I have been watching State of the State speeches since Lawton Chiles delivered his 1995 speech (in which he made reference to his former US Senate colleague from Mississippi John Stennis, just to make sure we were paying attention). These are generally very straight forward affairs loaded with policy talk and feel-good rhetoric. Jeb Bush and Rick Scott usually used the speeches to talk about education or business. In fact, the previous three years, Ron DeSantis took a similar tact.
But yesterday was different. Governor DeSantis speech was an acidic, angry set of ramblings highlighting the grievance culture on the right. A few weeks ago, we dubbed DeSantis Florida’s “Great Divider” ,and that rhetoric became overheated on Tuesday at the Capitol.
The Governor continues to identify cultural flash-points in the classroom, in our neighborhoods and within our families and use them to further divide us – turning Floridian against Floridian, parent against their child’s teacher, neighbor against neighbor, worker against employer, and ultimately many Florida residents against the media, “elites,” immigrants, and “outsiders”.
It’s largely useless to go line-by-line in DeSantis presentation because it was such a loaded speech, the nuance and detail may take away from the overall point – in this State of the State, DeSantis didn’t highlight positive stories that bring Floridians together or tout the wonderful nature of our state beyond highly-ideological and partisan-charged themes (I concede, some would consider those positives but they’re divisive in the way he executes them).
In a similar vein, unlike Bush and Scott who faced significant push-back from their own parties legislators, DeSantis holds an emperor’s like trace over the members of the GOP in the House and Senate. Make no mistake that term limits and lack of expertise and experience among many GOP legislators contributes to this – Bush for example had to deal with a number of highly-experienced, confident State Senators who were Republicans but concerned about the state first and foremost. This led to a fair amount of compromise, and Bush’s more crazy ideological efforts being stopped – more often than not by fellow Republicans.
DeSantis faces no such hurdles. He is the King, the Emperor, the Maestro, the Leader rolled into one. Whatever he says or does becomes the GOP’s ideology in the state even despite the obvious ideological inconsistencies and contradictions. President Trump being off social media, has left a void of leadership in the GOP which DeSantis has adroitly filled. Despite the some elements of the national media and elite Democrats continued “Trump Derangement Syndrome,” it is DeSantis who commands the audience now, it is DeSantis who is the leader and represents a level of threat that the largely unfocused and lazy Trump didn’t (this is not to minimize the Trump threat of 2015-21, it’s to clearly state DeSantis represents a GREATER threat).
Florida is now officially a laboratory for the most insane cultural whitewashing efforts in a generation. We’re seeing the impact as COVID-19 spreads like wildfire in the state (though in fairness to DeSantis and every other state Governor, let’s wait until the pandemic concludes to definitively declare winners and losers) and the things that mattered most to us in the past including our collective identity as Floridians gets chipped away at and our local governments are rendered helpless and subservient to the Governor.
We’re seeing the reaction of parents who claim their children who aren’t quite learning the sanitized, slanted history they did, are being taught something called “Critical Race Theory.” They’re not by the way, they’re learning real history. We see how residents snarl at those of us so concerned about the health and safety of them and their loved ones we wear a mask and social distance in public places.
Governor DeSantis didn’t create these flash-points but he sure did exacerbate them.
It’s a dark time, and unfortunately I’m here to report it’s getting darker.