Monday, February 27, 2023

BTRTN: “Woke...” How Ron DeSantis Plans to Dog-Whistle His Way to the Nomination

If one of Trump or DeSantis is going to be the Republican candidate in 2024, I would prefer it be DeSantis, only because I know as an absolutely certainty that Trump would be determined to end democracy, but that remains a question with DeSantis. But make no mistake: Ron DeSantis is the more nuanced, cunning, and perhaps more effective racist.   

In a mid-term cycle when Republicans generally underperformed relative to expectation, one candidate blew the roof off, absolutely crushing his Democratic opponent in a landslide of 19.4 points – and that in a state that qualifies as purple. In a dreary day for the GOP, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was a one-man tidal wave.

Immediately, DeSantis became the focus of frenzied speculation as the man who could finally end the death-spiral stranglehold that Donald Trump has on the Republican Party. During a campaign debate, DeSantis had pointedly refused to commit to serving out a full second term as Governor. Perhaps the most telling indication of DeSantis’s future was that he instantly became the focus of a scathing social media barrage from Donald Trump. Nothing says you’ve arrived in the Republican Party quite like becoming Trump’s public enemy number one.

So how has DeSantis handled all the attention? After all, the man is the chief executive of the third largest state in the nation, a state still rebuilding from a devastating hurricane, the single state perhaps most threatened by climate change, and a state dealing with the challenges of being among the fastest growing in the union.

Essentially, the man has been handed a giant bully pulpit that gives him latitude to address any and all issues facing our nation. Indeed, one might expect a man who is clearly giving serious consideration to a Presidential run to want to make his views on national and global issues better known.

So what does Ron DeSantis do?

He gets furious about the curriculum for an AP class on African-American studies.

He is urgently focused on making sure that all the titles on a Florida elementary school teacher’s bookshelf have been approved by the state.

He wants to prevent any discussion about gender identity in Florida schools.

He speaks in front of a lectern emblazoned “Freedom from Indoctrination.”

And the big, rousing line in his second inaugural address was this: "We will enact more family-friendly policies to make it easier to raise children, and we will defend our children against those who seek to rob them of their innocence. We reject this woke ideology...We will never surrender to the woke mob. Florida is where woke goes to die."

Yes, for Ron DeSantis, the biggest single issue in America today is an overwhelming onslaught of, uh, wokeness.

And if Florida is where woke goes to die, how come DeSantis seems to find so much of it there?

Perhaps what Governor DeSantis meant to say is that “Florida is where woke goes to get killed by Ron DeSantis,” but maybe that phrasing didn’t sound very, uh, woke.

What the hell, exactly, is Ron DeSantis so agitated about?

Let’s start here. You can find a variety of definitions of “woke,” but the general thrust is consistent: it is to be aware of and alert to signs of racial discrimination and bias, and to see systemic bias and racial discrimination in society. Whether all left-leaners use the term or not, it’s fair to say that they generally espouse and endorse “woke” behavior and attitudes, simply in that progressives and liberals are inclined to agree that our country has a long history of racial injustice and believe that such bias that remains virulent to this day.

Not insignificant: the etymology of the term “woke” is vernacular usage in the Black community, using “woke” to talk about an individual who was awake to societal bias against persons of color. It was embraced broadly in the progressive community to signal awareness of systemic racial bias, and its meaning is now consistent across the multi-colored rainbow that is the Democratic melting pot.

But now it has also been hijacked by the right as a term of ridicule, a way to belittle those who believe that our society remains filled with bias. In their sarcastic use of “woke,” right wingers now have a single word that can simultaneously serve to disrespect both liberals who recognize societal bias and the minority Americans who actually bear the burden of endemic bigotry.

To be clear: Ron DeSantis does not disagree with this definition of “woke.” Once asked in a court case to define “woke,” his lawyer provided the official Ron DeSantis definition. “Woke,” according to the lawyer, is “the belief there are systemic injustices in American society and the need to address them.” Not terribly dissimilar that the phrasing used above.

The issue is that Ron DeSantis aggressively takes the position that there are not systemic injustices in American society, let alone that these injustices need to be addressed. He’s just not buying it. You could hand him an encyclopedia of differing real estate valuations and bank applications that otherwise vary only by the race of the owner or applicant, and he would apparently be unmoved. You could point out how school systems funded by local taxes result in a national K-12 education system that dramatically favors the white children in the suburbs with long-standing affluence. You could produce volumes on historical hiring practices at the fancy law firms that hire freshly-minted attorneys from Ivy League law schools like the one that produced DeSantis.  

DeSantis has a very specific “anti-woke” agenda. He has zeroed in on the education system in Florida to find examples that he claims are evidence of a pervasive liberal effort to indoctrinate impressionable young minds into “woke” philosophy. Ron DeSantis has therefore positioned his war on “woke” as a crusade to protect the malleable minds of children, and the right of their parents to decide what their children will be exposed to in school.  It is worth noting that in his specific focus on education, he is attempting to give this persecution a veneer of legitimacy… education is certainly well within the purview of a state governor.

In short, DeSantis does not believe in societal bias, so he is demanding that school children in his state never be exposed to even the possibility that such bias exists.

Last April, Florida passed the “Stop WOKE Act,” which essentially prohibits any commercial venture or educational institution from advancing any notion that individuals are “inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.” It further outlaws teaching that any individuals have inherent advantages or disadvantages based on their race, gender, or national origin. It continues, forbidding the instruction that anyone “bears personal responsibility for and must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress” over historical actions committed by persons of the same race, gender, or national origin.

Talk about irony: the very existence of a law designed to curtail teaching about the possibility of racial bias is the best proof imaginable that a society has an inherent racial bias.

Ron DeSantis does not want young people to be made to feel bad about the fact that great-great grandpa owned slaves.

But I would think – indeed hope – that it impossible to teach American history in a way that is somehow guaranteed to avoid engendering feelings of guilt or anguish about the fact that many of our ancestors enslaved human beings.

But, if you are a teacher in Florida, you are also keenly aware that every single one of your students has an iPhone with a recording device, and you now know that your next sentence could end up in a courtroom and end your career, because it made a student “feel bad.”

The intended result, of course, is a de facto ban on discussion of slavery. It is the soft censorship of an implicit threat.

And it has clearly not occurred to Governor DeSantis that banning such discussion might also cause anguish -- to the young people whose ancestors were enslaved, and to all the young people who really want to know the truth about the country they live in.

It is yet one more measure of the degree to which the post-Donald Trump Republican Party is utterly unrecognizable to a still recent past it claims to venerate.  The Republican Party of Ronald Reagan defined itself as the party of “small government.” “Government is not the solution,” the Gipper would say, “it is the problem.” The Republican Party of Ronald Reagan aggressively championed the freedoms of the individual from government interference, with the first amendment right of free speech at the very top of the list.

Today, in Florida, government micromanages, polices, and constricts educational curricula, public corporation HR policies, and opinions held and offered by any public-facing person or entity in the state of Florida. Today’s Republican Party believes, as Mehmet Oz famously declared, that abortions should be decided by “women, doctors, and local political leaders.” Now Ron DeSantis thinks that government should forbid students from learning about even the possibility of inherent societal bias in a nation where enslaving human beings was legal for most of its first century. First amendment rights? Florida is now America’s home of government censorship.

Why is the governor of the third largest state in the nation focusing so much of his energy and political capital on finding and stamping out examples of opinions and empirical data that present a world view contrary to his own?

Why is he banning books?

Is he really doing this to protect children? 

Or is he doing it to define his personal political brand?

Ron DeSantis wants to run for President, and he urgently needs to send a signal the extreme right wing of his party that he stands for everything Donald Trump stands for. Central to that signal is kowtowing to the extreme right's belief that the United States is first and foremost a nation of white Americans.   

Ron DeSantis is using the word “woke” to belittle the progressive ideology that points out the history of oppression, disadvantage, and persecution that minorities in America have always faced, and to even deny the oppression of minority Americans itself.

DeSantis is weaponizing language formed in the Black community and embraced by the broad rainbow coalition of progressive thinkers in a attempt to stoke the anger of Donald Trump’s base. He is using the word “woke” to signal to Donald Trump’s base of overwhelmingly white, aging people that he despises all the same people that they do.

Ah, Ron. You have found your dog whistle: use the word “woke” as a catch-all to diminish and belittle pretty much everyone in America who is not an aging white Trump stalwart, a right-wing extremist who is certain to vote in a Republican Primary, or the white supremacists who needs proof they can trust a Harvard lawyer.

Dog whistles are nothing new in Republican politics. “States’ rights” has long been a posture of high-minded principle camouflaging the desire to ignore Federal government authority in matters of civil rights. Richard Nixon pandered to a “silent majority,” with its implicit contrast to “loud minorities.”  Republicans like to terrify suburbanites with the threat that “low-income housing” means crime and violence. Glenn Youngkin campaigned for governor of Virginia promising that he would never allow Critical Race Theory to be taught in the schools K-12 educational system. It never had been. Race – and the general threat of “otherness,” be it in immigration, sexual identity, or women’s rights --  galvanizes Republican voter turn-out.

And if you are Ron DeSantis contemplating a run against Donald Trump, you realize that you need the loudest dog whistle you can find.

Indeed, Donald Trump was the “break out” politician who didn’t bother with dog whistles. Donald Trump earned the ferocious loyalty of his base by saying – right out loud, no code, no whispers, no hints -- all the racist, misogynist, xenophobic things that aging white Republicans felt.

Trump said that “Mexicans are rapists,” that you can “grab women by the pussy,” that we don’t want immigrants from “shithole countries,” that there should be a “complete ban of Muslims,” that the Proud Boys should “stand back and stand by,” that women of color in Congress that they should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” that suburban women “are thrilled that I ended the long running program where low income housing would invade their neighborhood," that Covid was the “China virus” and “Kung flu,” and that “the second amendment people” might do something about Hillary Clinton.

That’s the problem, isn’t it, Ron? You are running against Donald Trump, and you, sir, are no Donald Trump.

So Ron DeSantis has to somehow prove to that racist, misogynist, xenophobic base that he will pick up where Donald Trump left off.  He knows that he will never get to the nomination – let alone the White House – unless he proves to the far right of the party that he loathes minorities as much as anybody.

So what does Ron do?

He declares war on "woke." Hey, it is the loudest dog whistle he can find.

It is just the latest immature stunt from the man who put frightened, puzzled, and yet hopeful immigrants into an airplane and flew them to Martha’s Vineyard. What kind of man brutally manipulates the poor, the vulnerable, and the powerless for a childish political gag? What kind of coward so shamelessly uses his political power to make human beings pawns for his ambition?

And how did that story end? Ron DeSantis thought that he was going to reveal all those smug Northeastern liberals to be hypocrites who would recoil at the sight of poor immigrants “invading” their fancy island retreat. Surprise, Ron. Those people raced out of their homes to offer help. They brought food. Blankets. Provided shelter.

What do you call people like that, Ron? Do you call them kind? Do you say that they care about those that society treats poorly? That they are aware of and alert to societal biases and bigotry? That they will take on a governor who treats people cruelly and manipulates them because of the otherness they represent?

Of course not.

Ron would just sneer and call them “woke.”

Watch out, America. Maybe Ron DeSantis would never say that in Charlottesville you could find “very fine people on both sides.”

But he’s found his very own way to let the right-wing wing-nuts know that he’s as reliable a racist, a misogynist, a xenophobe, and as intolerant of otherness as Trump himself. 

And it’s time we all woke up to that.


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  1. Until DeSantis announces or files with the FEC, I'm considering him a Florida problem.

    The extent of his 2022 victory is in no small part due to his opponent Charlie Crist, a recycled Florida politician who had been a Republican, Independent, and Democrat. Crist had lost statewide for Senate in 1998, served single terms as Education Commissioner (actually, less than a full term), Attorney General, and Governor, lost again statewide for Senate in 2010, lost statewide for Governor in 2014. He served 3 relatively undistinguished terms as a US Representative before running for Governor in 2022 (and completing the trifecta of losing a Governor's race as a Republican, Independent, and Democrat).

    the synergy of an uninspiring candidate and an under-performing state party created that nearly 20% loss.


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