I watched Florida Governor Ron DeSantis for a while. Last Tuesday, I tweeted, “I was just wondering if ‘DeSantis’ is now officially synonymous with ‘fascist’.”
I was surprised at the outrage my little tweet caused in the right-wing media.
The Washington Examiner, for example, called me an “ultra-left elitist” who wrote an “insulting insult” that is, “what leftist ideologues do when discussing Republican politicians who pose a threat to the existence of their political ideology… Democrats don’t like or agree with a fascist.
This was among the kindest responses.
After half a century in and around politics, I’m tough. But the size of the blowback on my little tweet makes me think I struck a chord.
DeSantis is Trump’s most likely rival for the Republican nomination in 2024. Harvard and Yale trained DeSantis (which do they teach at Harvard and Yale?) has been called “Trump with a brain.”
DeSantis is the nation’s quintessential cultural warrior. Lately, he has campaigned on behalf of election-denying Republicans across the country, including gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania and U.S. Senate candidate JD Vance in Ohio.
In Florida, discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity are now banned in schools. Math textbooks have been rejected for what officials call “indoctrination.” Claiming that tenured professors at public Florida universities “indoctrinate” students, DeSantis launched a law requiring that they be re-examined every five years.
Teachers are limited in what they can teach about racism and other tragic aspects of American history. DeSantis has personally been involved in local school board races, endorsing and campaigning for 30 board nominees who agree with him (so far, 20 have won, five go to the second round).
Abortions are prohibited after 15 weeks. (DeSantis recently suspended an elected prosecutor who said he would refuse to enforce the anti-abortion law.)
A new state office was created to investigate “election crimes”.
Florida’s Medicaid regulator is considering denying state-subsidized treatment to transgender people. Its medical board can ban gender-affirming medical treatment for young people.
Disney (Florida’s largest employer) was stripped of the ability to govern itself in retaliation for the company’s opposition to a crackdown on LGBTQ+ conversations with school children.
Florida’s congressional map has been redrawn to give Republicans an even greater advantage.
DeSantis also spews culture war rhetoric. “We’re not going to get to revival,” he said last Tuesday. “Florida is the state where the revival is going to die.”
He describes an America taken over by left-wing elites, who “want to delegitimize our founding institutions”.
He calls the state of Florida a “citadel of freedom” and says his job as governor is to fight against critical race theory, “Faucian dystopia”, unchecked immigration, big tech, “left-wing oligarchs”, “Soros-funded prosecutors”, transgender athletes. and “corporate media”.
He accuses – using a standard racist dog whistle – that “we don’t let the cities of Florida burn… In Florida, you’re not going to get your knuckles rapped. You get inside a prison cell.
So, is it helpful to characterize DeSantis’ combination of homophobia, transphobia, racism, and misogyny, as well as his efforts to control public schools and universities and bully the private sector (e.g., Disney), as evoking fascism?
The American mainstream media are now comfortable talking and writing about “authoritarianism”. Maybe he should also start using the term “fascism” when appropriate.
Even Joe Biden, never known as a rhetorical bomb-thrower, accused the Republican Party of “semi-fascism” last Thursday.
Authoritarianism implies the absence of democracy, a dictatorship. Fascism – from Latin bundlesdesignating a tightly bound bundle of wooden rods usually including a protruding ax blade, adopted by Benito Mussolini in the 1930s to symbolize his total power – is different.
Fascism also includes hatred of “them” (people considered different by race or religion, or outside the mainstream, or who were born abroad), control over what people learn, and books they are allowed to read, control over what had been an independent government (school boards, medical boards, universities, etc.), control of women and the most intimate and difficult decisions they have never taken, and demands that the private sector support the regime.
Maybe my “just question” tweet about DeSantis touched the nerve of the fascism that is currently taking root in the Republican Party?
Or is DeSantis’ own fledgling presidential campaign behind the overreaction to my tweet?
After all, if you’re looking for a presidential nomination in today’s GOP, there’s nothing like an accusation of fascism to rally Trump supporters. This could be a particularly useful strategy if your main opponent in 2024 will be Trump.