Unlock,” “Black Women Redefined.”
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