This has been a sad week in American history – though I begin this commentary with an ode to my colleague Brook Hines who coined the cleverly brilliant term “Parler Putsch” to describe this week’s effort at a insurgency by right-wing groups to overturn the results of November’s US Presidential Election. Parler is a right-wing alternative to Twitter, founded by Donald Trump’s allies.
First off let’s get the terminology correct – this wasn’t a “riot” or a “protest,” or even a “Pro-Trump mob.” It was an attempt at a violent coup or insurgency led by those with formal military training, organized painstakingly over a two month period online using mechanisms including Parler.
As often discussed on these pages, the Florida of Reubin Askew, Lawton Chiles and Bob Graham – the Florida that attracted my parents to this state and so many more is long gone. It was replaced by a state governed by traditional conservatives. But eventually those traditional conservatives were beat in GOP primaries by radicalized forces. The inept, consultant-driven Florida Democratic Party was incapable of beating these far right forces in general elections. So today, in place of the inspirational Florida built by the likes of Governor Askew, we have a state governed by the equivalent political gangsters who have attracted prominent people of similar low standing and value to our once great state. Those governing the state long ago dispensed with any real regard for accountability or open government. Hence, we are where we are today.
To me it is was no accident to see Florida flags being waved by multiple insurrectionists on Wednesday and the two interviews, I saw of participants when I briefly turned to FOX News were both of people from Florida – one identified themselves as being from Tampa and angry that Mike Pence had “betrayed” them, another just from “Florida” and angry about the “stolen election”. I regret not getting screen shots of them, but later in the day did get screen shots of CNN and the BBC both of which featured the indignity of Florida flags being waved or held.
The Floridization of the American right via adopted Floridians, Trump, and media figures such as Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Dick Morris, Christopher Ruddy and the late Roger Ailes have brought us to the brink of our country being overrun by a right-wing insurgency and permanent international irrelevance. It’s no accident one of Trump’s prominent attorney has been Pam Bondi and his press secretary is Kayleigh McEnany, a Tampa native who shares all of Trump, Ruddy and Ailes’s devious button-pushing, dishonesty and learned her craft rubbing elbows with GOP leaders here in our state during the Rick Scott years.
Newsmax, the media empire founded by Christopher Ruddy and based in West Palm Beach has emerged as the most Trumpian media entity during the last four years. Following the 2020 Election, Newsmax’s fledgling cable channel has become a favorite of MAGA loyalists and those alleging election fraud.
Ruddy, a personal friend of the President, and a virtual neighbor in Palm Beach County has done with his TV network, website, magazine and associated newsletters what Trump feels that FOX isn’t doing – go all in on allegations of “election fraud” for two months after the President lost 2020 Presidential Election to former VP Joe Biden.
Ruddy is one of several prominent media figures on the right currently holding court in Palm Beach County – the same locale where Roger Ailes passed away in 2017. One prominent Palm Beach-based right-wing figure, Dick Morris makes regular appearances on Newsmax TV and with written content its website.
Two of the most prominent elected officials in the country echoing the baseless claims found on Ruddy’s network are Congressmen Matt Gaetz and Greg Steube (a regular Newsmax guest). In the case of Rep. Gaetz, his almost daily commentary which helped inspire the coup are to be expected, but for Steube, a respectable military veteran and once smart-as-a-whip State House member to echo such nonsense has been a massive personal disappointment – and to me a reflection of where this state currently stands politically.
Gaetz, in particular has spouted the types of words that created a fertile environment for a coup. Instead of apologizing, on Thursday morning, Gaetz doubled-down and blamed ANTIFA, a loose-collection of activists dispersed around the country for infiltrating the right-wing mob. For these words, a formal investigation should be launched into all of Congressman Gaetz’s floor speeches and tweets using his multiple Twitter accounts since November 3. If it is deemed his words gave inspiration to the insurrection effort, he should be formally censured by the House.
Moving on, President Trump talks like authoritarian and admires strong men. Perhaps that’s why Trump’s entrance to national politics was fostered by then then-Governor Rick Scott who invited him as a guest to the White House Correspondents Dinner in 2012. Trump in 2018, tweeted his strong support for Governor Scott’s efforts to use law enforcement in the US Senate race recount – the then-Governor’s action would have made Kim Jong Un, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Vladimir Putin and Mohammed Bin Salman proud. In fact, it may have been Scott’s actions here in Florida that inspired Trump to order the use of tear gas on Washington protesters in June 2020.
It is therefore no surprise after a year where now-Senator Scott bought TV ads in Iowa to attack Joe Biden, ignored COVID-19, saw the unemployment system he created fail so many Floridians and then stumped openly for right-wing causes that he choose to vote to sustain an objection to the counting of Pennsylvania’s electoral votes – an act which demonstrates his lack of respect for democracy or the will of the electorate.
The Trump’s, Ruddy’s, Gaetz’s and Scott’s of the world fit what Florida has become.
Many Floridians live in sprawling suburbs, exurbs or gated communities – not in urban centers or rural small towns like most of the rest of the country. The economy here hasn’t evolved, in fact its largely devolved into the gutter of low wage jobs combined with few protections for workers and active union-busting. Florida has unfortunately become a place where those who fail elsewhere or have no societal conscious can safely flee and escape the realities of American society. It is the place the unexceptional, the hucksters, the con artists and the failures gravitate. There are good people in this state – lots of them. But publicly our image is defined by the bad seeds who feel empowered here like in few other places to behave badly. Florida is, at least in its public image, the land of Donald Trump. The failed coup on Wednesday was an effort to push the values of 21st Century Florida Government on the nation as a whole – thank goodness they failed.
Urban life in Florida is minimal and we lack the critical mass of exceptional thinkers, writers, and industrialists to make our cities work. Our one major corporate relocation under Rick Scott, that of Hertz Corporation now looks a failure as the car rental giant has filed for bankruptcy. Despite big talk, Florida’s Republicans have failed to attract businesses of meaning to the state thanks to a host of educational and cultural factors, and have instead promoted a world of cognitive dissonance including desires to flaunt opposition COVID-19 advisories and openly mock those who take public health seriously. It’s not a coincidence Georgia, also governed by Republicans looks enlightened by comparison. That state has made great effort to attract a class of professionals to the state, the irony being that has tilted the state toward the left.
Conservatism is a respectable western ideology with a strong tradition in America. Trumpism is a Florida ideology of gangster politics that has overtaken American conservatism. This is a sad time for all in our country who care about our institutions, our citizens and our global standing. We in Florida owe the nation an apology. We failed to stop this ideology when we could have from growing out of this state and engulfing the nation. On January 6, 2021, we learned the lessons of what damage our failure to contain the radicalized elements in this state has done to our great country and the world by extension.