I feel slightly foolish putting out yet one more Ron DeSantis article in a week that already seems saturated with them.
But as it happens, I was in Florida last week, in the company of people shell-shocked at DeSantis’s recent flurry of clumsy but nasty attempts at fascist activism.
His double-digit reelection by a duped constituency has apparently gone to his head. He has taken it as a mandate to out-Trump Trump, to go where Trump might have gone if he’d had a longer attention span.
In recent weeks, DeSantis and his cronies have emitted a noxious cloud of legislation, each bill more ludicrous — and more gleefully cruel — than the one before.
Just while I was down there, his pet legislators introduced a bill to ban the Florida Democratic party. Really. They declared it a racist organization under the pretext that — you can’t make this up — it had a pro-slavery plank in its platform in the years before the Civil War.
They wrote another bill that would require bloggers to register with the state, and yet another that would water down the libel laws to make it easier for liars to sue publishers for reporting their lies as lies.
And that was just in the last week. All this comes on top of the “Don’t Say Gay” law, the war on Disney, the immigrant flight to Martha’s Vineyard, the demonizing of critical race theory, and the high-profile legislative assaults on anything DeSantis considers “woke” — his go-to epithet for anything that smacks of democracy, or reason.
Assuming these laws pass — which is likely — will they survive the blizzard of litigation that is sure to follow? They are, to be sure, laughably unconstitutional, but I’m not sure that matters. The chaos created in the courts — and the long time lapse between the filing and the disposition — might well be the whole point of the exercise.
Because most of this is pure performance, the political equivalent of nuisance lawsuits. Call it nuisance legislation.
DeSantis gets his legislative flunkies to write an outrageous bill. He flogs it nonstop on Fox and friendly media. He vigorously defends it on every camera he can find. Then he waits for the litigation. The state runs up astronomical legal bills defending stupid laws that are incompetently written, and the first judge who sees them laughs them out of court. At which point DeSantis appeals, running up yet more legal bills. Rinse and repeat.
Of course, the Supreme Court might have his back, but that would just be a bonus. It’s the nuisance value he’s after. Because the stunts work for him whether the new laws stick or not. Either way, he gets to promote his own presidential aspirations. Which is, of course, all he cares about. If Florida taxpayers have to pay millions in free advertising for him, too bad. If democracy gets crushed in the process, too bad. If it’s mostly his own voters that get trampled, too bad.
But with all the wells he’s busy poisoning, it’s the education system that could see the worst of it, long term. As David Corn writes in Mother Jones, DeSantis’s assault on Florida’s education system:
“…has included banning math textbooks that he claimed included “woke” ideology, prohibiting classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity, thwarting the introduction of an AP African American studies course (and threatening to kill all AP courses), and deriding “liberal indoctrination” in the school system.”
I’m picturing thousands of teachers frantically updating their resumes. Who wants to teach in an environment where math books are political, or where ideology is valued over facts, competence, and intellectual rigor?
Over time, an academic brain drain is inevitable in Florida. It’ll be much like we’re seeing in Russia right now, where hundreds of thousands of intellectually astute citizens have emigrated — uprooting their entire lives, at considerable cost — saying “no thanks” to Putin.
Many professors will say the same to DeSantis, perhaps with their middle fingers. Many will leave academia for good, figuring the pressure of these laws isn’t worth the poor salary. At some point, if state colleges and universities are unable to meet established standards of pedagogy, they will lose their accreditations. Would that matter to DeSantis? Probably not. He can always spin it as a dastardly woke-ist plot.
And as for those competent but apolitical teachers who remain in the system because they have no other options, they will surely need to self-censor their lesson plans to avoid any whiff of political heresy. Their livelihoods will be at risk.
No doubt the value of a Florida education in the global marketplace will deteriorate accordingly. Aspiring academics looking for a career that comports with recognized educational standards will have to look elsewhere, while any Floridian with serious academic chops will have no choice but to leave the state.
But that’s just the teachers. The real victims of this race to the bottom will be the students.
Florida students will be damaged goods. They’ll come through high school under-educated, with received attitudes that won’t be acceptable elsewhere. The job market will assume their critical thinking skills to be nil, and that they’re not prepared for the workplaces of this century.
There is little evidence that DeSantis cares about any of this. Or that he’s thinking any of it through. Or that there’s any substance at all behind the performances. It’s not clear that he knows how to implement these nuisance laws, or even if he wants to.
Regardless, he’s vigorously spreading a climate of fear and suspicion, right out of the fascist playbook. From such a climate comes, among other things, a culture of informing. Children make excellent informers, and their brainwashed parents will encourage them to rat out their teachers at the first mention of the words ‘gay’ or ‘slavery.’
I’ve written before about informers. Once again, it’s to Russia we turn for mankind’s worst ideas. Under Stalin, children were trained, from an early age, to inform on their parents. Any ideological slip could get a father shot or a mother sent to the gulag. Since the invasion of Ukraine, Putin has been working to put this system — a vast community of state informers — back in place.
DeSantis isn’t there yet, but there’s no mystery about where all this is headed. He’s engaging in textbook fascism, and history is clear about the perils of what he’s doing.
Which might be why he doesn’t want Floridians learning history. Or anything else.