Advertisement
Opinion
|
Guest Column
Welcome back to Florida, Gov. DeSantis
He wanted to “make America Florida.” Could he, instead, bring back a little of what he learned about America to the Sunshine State?
 
Now that he's just Florida's governor and no longer a candidate for president, Ron DeSantis is returning to run the Sunshine State. Here, he makes his way to a media gaggle after attending a town hall at the LaBelle Winery on Jan. 17, 2024, in Derry, New Hampshire, while he was still running.
Now that he's just Florida's governor and no longer a candidate for president, Ron DeSantis is returning to run the Sunshine State. Here, he makes his way to a media gaggle after attending a town hall at the LaBelle Winery on Jan. 17, 2024, in Derry, New Hampshire, while he was still running. [ MATIAS J. OCNER | Miami Herald ]
Published Jan. 25

The news that Ron DeSantis has “suspended” his presidential campaign is, of course, momentous for us Florida residents. It means the governor can turn his attention back to Florida, full time. No more jetting around Iowa’s frozen cornfields. It’s back to Florida’s near-frozen palm trees, this time with mittens to match the boots.

It was cold in Florida for much of January. But there’s a good chance that once the governor has a chance to lick his wounds for a while in Tallahassee, political life around here is going to heat up considerably. Along with a break in the cold weather, new laws are waiting to be passed! And most fun of all, enforced!

Barry Golson
Barry Golson [ Barry Golson ]

To refresh your memory, when DeSantis announced his candidacy for the presidency, it was after a whirlwind — a hurricane — of activity. He was a busy, busy guy. He announced his run on a memorable session on X, nee Twitter, alongside the platform’s owner, the equally busy, equally reclusive Elon Musk. The site promptly fritzed out, like a recalled Tesla. It was the glitch heard round the Net.

To those who believe in omens, it was, perhaps, a harbinger of the campaign to come. But DeSantis recovered quickly, and managed to announce he intended to “eliminate” leftism — all of it! — and accused Disney of “sexualizing” children, while calling the Democratic Party a “dead, rotten carcass at the side of the road.”

Uplifting stuff. Like Ronald Reagan’s “shining hill,” but with maggots.

By the time you read this, commentary about DeSantis’ failed campaign, and the karmic jokes about an exceedingly arrogant young man’s fall, will have saturated the news cycle. On to the next?

But allow me to quote a couple of paragraphs from my own column last year, soon after his announcement. Not to show I’m prescient — I wasn’t; I didn’t think his fall would be so precipitous. And not just to pile on while he’s down. Instead, I want to remind you of what was going on with our governor back then — and what that may mean for the next couple of years. In Florida, as in Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County, the past is never dead. It’s not even past. Like Donald Trump, his mentor-turned-tormentor, DeSantis is committed to a fairy tale about the past. Unlike Trump, he believes it, with zeal and rictus grin.

Here’s how I saw it then.

With unflagging energy, and a Pyongyang-style Legislature rubber-stamping every step, DeSantis passed more Florida bills, at a faster pace, than any executive I’ve watched over the years. On one day alone, he signed 34 bills. Spun as protecting Florida “freedoms,” the decrees were overwhelmingly coercive: stop doing this, stop saying that, don’t even think about teaching that. Resistance will be punished. Since 2020, Trump could only punish with the lash of his tongue or vicious keyboard insults. DeSantis, doing the homework, has passed actual laws, making it so.

DeSantis … has continued to flog bills that, day by day, alienate him further from the center. Political writers say he’s doing it to attack Trump from his right, for the primaries. So yes, I’m surprised to see a guy so intelligent, so in control of his governorship, turn into a guy doing dumb, bratty, self-defeating stuff. The six-week abortion bill he didn’t have to support. The cartoonish feud with well-loved Disney. Needlessly canceling Black history courses in a state with nearly 3.8 million Black residents. Inflaming anti-LGBTQ+ prejudices. More school-bully stunts against Latino immigrants in a state crucially dependent on them. DeSantis can’t pass up a hornet’s nest without whacking at it.

Halfway to what?

We’re now halfway from spring of 2023 to the election in November. Half the country is in a half-state of chronic semi-hysteria. Therapists have never been so busy. The polls show that Trump could win. So far, every indictment and court appearance has made his numbers tick up. MAGA is rallying round. His rhetoric is ticking up, too, as the sting of nicknames and standard insults wears away. He has to up the ante. So he crosses new borders into Hitlerian “vermin” territory, and sends out season’s greetings that we should “rot in hell.”

Trump knows he has to keep the meanness fresh, ever nastier, to avoid going stale. (I don’t know if it’s all calculated. The rising level of lickspittle invective sounds to my ears like a family member should recommend psychiatry.) But we know what more awaits us on the national scene. It’s going to get even uglier.

Spend your days with Hayes

Spend your days with Hayes

Subscribe to our free Stephinitely newsletter

Columnist Stephanie Hayes will share thoughts, feelings and funny business with you every Monday.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

And as we always do, when the world out there is rough, and unbearable, we seek the comfort of home. Our own neighborhood, our backyard, our state. For peace, and solace. If national politics is a raging torrent, can we just turn away from it? Go dip our toes in the safe blue gulf waters? (Shoo, shark!) Can’t we just tune out the noise, live locally, stay sane?

That’s why I worry about which DeSantis will be back at our helm.

Will it be the same DeSantis we had before he flew, like Icarus, too close to the orange sun-king? Will he feel chastened? Will he go back to finding hornets’ nests to whack, whack, whack for the next two years? Will he be worse, to make up for the humiliation?

Ironically, I think we felt a bit freer in the Freedom State when he was away: cool, even frosty, with occasional squalls, but overall kind of peaceful. As long as DeSantis was running in Iowa, I don’t think Florida shanghaied any more immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard, or expanded any more gun freedoms, or attacked any new theme parks, or gerrymandered any new districts, or found any exciting new ways to abridge minority voting access. I may be wrong about this, but overall I felt the sunshine seemed gentler, the waters calmer.

There were even a few reversals. A state attorney fired by DeSantis for political reasons got a new day in court. DeSantis’ Individual Freedom Act, also known as the Stop Woke act, was blocked. Indeed, the courts, whether appointed by DeSantis or his predecessors, have been a bulwark against DeSantis’ zealotry, as they’ve been in the nation at large. Even the Florida-based Moms for Liberty, scourge of teachers, school boards and LGBTQ+ people everywhere — which presented DeSantis with its symbolic gladiator sword for family values — found its founder foundering in a delicious three-way bisexual scandal. I don’t know about the rest of you, but whenever I read about someone dedicating their lives to cataloging and banning naughty bits, I set a Google alert for their name and the words “sex scandal.” It almost never disappoints.

Florida men

But wait. This is still Florida, man. Even with DeSantis away, book-banning continued uninterrupted. And this being Florida, you knew there was going to be an exotic python twist to it. Yes, dear readers, you may have known that Collier County banned Stephen King, Anne Rice and John Updike, but did you also know that an Escambia School District actually put encyclopedias and dictionaries on their banned list? I guess it beats blacking out the entire F section in Merriam-Webster’s.

Less ludicrously, but indeed far more sinister, one of DeSantis’ chief surrogates made hay while the boss was away. (Well, the boss probably approved it from far-off Iowa.) Dr. Joseph Ladapo, easily the nation’s maddest scientist and Florida’s state health chief, struck again. He called for Florida’s doctors to quit recommending the latest mRNA vaccine boosters altogether, despite steadily climbing COVID rates. He again used data that had been thoroughly debunked. And was again debunked. But the bunk always gets more exposure. I heard bells gently ring, and I fear a few more old guys just got their wings.

OK, boomers and zoomers: I’m not about to reargue the pandemic. DeSantis’ “success” at handling COVID was a proud part of his presidential stump speech, endlessly repeated, a central argument in his vow to “make America Florida.” Well, and I say this sincerely, my family and I will always give the devil his due in keeping our kids in school.

But if the devil’s also in the details, we’ll never forgive DeSantis for his unyielding, pointless stubbornness about masks and vaccines. You can do your own research in reputable media: There’s another Big Lie that needs putting down. No, it’s not true that masks were useless, it’s not true that Florida’s fatalities were less, it’s not true that vaccines failed. DeSantis and buzz brains like Robert F. Kennedy Jr. like to say that the numbers of us vaccinated who contracted COVID, as I did, prove vaccines failed. It proves nothing like that. It wasn’t about stopping the spread, but about stopping people from going on ventilators and dying. That was the salvation.

At 79, as an immunocompromised guy, I’m convinced I’m alive because I was vaccinated when I contracted the virus. That, and a chaser of Paxlovid. God, or someone like Him, save me if I have to endure another pandemic with DeSantis and a crackpot calling (or canceling) the shots.

As DeSantis’ presidential aspirations plunged, as his candidacy was running on fumes, he did an interesting thing: In his desperation, he began appearing with whomever would have him. Until then, it had been strictly a red-meat diet of media, to the point of locking out “woke” media. Just Fox, Newsmax and points far right. Now, he began appearing with the likes of Bill Maher, and even on the antichrist network, MSNBC, whose archangels, Joe and Mika of “Morning Joe,” sparred civilly with him.

He drew a couple of laughs, he seemed sane. I couldn’t help but wonder: Will any of that rub off on him? Whom will we see back here, on the local range? I can’t imagine what he must feel to see Nikki Haley as the last contender standing in the national circus. She purposely took the middle-MAGA path, the center lane, as many of us thought DeSantis might. But this very dogged, very dogmatic novice decided to out-Trump Trump, to sling his mud, to throw his dirt, and then to eat his dust. What a falling-off there was.

What would Winston say?

DeSantis began his campaign with a glitch and ended it with a glitch. He said in his televised concession speech, “Winston Churchill once remarked that, ‘Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.’ ” Odd choice, since he was backing down, not continuing. The glitch is that Churchill never said that, according to the authoritative International Churchill Society. It would have been easy to check, but DeSantis was in a hurry. He’s always been a young man in a hurry.

Then DeSantis added these words: “Down here in Florida, we will continue to show the country how to lead.”

Really? Not “learn from this experience,” but “show America how to lead”?

As I said, I don’t like piling on when a man is down. For a man of humbler mien, perhaps sympathy would have been more available. For the self-righteous, less so.

And now? Let me suggest a quote. The Roman philosopher Seneca said, “All cruelty springs from weakness.”

For us Floridians, that’s the question. How will DeSantis carry his high-flying, fast-falling failure, and how will he inflict it on us? Will the gratuitous meanness continue?

Unlike some old friends, I like Florida fine. I’m sometimes embarrassed by my adopted home, but I enjoy living here. For the same reason, I enjoy living among people of different ages. I don’t think we should see only people who are like us. I enjoy diversity. I enjoy mixing it up. Yes, I enjoy my freedom here.

So: What kind of freedom will Ron DeSantis encourage? Just how mean is it going to get down here? He said he wanted to “make America Florida.” Will he, instead, bring back a little of what he learned about America to Florida? Pray for sunshine, friends.

Guest columnist Barry Golson covers the Tampa Bay senior scene. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, Playboy, Forbes and AARP. He is the author of “Gringos in Paradise” (Scribner). Contact him at gbarrygolson@gmail.com.