In his first year as Florida’s Governor, Ron DeSantis achieved more from a governing perspective than his immediate predecessor Rick Scott did in eight years. DeSantis also seemed on the trajectory to be Florida’s most effective Governor since Bob Graham. Then came COVID-19.
I wrote three days ago that I had faith in the Governor to make the right decisions though I had ideological problems with the approach he had taken. But this week the Governor’s denial of reality and unwillingness to make tough decisions has soured me on his leadership.
A lot of comparisons are made between Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis. These comparisons are usually made by Democrats or left-leaning media members. I don’t buy most of the comparisons as I find them very simple – Trump isn’t a conservative and has a meandering non-ideological approach to governing. DeSantis is a conservative with a clear ideology and philosophy of governance.
However, in the last three days the messaging from Trump and DeSantis have become almost identical. I pointed out the other day DeSantis faces tough choices because Florida has a non-diversified rather backward economy by American standards. Florida does not have the ability to bounce back as easily economically as California or New York, leaving DeSantis potentially hamstrung in taking the same measures as the Governors of those states.
DeSantis unwillingness to isolate the problem in Southeast Florida where the COVID-19 outbreak at one time was largely contained and his inability to weight his ideology against the needs to govern in a crisis has been stunning. Southeast Florida is in the position where the virus spread could resemble that of New York City or Northern Italy within weeks. The rest of the state now also have had cases increase rapidly in urbanized and exurban areas.
I contrast DeSantis’ response with that of Prime Minister Modi in India, a conservative who shut down the country before reported cases reached anywhere near the level of the United States or Italy. Below are a sampling of pictures sent to me by relatives from Mumbai, normally one of the most vibrant cities on the planet.
India, a developing country still albeit one with the world’s fifth largest economy’s ability to shut itself down for a period of a few weeks to mitigate the spread of the virus stands in direct contrast to Florida. Why? Ideological rigidity and the culture of the United States.
For forty years conservatives and even some liberals have promoted a culture of “individualism,” “freedom,” “liberty” and hostility to science at the cost of community and shared sacrifice. George W. Bush set the tone after 9/11 when rather than calling for the types of sacrifices we saw after World War II he asked people to go spend money at Wal-Mart. Donald Trump has continued those sorts of talking points though again his lack of ideology means he sometimes meanders into more liberal territory.
This ideology partly explains the US’ slipping in the global world, the end of Pax Americana and the fact that this country is no longer envied the way it once was around the world. DeSantis’ actions are once again making Florida the biggest laughing stock in a nation which for all its flaws looks to our state for comic relief or to feel better about themselves. Someone in Alabama or Wyoming can easily say “at least we are not Florida,” when they feel their areas are regressive.
The rigidity of the likes of DeSantis to adhere to this ideological dogma is what is driving his response to COVID-19, not his concern about Florida’s economy. I was wrong about his motivations, giving him days ago a deference I felt he had earned in his first year in office – but has now quickly squandered.
Make no mistake about it – Ron DeSantis is now putting Florida’s population at great health risk, because his ideology demands it. It’s a shameful way to respond to a crisis and reminds us of why Herbert Hoover for all his brilliance is remembered as a disaster historically. DeSantis’ response resembles Hoover’s reaction to the Great Depression, and without any reversal in direction his legacy will be similar.