Last September, 48 Venezuelan asylum seekers, six of them children, were loaded on to a couple of planes in San Antonio, Texas, seduced on board by a nebulous woman named “Perla” with promises of money, jobs, and housing to be had at their destination. She handed them phoney but official-looking pamphlets detailing all the government benefits to which they’d be entitled in their new homes, once they landed. A few hours later they found themselves dumped unceremoniously on an airstrip in Martha’s Vineyard, abandoned and confused, where nonplussed locals tried to negotiate the language barrier to figure out where the poor people had come from, and why they were there.
Well, it turned out that they’d been air-mailed into the heartland of the despised Libs as part of a trolling operation sponsored by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, using taxpayer funds from a special $12 million appropriation. The money was supposed to have been used to relocate illegal immigrants from Florida to somewhere else, but there weren’t any to be found locally, so DeSantis sent his operatives to Texas to round a few up, and then chartered a flight from a company with which he had political ties, sending about $1.5 million their way, which was probably illegal, but hey, it was all good fun. The way Ron tells it, the “unauthorized aliens” were sent into the land of “sanctuary States” to teach the Libs a badly needed lesson, and boy were they ever going to be ticked off, because the socialists up north like to talk a good game on immigration, but watch what happens when they actually have to get their hands dirty dealing with the unwashed untermensch. Simpering New England liberals literally upchuck at the mere idea, don’t they? “When people are brought to their front door, they go berserk,” said Ron. “Their virtue signalling is a fraud.” So this would show them. Hyuk! He didn’t even tell Texas Governor Greg Abbot what he was up to, but heck, Greg wasn’t about to object if Ron pulled off a part of his stunt in Texas, why he himself had recently dispatched two busloads of unauthorized migrants straight to VP Kamala Harris’s residence in D.C., which you had to admit was pretty damned funny too.
O.K., maybe there were a few quibbles to be had with one or two of the underlying premises of this latest special delivery to the effete, snivelling virtue-signallers. The Venezuelan migrants, for example, hadn’t been trying to sneak into America like the Governor implied, but were perfectly legal asylum seekers awaiting their court dates, having fled from just the sort of nasty socialist regime that DeSantis claimed to revile. They were in a temporary shelter in San Antonio, under what’s known legally as “humanitarian parole”, because Mexico wouldn’t accept them, and they couldn’t be dumped back across the border like most of the wretched refuse that shows up hoping against hope to maybe catch a break and a find a better life. It wasn’t quite the case that Massachusetts was a “sanctuary State”, either, though a few communities on Martha’s Vineyard had declared sanctuary status, which was close enough, even if the migrants never actually set foot in any of them (they wound up being sheltered at a Cape Cod military base, but whatever). Too, the hypocritical virtue-signallers didn’t exactly upchuck as expected, as reported by Reuters:
The scene left some of the island residents who volunteered to shelter them in a church for two nights in tears. Locals had come together to donate money, toiletries and toys for the migrants. A local thrift shop donated clean clothes, restaurants took turns organizing meals, and pro-bono lawyers flew in to help the migrants with paperwork and immigration cases. “I want them to have a good life,” said Lisa Belcastro, who helped organize cots and supplies at St. Andrews Episcopal Church, which sits among expensive white-clapboard homes in Edgartown. “I want them to come to America and be embraced. They all want to work.”
Details. Who gave a flying f#%k? The point was, the brown folk had been turned into somebody else’s problem. The Liberals’ problem. Red States 1, Blue States 0. USA! USA!
This is the guy that panting Republicans, desperate to start winning the way Donald always promised, hope will lead them out of their Trumpian wilderness. As if he’s some sort of alternative. Like he’s more middle of the road, more likely to appeal to independents, with just the right formula to woo a Trump-fatigued nation back into the warm embrace of the GOP. This guy:
Seems reasonably Trumpy to me, compadre. Sure, it may suit his purposes nowadays to distance himself from Donald, but to get elected the first time he was willing to crawl so far up Trump’s ass he could see out the fat bastard’s nostrils, and since then, in every meaningful, substantive way, Ron’s been as MAGA as they come. He’s the living proof that Trump may one day go away, but Trumpism is forever, and hear this: in just about every way you can imagine, this guy out-Donalds Donald. The main difference is that DeSantis actually seems to be on some sort of ideological crusade, and isn’t just running a grift to fleece the faithful; that, and of course he’s nowhere near as stupid as Donald, but c’mon, who is?
Look, pick a topic, any topic.
How about voting rights? Ron showed us all straight away what he was about, when confronted with the possibility that overdue reform might end up giving the vote to those long deemed legally unfit for full citizenship. You see, until just a few years ago, Florida was one of those States that denied the franchise to anybody who’d ever been convicted of a felony, a Jim Crow holdover that prevented something like 1.7 million people from voting, and guess who most of them were? Yup, more than 20% of Florida’s Black voting-age population was disenfranchised. This gross injustice looked on the way to being corrected when, in 2018, 65% of voters approved Amendment 4, a constitutional measure that automatically restored voting rights to those who’d run afoul of the criminal justice system, but had since completed their sentences, thus breathing new life into those quaint old notions about rehabilitation, paying one’s debt to society, and all that.
Yeah, said Ron, not so fast. As soon as he took office, DeSantis signed a bill into law that clawed back the just-restored voting rights from anyone who had any outstanding “legal financial obligations” assessed by a court pursuant to their convictions. These financial obligations included a litany of fines, court costs, fees, and a host of other levies that Florida, like a lot of U.S. jurisdictions, slathers upon defendants, the better to fund the court system in a program derisively referred to by its critics as “cash register justice”. There are fees for the appointment of public defenders, fees to cover the costs of the crime lab in drug cases, surcharges to support the crime stoppers program, fees for this, fines for that, and, best of all from the Governor’s perspective, a whole heap of costs and fines imposed for traffic offences, which might not start off as felonies, but usually wind up there eventually when imposed upon people who don’t have any money. It’s because, of course, they simply can’t pay. If you can’t pay, you get charged with further offences, leading to fines which you also can’t pay, which is also an offence – it’s almost elegant, the way it works. This is from a report by the Brennan Center for Justice:
Court-imposed fees and fines affect not only Floridians sentenced to state prison, but also those convicted of misdemeanors and criminal traffic violations, many of whom are sentenced to county or court probation on the condition that they pay legal financial obligations. It is hard to gather definitive statistics on this group, but it is clearly a significant number of people. In 2008, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles reported 247,115 convictions for criminal traffic violations. For most people, a traffic violation fine is a nuisance, but not a significant cost. For low-income individuals, however, one ticket for driving with a suspended license can trigger a vicious cycle of court-ordered fees, followed by failure to pay, which can lead to more fees, more unlicensed driving, and sometimes incarceration.
It’s not clear how many ex-felons had their voting rights re-cancelled by the new rules, partly because the State itself doesn’t keep detailed, centralized records on who has outstanding financial obligations, but it’s obviously going to be the bulk of those in the Jim Crow crosshairs, the poor people of colour. Last month, just to make sure the point was driven home properly, there were a number of highly publicized arrests of bewildered citizens, invariably Black, who’d been accused of voting illegally in 2020, most of them, as it turned out, having done so upon receiving official confirmation that they could. These cases won’t hold up in court, probably, but who cares? What matters is that the intended audience saw this on the news, and got the message:
…which all ties in perfectly with the bullshit MAGA narrative of voter fraud, and gives Ron the opportunity to grandstand about how he’s fighting the good fight to prevent Florida’s elections from being stolen:
Oh yes, he assures us, it’s all rapists and murderers who’re being targeted, though of course he can’t tell you exactly who. You should just trust him. Look at him standing there against the thuggish backdrop of his uniformed enforcers. It’s pure, performative fascism, and quintessential DeSantis.
As long as he was at it, he proposed getting rid of ballot drop boxes (the use of which, MAGA types seem to think, favours the Dems), and wants to limit voting by mail (another Trump/MAGA obsession). He also reckons that it’d be safest if voters have to endorse their mail-in ballots with signatures that match those stored on file with the State, which over time ought to disqualify plenty.
LGBTQ rights? Ron’s got you covered! In March this year he signed the Florida Parental Rights in Education Act, AKA the “Don’t Say Gay” law, which aimed to prohibit “instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity”, whatever that meant, in school classrooms from kindergarten to grade 3. When the Walt Disney company voiced objections, Ron signed a bill to revoke Disney World’s special self-governing privileges over its 25,000-acre property. Now, it’s worth questioning whether a private corporation should ever have been granted the right to set up such an enclave of self-government, but in practice Disney has always made a good job of it, and what matters in this context is that DeSantis was abusing the power of his office to attack a corporation for the sin of having an opinion, so rah-rah free speech, and hooray capitalism, unless you cross The Man. Signs are that Ron now plans to quietly walk this back – probably not a great idea to drive the fabulously lucrative Disney operation out of the jurisdiction, right? – but that’s O.K., the public saw him being big and brave and strong, and nobody’s going to notice, much less mind, when nothing actually changes. Heck, the law itself was addressing a non-problem, and wasn’t supposed to do anything except put the fear of God into teachers, which it did, so yay, another message skilfully delivered.
He then legislatively banned transgender girls from competing in school sports.
Speaking of bogus laws addressing non-existent problems, Ron’s been all over the notorious scourge of Critical Race Theory, which, he explains helpfully, is all about “teaching kids to hate their country”. He got the Board of Education to ban its teaching in public schools (which they weren’t anyway, but better safe than sorry), and then passed the Stop Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees (WOKE) Act, empowering parents to sue any school districts that teach such nonsense despite the ban. MAGA just loves a bounty law! But what about higher education? Weren’t the universities the true fount of all this woke indoctrination? DeSantis, taking the bull by the horns, suggested that state colleges and universities could lose public funding if they persisted in promoting “stale ideology” and “indoctrination”, and promoted bills to, among other things, require educational institutions to annually “assess the intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity using a survey adopted by the State Board of Education” (oh boy), and beef up civics education with lessons on the “evil of communist and totalitarian regimes”. Just to put the cherry on top he signed a bill requiring schools to observe November 7, the old Soviet Revolution Day, as “Victims of Communism Day”, upon which teachers were to devote 45 minutes of class time reminding students of how the likes of Stalin, Mao, Fidel Castro, and other communist luminaries had made people suffer. Take that, Commies! Listen, I’m not saying Stalin, Mao et al were anything but a blight upon the human condition, but honestly, making this an educational priority, then bloviating about “virtue signalling”? Oy vey.
Again, none of this is likely to stand up over time – a lower court already struck down his Stop WOKE act, which plainly violates the First Amendment (not that the Constitution always carries the day, so best to keep track of the appeals) – but, as always, who cares? Performance completed. Message sent. The MAGA yahoos clap. Ron is Big. Ron is Strong.
Look, I could go on and on. DeSantis opposes most forms of gun control and gets an A+ rating from the NRA, which, in this age of daily mass shootings and monthly school massacres, is tantamount to getting a merit badge from Beelzebub. Like so many on the right, he suggests the solution to all that classroom gunplay is to put armed guards in the hallways, because obviously the answer is more guns, and the best way to save lives is to make sure that any kid who bursts into school with a perfectly legal AR-15 is forced to engage in a wild, running, ‘Nam-style firefight before he gets down to business.
Returning to our immigration theme, he passed a law banning sanctuary cities in the State – there weren’t any, of course, but the point was, there shouldn’t be, right? – and of course is vehemently opposed to any proposal that might, say, grant citizenship to law-abiding adults who decades ago were brought into the country unlawfully as little children.
He’s right up there with his fellow MAGA governors in opposing reproductive freedom, and wants to institute a six week ban on abortions (in a State that already has an onerous 15 week ban), effectively outlawing abortion.
His latest initiative is to jump on the Anti-vaxx/Let’s Hang Fauci bandwagon. Last week he announced he was going to get to the bottom of the undoubted skulduggery behind the government response to COVID, and would seek the appointment of a grand jury to look into prosecuting vaccine manufacturers, while establishing some sort of public health integrity board to rein in the medical profession, as well as a local equivalent to the Centres for Disease Control, since the CDC was obviously rife with liars and scoundrels, its pronouncements all either negligently or deliberately conceived to mislead the public. God give me strength. More performative bullshit. As Jonathan V. Last said so well over at the Bulwark:
This is what he does. And his anti-vaccine programs are no different. No vaccine maker will be prosecuted in Florida. There will be no peer-reviewed research showing that the risks of vaccine side effects were greater than the benefits. A “Public Health Integrity Committee” will not interfere with the practice of medicine in Florida. And that’s by design. The impracticability of DeSantis’s abuses of power are a win-win situation for him with Republican voters. They’re the governing version of shitposting. The MAGA nationalists get stroked by them. And by the time the abuse of power is countered, DeSantis has given them a tease in some other erogenous zone. He’s edging the MAGAs and they are into it.
And this is the GOP saviour? This is the guy who’s going to shunt Trump aside, and I should be happy about that because anybody is better than Donald? I’m not buying it. Yes, it’s true, thus far DeSantis hasn’t displayed much of Trump’s tireless verve for lawlessness and insurrection – not that he’s had anything to say against Donald’s attempt to overthrow American democracy, either – and as far as I can tell from here, he hasn’t yet turned his administration into nothing but a huge grift to line his own pockets. Hooray. He is, however, entirely malevolent, deeply unprincipled, cruel, smug, bullying, and increasingly skilled at the cunning abuse of his power, within the law, to get what he wants, and what he wants, invariably, is what MAGA wants: White minority rule within an authoritarian state that suppresses the rights of everybody who isn’t a Caucasian Christian male. Or maybe, as a number of savvy pundits insist, he just wants to be seen standing for that vision, and doesn’t really care what happens, so long as he obtains power.
In which case, power for what, Ron? Does he even know?
I wrote a few years back that the thing that really worried me wasn’t Trump, but that someone would come along in his wake, somebody much smarter, to grab the baton and take Trumpism over the finish line. I worried about a new Huey Long:
No, what really worries me isn’t The Donald, and his cast of supporting stooges, from the craven cowards in Congress to the morons on Fox News. What’s truly scary, when contemplating how very little Trump has leveraged to accomplish so much, is the prospect that the next such huckster to hit the scene won’t be an incompetent fool too stupid to get out of his own way and too complacently dumb to even cover his own dirty tracks.
What scares me is Huey. What if we see the likes of Huey again?
Now, don’t get me wrong, DeSantis is no Huey Long. Not by a damn sight. He hasn’t got but a fraction of Huey’s brains (almost nobody does, actually), and he doesn’t have anything like Huey’s bountiful charisma, almost classical oratorical skill, or wicked sense of humour. God willing, we’ll never see Huey’s like again, and we sure aren’t seeing it with DeSantis. Next to Donald, though, Ron’s an intellectual colossus, and these days that’s the next best thing. He’s also getting awfully good at pushing all the right MAGA buttons. He could well be the next GOP nominee for President, and then, look out. I’m not saying he’s a shoo-in; maybe he’ll wither on the national stage. Maybe his strange, dull, impersonal affect, his utter and obvious lack of empathy or anything resembling emotional intelligence, his inability to think on his feet or confront serious questions, all amply demonstrated over the past year, would doom any national run for office. No doubt he falls flat on the “guy you’d like to have a beer with” test, and what plays in that strange, deeply twisted MAGA fiefdom down in Florida might not go over so well in Iowa and Michigan, much less California and New York. Maybe. But this guy is extremely dangerous, and if he attains the Presidency he’ll certainly offer nothing better than we got from Trump.
Indeed he will, I predict, be much, much worse, because unlike Trump, he may actually get things done. If it had been DeSantis instead of Trump, maybe that idiotic wall would’ve been built. Maybe Obamacare would have been repealed. Nothing like those ludicrous attempts to blackmail Ukraine would have happened. There would have been no impeachments, no investigations, no daughter and son-in-law in policy positions, no chaos. Just cruelty, and cruelly effective MAGA rhetoric, with a dash of QAnon thrown in to keep the yobbos wound up. Even if it’s all kabuki theatre to Ron, he might just find himself succeeding where Donald failed, and then, when the time comes, he won’t have to send a mob to storm the capital. He’ll hang on to power the old-fashioned way, by lying his way to victory, and if he doesn’t get the most votes, well, maybe the laws will have changed in just enough States, after the diligent efforts of just enough friendly MAGA Governors, that whaddayaknow, look at that, he wins anyway.
I’m telling you. This miserable, vicious man is the Devil, and given the power he will lay waste to whatever good is still left in America.