Many Americans hoped Trump was an anomaly, put in office by a combination of American laziness (in 2016, more people stayed home than voted for either candidate) and Russian interference (Report of the Select Committee on Intelligence, 116th Congress, Senate Report 116-XX; The Mueller Report, Executive Summary to Vol. 1). To those, Trump’s defeat signaled a combination of “whew, that was close,” and the expectation of a return to “normal.”
Maybe those four years of a government from hell, culminating in the Jan. 6 attempted coup would serve as a lesson, acknowledging this precious democratic republic is a fragile thing needing continual vigilance to survive and thrive. And maybe we could celebrate that decency and compassion won over crassness and hate, concern for others over self-aggrandizement, intelligence and knowledge over shallowness and incompetence, and the worthiness of all instead of just the powerful and privileged few.
Maybe. But then again, maybe Trump was just the beginning. Maybe it’s the anarchists who learned the lessons. Maybe Trump was just a dress rehearsal for the next autocrat—someone whose devotion to power isn’t hampered by democratic principles. In fact, to a despot wannabe, democracy is a dirty word because it means all are worthy, all are equal, all are entitled to the same rights and no group is better or inherently privileged over another. To Trump and his acolytes, democracy itself is an anathema.
Trump provided the next despot-in-training with a roadmap, complete with GPS. There’s already one-third of the population waiting for the next iteration. And the next one could be smart. Not intelligent, mind you, just smart—and very dangerous.
Florida’s current governor has nominated himself to be America’s next autocrat-in-chief, and he has a sycophantic Republican legislature accommodating his fascistic tendencies. Yes. That word. It’s not said lightly. So let’s see if his actions support the label.
• DeSantis has reinforced distrust of valued and trusted institutions and the people associated with them like public schools, public health, the ballot box, and the independent press—all hallmarks of a healthy and functioning democracy (theguardian.com/us-news).
• Republicans used to believe in local decision-making but now we have the “state,” via its governor, dictating what will and will not be taught, what is fact or “a matter of opinion” and whether a private business or organization has the ability to set their own policies (nbcnews.com/news/us).
• To assure certain topics are unavailable to students, the “state” has helpfully provided a list of more than 200 books that must be banned because they might create “discomfort” (Miami New Times). Imagine that. Goebbels would be proud.
• DeSantis does not tolerate deviation from his decrees. Free speech is fine as long as it mimics his. Those who disagree, whether individuals or a private company, will be punished. Just ask Disney. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch called DeSantis’s threat to hinder the company’s operations “an abuse of government power in service to ideological fervor.” And there’s more. He threatened a $27.5 million fine against Special Olympics because they required proof of vaccination in order to participate in the games in Orlando (Newsweek). Many of these Olympians have compromising health conditions—but no matter. No one is exempt from DeSantis’s proclamations. The latest punishment was dealt out to the Tampa Bay Rays who had the chutzpah to tweet support for gun safety. DeSantis lowered the boom by vetoing $35 million for a new practice facility (The New York Post).
• Public dissent, a First Amendment right to protest, will not be tolerated. Florida’s “anti-riot” law “could effectively criminalize protected speech of hundreds, if not thousands of law-abiding Floridians,” according the U.S. District Court judge who struck it down (courthousenews.com/florida).
• DeSantis, in an obvious effort at voter suppression, overrode his own legislators and, on his own, redrew the state’s congressional map spreading Black voters in Florida’s 5th and 10th Districts into more Republican leaning districts. A federal judge blocked his efforts calling them “unconstitutional” and that “it diminishes African-American’s ability to elect the representative of their choice (vanityfair.com/news).
• Apparently aiming for a trifecta in court defeats, DeSantis’s big election law was also struck down. The judge agreed with voters who sued the state saying the bill “runs roughshod over the right to vote, unnecessarily making voting harder for all eligible Floridians, unduly burdening disabled voters and intentionally targeting minority voters—all to improve the electoral prospects of the party in power” (The Washington Post).
• DeSantis created a separate law enforcement agency charged with “election integrity.” These armed agents, monitoring select districts on voting day, can make warrantless arrests, not only of voters but election workers, officials, and judges (nbcnews.com). Intimidation? Nah.
• DeSantis vowed he will sign a law allowing open carry without permit “before I am done as governor” (cnnpolitics.com). Just imagine the next argument at your favorite bar, a questionable call of a referee, or a political discussion with your neighbor. All these aggrieved people, now fully armed—and everywhere. What could possibly go wrong?
These actions are not those of a public servant eager for “We The People” to participate freely in government. DeSantis is a frightened dictator unable to tolerate dissent, decision making based on critical thinking skills, full access to available knowledge, civil rights, voting rights for all those eligible, or local decision making geared to local needs. And like his mentor, he’s a bully. Disobey or question him and retribution is sure to follow. No one is exempt. Just watch him yell at students to remove their “ridiculous” masks. No doubt he checked to be sure none of them had a compromising condition or younger sibs unable to be vaccinated.
These are the actions of a dictator. There are many more examples of our governor’s fascist tendencies—just not enough space to give DeSantis his due. Let’s hope Florida’s voters will, before he takes his authoritarian power grab to the national level.
Marsha Shearer is a resident of The Villages.