The DeSantis dilemma

Florida’s governor has to turn the other cheek for the next two years

Gov. Ron DeSantis (Illustration: Donkey Hotey/Wikimedia Commons)

Nov. 19, 2022 by David Silverberg

Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) of Florida wants everyone to just chill.

“We just finished this election, okay?” an exasperated DeSantis told a crowd during an appearance Wednesday, Nov. 16, in the devastated Lee County community of Matlacha. “People just need to chill out a little bit on some of this stuff, I mean seriously. We just ran an election.”

DeSantis was addressing the agitation caused by former President Donald Trump’s announcement of his 2024 presidential candidacy the night before.

DeSantis would certainly like everyone to chill out; it’s in his political interest. But that’s not likely for a number of reasons.

The terrible twos

Anyone who has ever been in the position of anticipating a future promotion contingent on someone else’s departure or retirement knows the feeling.

Imagine that you’ve been anointed the next chief executive or manager (or editor) of a business. The promotion seems nearly certain but there’s the tortuous interval until it occurs. Anything can upset the apple cart: you might screw things up with a dumb remark; your enemies or competitors are circling to stop you; your boss may change his mind; the whole situation may alter; or the company could go completely belly-up. What’s more, you still have to do your existing job well without any mistakes or foul-ups while carefully maneuvering toward your goal.

For DeSantis, the opportunity to be the Republican nominee—not president, nominee—is two years away and that is an agonizingly long time in politics.

Right now DeSantis is riding high off his undeniably overwhelming election victory. He’s being hailed as the leader of the national Republican Party, he’s being praised and lauded; he’s the golden child of the donor class.

DeSantis is at a peak. The problem is that the peak is two years too soon.

Because of his prominence, DeSantis is now everyone’s target: Democrats, Republicans, members of Congress, partisans of all kinds and just about anyone who doesn’t want to see him become president has him in their sights. He’s the guy to beat.

And there is one person who looms above and beyond all other rivals and impediments and lives a mere 420 miles away from Tallahassee in the same great sun-drenched state.

Donald vs. Ronald

No matter how much the media may dismiss him, Rupert Murdoch may diminish him, Ivanka may avoid him and Merrick Garland may indict him, it’s clear that in Donald Trump’s head he’s a real, serious and viable candidate for president in 2024.

For Trump, DeSantis appeared as a rival for a long time and he began taking potshots early, culminating in his “Ron DeSanctimonious” insult delivered on Nov. 5. Trump has threatened to release damaging information and called him “an average REPUBLICAN Governor with great Public Relations,” [capitalization, of course, his] which to Trump is a killing blow right there.

Given that a leopard can’t change his spots and Trump can’t tame his tongue, the public can expect Trump to keep intensifying his insults, his threats and his attacks as he tries to tear down the man who was once his apprentice but who now looms as his overlord. In fact, his fulminations are likely to intensify the more desperate he becomes. Indeed, Trump may succeed in peeling away some of DeSantis’ luster and turning some of the most fanatical Florida Trumpers against the governor.

No doubt DeSantis would like to answer in kind but he can’t, for several reasons.

One is that DeSantis is not an announced candidate for president and likely won’t be until the summer of 2024, when he formally gets the Republican nomination for president. Florida has a “resign to run law” that would require him to step down.

Title IX, Chapter 99, Section 99.012 of the Florida Statutes states:

(2) No person may qualify as a candidate for more than one public office, whether federal, state, district, county, or municipal, if the terms or any part thereof run concurrently with each other.

(3)(a) No officer may qualify as a candidate for another state, district, county, or municipal public office if the terms or any part thereof run concurrently with each other without resigning from the office he or she presently holds.

(b) The resignation is irrevocable.

Under current law, DeSantis can’t be both governor and presidential candidate, no matter how obvious his intention to seek the presidency.

However, given the long lead time to the presidential race and DeSantis’ absolute and unrestricted rule over a supine Florida legislature, it is not inconceivable that the legislature could change the law to benefit DeSantis before 2024.

Until that happens, though, DeSantis has to remain unannounced and just take the slings and arrows that his enemy hurls at him. No wonder he wants everyone to chill: it’s in his interest to avoid a presidential contest until the moment he steps onto the stage of the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee to accept the nomination in the late summer of 2024—and irrevocably resigns as governor of Florida.

Additionally, the presidential race will be a huge distraction from doing his day job for the next two years. As it stands, Trump is going to be throwing brickbats and abuse every hour of every day or at least whenever his attention turns to the governor. No matter how low Trump’s own status goes, DeSantis has to deal with Trump’s unrelenting efforts to seize the media spotlight and block his path to the presidency.

But DeSantis has his comforts. Trump will be tied up in investigations and possible criminal indictments, so he will be distracted by that. If DeSantis is lucky, Trump will self-destruct or implode or—rather unlikely—actually be punished for his transgressions. At the least he’ll be mired in legal proceedings. If all goes well, DeSantis will only have to sit back and watch.

So if DeSantis had his druthers, everyone would forget about the presidency until the most propitious possible moment in 2024.

Why wait?

George Conway, husband of Trump White House advisor Kellyanne Conway and a fierce Twitter critic of the president his wife served, has suggested that DeSantis just sit out the 2024 race and run in 2028. After all, DeSantis would only be 50 years old then, still in the prime of life.

While that makes sense from a purely political calculation, it overlooks several factors.

One is momentum. DeSantis right now is on a roll. He’s the great white hope, the favored alternative, the triumphant warrior and MAGA knight in shining armor. He’s Trumpism with a human face. For him to suddenly declare his disinterest in the coming contest would be to squander and dissipate all that energy and hope—which he might never recover. American history is littered with politicians who waited to seize their opportunity only to see their chances pass by.

Second, at the moment his likely presidential opponent is President Joe Biden who will be 81 years old in 2024. Biden has never achieved high approval ratings and is not likely to do so in the future. He will be further weakened by two years of unremitting investigations and attacks from House Republicans. If Biden is the candidate in 2024, he’s someone DeSantis has a reasonable chance of defeating. If DeSantis waits until 2028, there’s no telling who his opponent might be. Furthermore, given a volatile and increasingly unpredictable world, it’s difficult to anticipate the circumstances of the 2028 election.

Third, DeSantis won reelection with a massive war chest of $200 million. The donors who contributed to that fund weren’t just contributing to a governor of Florida; they were investing in the next president of the United States. Nor were they investing in a 2028 president, they were investing for two years from now. These donors are a powerful force in DeSantis’ base, if one that’s out of public sight. It’s hard to imagine that these donors aren’t encouraging and, when necessary, pressuring DeSantis to run—and those are voices DeSantis can’t ignore.

Lastly, DeSantis himself is not a wait-around kind of guy, no matter how calm he’s trying to be. He’s aggressive and impatient and willing to test boundaries.

For all these reasons, a DeSantis delay appears unlikely. It’s safe to bet that the contest is on for 2024.

The physical threat

Given Trump’s propensity for excusing, encouraging and inciting violence, this is an issue that has to be seriously considered in evaluating a Trump-DeSantis rivalry.

After all, Trump incited an insurrection at the US Capitol and encouraged a mob to try to lynch his Vice President. One of his adherents nearly killed Paul Pelosi with a hammer when he couldn’t break the kneecaps of the Speaker of the House. He’s also the man who said he could get away with shooting someone in the middle of New York’s Fifth Avenue and not lose any voters.

It is not beyond the realm of serious possibility that Trump could attempt to have DeSantis murdered or inspire his more ardent followers to attempt to kill the governor. Physical violence is always a danger in heated political contests but not since the Civil War has the threat been so immediate and real, with a prominent public individual encouraging it.

Clearly, DeSantis could be removed by physical means to Trump’s benefit. Until Trump makes a seemingly sincere, unambiguous and very public statement condemning and abhorring all violence, DeSantis and his entire family will be in danger from Trump and his extremist followers.

Given that he created a state military force answerable only to himself, one presumes that DeSantis’ “Flaetorian” Guard will keep him safe and whole for the next two years. But that safety and security is not to be taken for granted.

Taking the hits

So for the next two years DeSantis may have to be a bit of a punching bag rather than a boxer. He has to take the hits his main rival delivers without hitting back as an announced candidate. For a vigorous and aggressive politician, that’s hard to do. No doubt he’ll land some snide and snarky punches of his own. However, delivering a real knockout blow might offend the Trumper fanatics who will otherwise come to DeSantis’ corner if they have no other choice.  

It also bears remembering that while Trump may be the most prominent DeSantis rival he’s far from the only one. There’s also Gov. Greg Abbott (R) of Texas, with whom DeSantis has dueled using migrant asylum seekers as pawns. In his own state there’s the badly damaged Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), whose presidential ambitions could flare at any time. When Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) isn’t being booed at New York baseball games he’s either flying to Cancun or running for president. And there are others, hovering in the background like a swarm of mosquitos on a warm Florida evening.

It’s more than likely that DeSantis will be very active during the next two years. He won’t be overtly campaigning but expect him to be flying all over the country making speeches, raising money, building connections, endorsing candidates and campaigning without officially campaigning.

But it may not come to a knock-down, drag out battle. One plausible scenario is that Trump will give up his presidential ambitions and endorse DeSantis in return for a promise of a full presidential pardon of all crimes if DeSantis becomes president. However, that would require a rational calculation by Trump, for which he has not shown a proclivity to date.

All this also supposes some pretty big assumptions: that the United States will retain its current constitutional order; that elections will happen on time; that America will stay a democracy; that Florida won’t wash into the sea; and that war, famine, plague and death won’t end the world as we know it.

No one can really know for certain in advance. But it is fairly safe to say that in days to come Donald Trump will be as vile and bitter and vicious as he has always been and that Ronald DeSantis will still be as ambitious and dismissive and arrogant as he has proven so far.

At the very least it will make for a colorful fight card and give Floridians a ringside seat.

Although maybe, for once, DeSantis is right. Maybe it’s better to chill.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

When elephants battle: Trump, DeSantis and the future of the MAGAverse

Two elephants battle. (Photo: Tharindu Somarathna, Wikimedia Commons)

Nov. 12, 2022 by David Silverberg

There’s an old African proverb: “When the elephants fight, the grass gets trampled.”

In Florida the elephants are braying and stomping. They’re about to clash in mortal combat. When they collide, it’s going to be painful to be underfoot.

One elephant, of course, is Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who resoundingly won his reelection bid as Florida governor and has done nothing to disguise his 2024 presidential ambitions.

The other is former President Donald Trump who may announce his own bid for the presidency on Tuesday, Nov. 15. He began disparaging his one-time protégé as “Ron DeSanctimonious” at a campaign rally on Saturday, Nov. 5.

Actually, the battle won’t be hard at all for Democrats, liberals and progressives who already reject both men. But Florida Republicans, MAGAts and Trumpers, especially in the deeply conservative far-right southwest corner of the state, are going to have to make a very tough decision.

Sen. Rick Scott

One Florida Man appears to have already made his choice. Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), had presidential aspirations of his own. However, his less than stellar performance as head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee overseeing the election of a Republican Senate seems to have dampened or extinguished that aspiration.

The evidence of this came when Trump endorsed Scott to be Senate Majority Leader in an interview Trump did on his airplane, which was published on Election Day.

Trump is seeking revenge against Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) who had the temerity to fix responsibility for the Jan. 6 insurrection on him.

“McConnell has been very bad for our nation,” Trump said. “He has been very bad for the Republican Party. I would be in favor of somebody else — McConnell has done a very bad job.”

Scott, said Trump, is a “likely candidate” for McConnell’s job in the event of a Trump 2024 victory.

“I think Rick Scott is a likely candidate — he hates the guy,” Trump said of Scott’s feelings towards McConnell. “He’s tough — he’s tough, and I think he would probably go for it. He’d have a lot of support.”

Scott’s presidential ambition only glowed in light of the possibility of Trump not seeking the presidency. Trump’s endorsement seems to indicate that Scott has put that ambition in abeyance.

As of this writing Scott had not issued a public statement regarding Trump’s remarks. He was still awaiting the results of the last nail-biting Senate races and faced the Dec. 6 Senate runoff election in Georgia.

But given Scott’s well-documented friction with DeSantis it certainly seems that this Florida Man has made his choice.

Rep. Byron Donalds

Rep. Byron Donalds, President Donald Trump and spouses in Naples, Fla., at a private fundraising event in December 2021. (Photo: Office of Rep. Byron Donalds)

Perhaps no one faces a bigger choice with more consequences than Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.).

Donalds was endorsed by Trump in December 2021 for his congressional reelection bid. From the beginning of his congressional campaign he made his loyalty to Trump part of his tagline: “I’m everything the fake news media says doesn’t exist: a Trump supporting, liberty loving, pro-life, pro-2nd Amendment black man.”

At the same time, Donalds has been a supporter of DeSantis and has been sure to appear behind the governor in numerous photos and events. He has praised DeSantis’ handling of the COVID pandemic and his response to Hurricane Ian.

Donalds has ambitions of his own. Having won reelection, he now has his eye on the third slot in the Republican House caucus, head of the conference, and has formally announced his bid for the position. Ironically, the election for the position is scheduled on the same day as Trump’s expected announcement, Tuesday, Nov. 15.

In seeking the seat he is going against the current holder, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-21-NY), who is widely seen as overwhelmingly favored by her fellow Republicans, including the entire congressional leadership.

In this inside-player election, Trump’s endorsement carries considerable weight. Trump has snubbed Donalds before and once again, despite Donalds’ slavish loyalty he did it again in his airplane interview.

“I think she’s fantastic,” Trump said of Stefanik without mentioning Donalds, either forgetting or ignoring him.

To date, Donalds has not issued any statement reacting to Trump’s endorsement.

He did, however, issue a tweet on Saturday, Nov. 12, denying a report that he favored DeSantis over Trump in 2024. That came from Fox News personality Jacqui Heinrich who quoted a “House GOP source” as saying Donalds was saying that to Republican members of Congress in his bid to win the conference chair.

“I’m a big fan of Jacqui Heinrich’s reporting, but her ‘GOP source’ is lying,” Donalds tweeted in reply. “My only focus is Tuesday’s vote to become the next Chair of the GOP Conference.”

Alfie Oakes

Officially, the only public position that Francis Alfred “Alfie” Oakes III, the grocer and farmer holds is that of Collier County Republican Party committeeman. However, following the midterm election, he is effectively the political boss of Collier County, Florida, since all his endorsed and funded candidates won their elections. They will likely follow his dictates in their policymaking when they take office in January.

Oakes has always been an ardent Trumper. After talking to Trump on a phone call on Dec. 22. 2020, Oakes posted: “I love our president and his family with every bit of my being! I love all that he has given for our country and all that he stands for! May God bless our great President Donald Trump, his family, his team and all of the 75 million patriots that support him!”

Oakes has also been a DeSantis supporter and has praised his performance as governor.

So which way will Oakes go this time? As of this writing, none of Alfie’s social media postings have made this clear. He also did not respond to a phone call from The Paradise Progressive.

Once Alfie makes his preference known, it should have an impact among his followers, both on social media and among his customers.

Whichever way he goes, one thing is certain, though. He can’t have it both ways.

A land with two capitals and two popes

On Tuesday, Nov. 8, the capital of the United States shifted to the great state of Florida—and that’s where it’s likely to stay for the next two years.

Of course, the regular, permanent seat of government and official capital is right where it has always been, in Washington, DC.

But the United States actually has two capitals.

Washington is just one. The second is the campaign capital. It’s wherever the hottest political action is at the moment. In presidential election years it’s wherever a caucus or primary or other event is deciding the next president of the United States.

For the next two years, Florida will be the campaign capital of the United States. It’s where the battles will take place. It’s the launching pad for two plausible presidential campaigns (or two-and-a-half if Rick Scott is included) and it’s where the media spotlight has turned and is likely to stay until the Republican nomination is clinched.

As of right now, the complete Republican dominance of the governorship, the legislature and the judiciary makes Florida a single-party polity under the absolute rule of Gov. Ron DeSantis (something The Paradise Progressive has characterized as “Florumpia”).

But like the supposedly universal Catholic Church in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, Florumpia now has two popes. One is certainly bent on destroying the other for the heresy of being more popular, actually winning his election and failing to pay proper homage. The other pope is not going to accept this lying down.

For true believers in MAGAtism, this presents an enormous dilemma. It is one that is scheduled to culminate at the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee, Wisc., in the summer of 2024.

But in the long time before then, true believers have to choose sides. Given Donald Trump’s unyielding, absolutist, demand for obedience, there is no middle path.

That’s what total fanaticism gets a true believer: total submission to another’s will or excommunication from sunshine into the eternal fires of Hell.

Or put another way: that’s what it feels like to be trampled by an elephant.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

On a personal note: Paul Pelosi, my own hammer attack, and thoughts on stopping political violence

The scene outside the Pelosi home in San Francisico. (Photo: AP)

Oct. 30, 2022 by David Silverberg

In the early morning hours of Friday, Oct. 28, Paul Pelosi, husband of the Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.), was attacked with a hammer in his San Francisco, Calif., home by an assailant screaming, “Where’s Nancy?”

As of this writing, Mr. Pelosi is in the hospital recovering with a fractured skull and other wounds. The assailant, David DePape, is in custody. No doubt many more details will be revealed in the days to come. Mr. Pelosi certainly has all the thoughts, prayers, best wishes and good will I can send him.

As horrifying as an act of political violence can be, when I heard of it, I felt a special chill run up my spine.

I know exactly how it feels to be attacked with a hammer.

Spoiler alert: It hurts. A lot.

In 1981, a mugger tried to kill me with a hammer and nearly succeeded.

Actually, being hit with the hammer didn’t hurt me at all. That’s because the blow that slammed the back of my skull knocked me unconscious.

Even after I woke up on my back on a sidewalk in a pool of blood with police, emergency medical technicians and blue flashing emergency lights all around me it didn’t hurt. It didn’t hurt in the ambulance or at the hospital when I gave a statement to police and drew a picture of my assailant.

Only when the excitement died down and people left my side and I was on a gurney awaiting X-rays and further examination, did it start to hurt. And then the pain built, intensified, became overwhelming and obliterated all else. It bore like a twisting corkscrew into the center of my brain. And when you have a head wound you get no pain relievers because the doctors don’t know how you’ve been affected so you just have to tough it out, fully conscious and awake.

Technicians came and asked the date (in my case, Nov. 19, 1981). They asked the name of the sitting president (Ronald Reagan). They asked for my name. Fortunately, for me, I had it together and could answer the questions.

I hope Mr. Pelosi similarly has it together. Speaker Pelosi asked for privacy and she and her husband deserve it, so some details will be withheld.

It’s clear, however, that Speaker Pelosi was the target of this assailant—and this is hardly the first time she’s been targeted for violence.

Both Pelosis are victims of a rise in violence and violent rhetoric in American political life. That trend has a single, recent and obvious point of origin. It’s a bad trend. Even if it can’t be stopped cold, there are nonetheless ways it can be confronted. Indeed, one small measure has just come out in—of all places—Southwest Florida.

And for the record, nobody—nobody—should ever be hit with a hammer.

A Maryland mugging

To fill in the rest of this story: What happened to me was an attempted robbery on a street in Silver Spring, Md., a suburb of Washington, DC.

On the night in question, I passed two young men on a deserted street at about 10 pm. My assailants never spoke to me or asked for money. After one hit me on the back of my head with his fist, the other attacked with a ball peen hammer. After a brief defense with a bag holding books (I was returning home from the National Press Club book fair), I fled. The hammer-wielder caught up with me, knocked me unconscious and then, when I was down, hit me again on the back of the head.

Police had been watching and were on the scene almost instantaneously. But the hammer-wielder wasn’t done yet. The first plainclothes policeman to arrive was only carrying a radio. The hammer-wielder hit him full force in the face, smashing his jaw. Then the assailant turned and charged the rest of the team coming up the street. One detective told me he had his gun drawn and the assailant in his sights but another policeman ran into the field of fire. Otherwise that would have been the end.

A police car raced up the street and rammed the hammer-wielder just as the rest of the team grabbed him. All of them went tumbling over the car’s hood but the hammer-wielder was finally apprehended. The other mugger ran in the other direction and was arrested with less drama. He was carrying a big fire hydrant wrench that he unsuccessfully tried to use as a weapon.

As the police told me later, when would-be robbers use blunt instruments, their intention is to kill. A robber armed with a gun or knife usually just wants to scare people into giving up money or valuables. But people using clubs or hammers fully intend to do bodily harm or kill to get what they want.

Both muggers had commuted to Silver Spring by Metro from inner city Washington, specifically to commit crimes. The hammer-wielder was named Paul Edward Sykes. He was charged with my attempted murder and assaulting a police officer. Sixteen years old, he was tried as an adult because of the capital nature of his crime and sentenced to 19 years for the attempted murder and 19 for hitting the officer, to be served consecutively. It was later commuted to just 19 years.

I was lucky: I made a full recovery. I believe I lost some hearing and I can’t sleep on my left side anymore because when I fell, I fell on my face and it may have injured nasal passages. But one of the worst effects of a hammer injury to the head is the uncertainty of its effects. Just exactly what brain functions had been affected? A victim is left wondering, sometimes for years.

(Murder with blunt objects takes place regularly in the United States. According to Federal Bureau of Investigation statistics, 243 people were killed with blunt objects in 2021. Southwest Florida had its own such experience in 2015 when Dr. Teresa Sievers was killed with 17 blows from a hammer in her Bonita Springs home. Her husband, Mark, is currently awaiting execution for arranging the murder.)

In my case, when it was all finished, I felt that justice had been done. I was able to make a victim impact statement before sentencing and received restitution. In fact, so unusual was it to see the system work the way it was intended that I wrote an essay about it that was published in the “Periscope” section of Newsweek. In those days that was a big deal.

The accomplice, Lawrence Hardy, was 15 years and 9 months old and tried as a juvenile, receiving a much lighter sentence. I still have an apologetic greeting card he sent me. It’s titled “Sorry about your accident.”

The history of violence

The attack on Pelosi—and the attempt on the Speaker—is part of a dark side of American history.

Political violence has marred American politics in the past. In 1804 Vice President Aaron Burr killed former Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton in a duel. In 1856 Rep. Preston Brooks (D-SC) savagely beat Sen. Charles Sumner (R-Mass.) with a cane at his desk on the floor of the Senate. There have been other duels and fights among politicians as well, most before the Civil War.

Since then politicians have carefully refrained from advocating or threatening actual physical violence. They’ve known that nowhere is the Golden Rule applied more forcefully than in politics: what you do unto others will most certainly be done unto you. It largely kept violent language out of the public arena, no matter how impassioned the issues or debates.

That applied until 2015. It’s not hard to find the starting point for rise in violence and violent rhetoric in recent American political life. It starts with Donald Trump. As a candidate, Trump broke the taboo against invoking or encouraging violence. At his 2016 campaign rallies, Trump said things like, “I’d like to punch him in the face,” of a protester and “part of the problem is no one wants to hurt each other anymore.” Speaking of behavior at his rallies, at one point he said “the audience hit back. That’s what we need a little bit more of.” And in reflecting on a protest the previous day, “I’ll beat the crap out of you.”

Illustration by Jesse Duquette.

Trump didn’t slow down when he was elected president, infamously equating violent neo-Nazis and racists in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017 as “good people on both sides.”

He made other statements too. But, of course, his most infamous act was inciting the crowd at his Jan. 6, 2021 rally on the Ellipse to physically attack the United States Capitol and members of Congress and lynch his vice president. In a presidential vehicle, he himself violently grabbed the throat of a Secret Service officer who wouldn’t take him to the Capitol.

What is most striking about Donald Trump is that he’s physically a coward. He’s never put himself in harm’s way as a member of the armed forces. He’s always been protected and never been physically attacked. He has no idea what it’s like to be on the receiving end of violence. To him, urging violence is a game, a show of machismo, an abstraction, a catharsis, something he can get away with without consequences. As he infamously put it: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK?”

The closest he ever came to feeling what it’s like to be attacked was when an eagle he was using in a Time magazine photo shoot tried to bite him. Clearly, the eagle wasn’t impressed with his tweets, his wealth or his fame.

Candidate Donald Trump flees the wrath of a bald eagle named Sam during a Time magazine photo shoot in 2015. (Photo: Time)

At the grassroots

Trump’s acceptance and encouragement of violence has leached down to grassroots America and the attack on Paul Pelosi is one example of it.

But even Southwest Florida has reflected Trump’s attitudes. In the 2020 congressional campaign in the 19th Congressional District along the Paradise Coast, the multitude of Republican candidates promoted their rage and especially their affinity for firearms in their campaigns. Candidates insulted each other and fired weapons on screen, at times directly threatening each other.

Then-state Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen takes aim in a 2020 campaign ad for state Senate in which she warned her opponent to stop lying about her record. (Image: Campaign)

Nor has the violent rhetoric eased. For example, on June 16 of this year extreme conservative farmer and grocer Alfie Oakes called for the public execution of federal judge Christopher Cooper of the District of Columbia, for sentencing anti-vaccine doctor Simone Gold for her role in the Jan. 6 insurrection.

“Simone Gold likely saved more Americans than anyone in history… by prescribing millions of doses of ivermectin.. She is a true American hero!” Oakes posted. “The bought and paid for corrupt DC judge that sentenced her to 60 days in jail is a traitor to this country and should be publicly executed!” (The post, originally appearing at https://www.facebook.com/alfieforamerica/posts/pfbid02qcYvDbunLP7JzVdoK5R227rmaKvPnbaHDRT8W3P4GqcaufMGhWxJwQZiPNcuiwxXl, was removed after many days online.)

But as one reader, Matt Fahnestock, posted in reply: “We need a plan of action.”

Deterring violence

The use of violence for political ends is a bad road that leads to a bad end. In their classic 2018 book How Democracies Die, authors Daniel Ziblatt and Steven Levitsky write: “We should worry when a politician 1) rejects, in words or action, the democratic rules of the game, 2) denies the legitimacy of opponents, 3) tolerates or encourages violence or 4) indicates a willingness to curtail the civil liberties of opponents, including the media.”

They also list four criteria for judging incipient use of anti-democratic violence in politics: “Do [authoritarian politicians] have any ties to armed gangs, paramilitary forces, militias, guerrillas, or other organizations that engage in illicit violence? Have they or their partisan allies sponsored or encouraged mob attacks on opponents? Have they tacitly endorsed violence by their supporters by refusing to unambiguously condemn it and punish it? Have they praised (or refused to condemn) other significant acts of political violence, either in the past or elsewhere in the world?”

Remember, that was written in 2017.

People do not have to feel helpless in the face of incipient violence. The use of violence is illegal, it’s still punished under the law. Honest, impartial law enforcement can and must crack down on the criminals who engage in it, as is happening in the Paul Pelosi case and in the prosecution of the Jan. 6 insurrectionists. Opponents of violence have the law on their side.

It’s also important that existing authorities and governments express their condemnation of political violence. Here, Southwest Florida is leading the way.

On Tuesday, Oct. 25, the Collier County Board of Commissioners issued a proclamation condemning bigotry, anti-Semitism and hate crimes. (Full disclosure: This author conceived and drafted the text.)

That proclamation “condemns any call to violence or use of violence for any purpose at any time; and resolves to actively and vigorously oppose, investigate, and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law any advocacy of violence, acts of violence, or crimes manifesting hatred against any person, property, or institution based on faith, race, gender, creed, sexual orientation.”

A government proclamation won’t end or stop violence. But it puts the government, the legitimate elected local authority, on the record against it and makes clear that there’s no acceptance or tolerance of it in the jurisdiction. It means that local authorities are committed to enforcing the law.

If every town, city and county in the country adopted the Collier County proclamation, it would at least put them on the record opposing political violence and deny its legitimacy. It would help ensure that political violence is neither condoned, accepted nor excused. What is more, getting localities to issue the proclamations is something that activists and everyday citizens can do at the local level in their own home towns.

Beyond the larger concepts of violence and politics and democracy, violence is horrible at any level. It maims. It kills. It ruins lives. It leaves widows and orphans and families bereft and devastated. It weakens communities. It destroys social unity. It can bring down democracies.

And on a personal level, this author can authoritatively attest that it hurts like hell. It doesn’t take a hammer to drive that point home.

Here’s blessings and luck to Paul Pelosi. May he swiftly recover and be made whole. And may we all, with the help of God, protect these United States.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Biden, Trump, Ukraine and Southwest Florida’s congressmen –Updated

President Donald Trump shares a laugh with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Sergei Kislyak, Russian ambassador to the United States, in the Oval Office on May 10, 2017. (Photo: TASS)

Feb. 21, 2022 by David Silverberg

–Updated Feb. 23 with new Donald Trump comments and additional images

As this is written, the world is on the brink of war. Russia could invade Ukraine at any moment.

But for all that, it’s worth standing back for a minute to compare the American response of President Joe Biden to the actions of former President Donald Trump.

Above all, the steps taken by the Biden administration to date have been rational, reasonable and sensible. The president has rallied and unified the allies of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). He has warned Russian President Vladimir Putin of the consequences of going to war against Ukraine and put in place the mechanisms to impose those consequences should war begin. He has exposed Russian plans for “false flag” operations and provocations aimed at sparking an invasion. His administration puts American concerns before the world in the United Nations. At the same time he has reached out to Putin and maintained a steady diplomatic dialogue to resolve differences peacefully while standing firm on core democratic and allied principles. He has kept the American public and the world informed of the state of play in a credible, truthful way. Most of all he has carefully and loyally advanced and defended the interests of the United States.

Contrast this to the irrationality, the unpredictability and the emotionality of Donald Trump. This was a man who divided and denigrated the NATO alliance. He was deferential to Putin to the point of subservience and hostile to longstanding allies. He was dismissive of the United Nations and world opinion. When it came to Ukraine, he saw it, not as a sovereign nation, but as little more than a source of dirt to attack his then-potential political rival. His interactions with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky were so improper and illegal he was impeached. He lied so constantly and repeatedly that nothing he said could be believed no matter how great the crisis. Worst of all he advanced Putin’s interests, he advanced his own interests, but he never substantively advanced or defended United States interests.

“All roads with you lead to Putin,” House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) memorably put it directly to Trump in a meeting in 2019.  

“All roads with you lead to Putin,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tells President Donald Trump on Oct. 16, 2019.

“You couldn’t get a sharper contrast,” between the presidents, Fiona Hill, the steely national security expert who testified against Trump during his impeachment hearings, told CNN in an interview. “There’s no Team America for Trump. Not once did I see him do anything to put America first. Not once. Not for a single second.”

But perhaps the best take on the Trump-Putin relationship was satirical when, on Saturday Night Live in 2017, cast member Beck Bennett, playing Vladimir Putin, addressed Americans: “I promise we will take care of America,” he said, smiling wickedly at the camera. “It’s the most expensive thing we ever bought.” It was meant for laughs but spoke truer than anyone knew.

Beck Bennett as Vladimir Putin on Saturday Night Live on Jan. 22, 2017. (Image: SNL)

Under Trump, Russia was able to modernize and enlarge its armed forces from the woeful mess that fought in Chechnya to the powerful force that now stands arrayed on Ukraine’s borders. It’s not as though the United States and the West wasn’t warned. (For a particularly insightful and prescient look, see the 2019 study by the RAND Corp., Trends in Russia’s Armed Forces.) However, all this was done with the knowledge and abetment of Trump and his administration.

As though to confirm all this, yesterday, Feb. 22, Trump expressed his admiration for Putin on the Clay Travis & Buck Sexton radio show in an interview from Mar-a-Lago.

The exchange merits quotation in full:

Buck Sexton: Mr. President, in the last 24 hours we know Russia has said that they are recognizing two breakaway regions of Ukraine, and now this White House is stating that this is an “invasion.” That’s a strong word. What went wrong here? What has the current occupant of the Oval Office done that he could have done differently?

Donald Trump: Well, what went wrong was a rigged election and what went wrong is a candidate that shouldn’t be there and a man that has no concept of what he’s doing. I went in yesterday and there was a television screen, and I said, “This is genius.” Putin declares a big portion of the Ukraine — of Ukraine. Putin declares it as independent. Oh, that’s wonderful.

So, Putin is now saying, “It’s independent,” a large section of Ukraine. I said, “How smart is that?” And he’s gonna go in and be a peacekeeper. That’s strongest peace force… We could use that on our southern border. That’s the strongest peace force I’ve ever seen. There were more army tanks than I’ve ever seen. They’re gonna keep peace all right. No, but think of it. Here’s a guy who’s very savvy… I know him very well. Very, very well. By the way, this never would have happened with us. Had I been in office, not even thinkable. This would never have happened. But here’s a guy that says, you know, “I’m gonna declare a big portion of Ukraine independent,” he used the word “independent,” “and we’re gonna go out and we’re gonna go in and we’re gonna help keep peace.” You gotta say that’s pretty savvy. And you know what the response was from Biden? There was no response. They didn’t have one for that. No, it’s very sad. Very sad.”

With Trump, for all his bluster and bombast, the core of American policy toward Russia was weak; Biden may not be loud or pompous but the essence of his policy is solid and substantial.

SWFL’s take

Predictably, Southwest Florida’s Republican members of Congress have been critical of Biden’s responses, although less so of Putin.

In a Feb. 19 interview on Fox News, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), who does not live in his district, said the United States was “late to the game” and accused Biden of weakness.

“This is almost like Afghanistan re-done where some of the data elements have been there for some months but where has the administration been? What have they done? And then the tough talk comes late. But by that point things are already in motion. That looks like what’s coming in Ukraine right now.”

He called for a show of strength and criticized Biden for not going to the Munich meeting of European leaders and sending Vice President Kamala Harris instead.

However, when asked what the United States should be doing, he recommended exactly the actions the administration is taking.

“…We have to be very serious about Nord Stream 2,” he said. “That pipeline cannot go into existence at all. The other thing is that we have to have serious conversations with the rest of our allies in NATO about what are the defensive military components they’re going to need to make sure we stop a more aggressive Russia”—which is precisely what Biden has been doing, in contrast to Trump’s past attacks on NATO.

(Nord Stream 2 is an undersea natural gas pipeline between Russia and Germany that has been completed but is not yet operational. It has been subject to repeated sanctions from the United States. The Biden administration waived sanctions early in 2021 for geo-political reasons but, along with Germany, has stated the pipeline will be closed if Russia invades Ukraine.)

As a third measure, Donalds veered off into a call for support of Taiwan.

Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) similarly attacked Biden for weakness in a Feb. 9 interview on Newsmax, complaining that Biden had lifted sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline but is now threatening to reimpose them. He also called for imposition of sanctions but stopped short of calling for use of US troops.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) has not issued any public statements on Ukraine.

What is most striking about the Donalds and Steube statements is that they are calling for strength now while the groundwork for Russian actions were laid during the Trump administration, when both were ardent defenders and admirers of Trump. Although Donalds’ time in office only overlapped Trump’s by 17 days he has continued to be a devotee and was rewarded with a Trump endorsement on Dec. 13 of last year.

Understanding Putin

As the world proceeds into this crisis caused by Putin’s ambitions, it’s worth remembering Trump’s truly significant role in preparing this tragedy. If Ukraine is conquered it will join his betrayal of the Kurds in infamy.

While Republicans point fingers, it’s also worth remembering the person who really had Putin’s number and understood him better than anyone else—Hillary Clinton. The opening paragraph of her chapter on Russia in the book Hard Choices is as true today as when it was written:

“Hard men present hard choices—none more so than Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia. Putin’s worldview is shaped by his admiration for the powerful czars of Russian history, Russia’s long-standing interest in controlling the nations on its borders, and his personal determination that his country never again appear weak or at the mercy of the West as he believes it was after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He wants to reassert Russia’s power by dominating its neighbors and controlling their access to energy. He also wants to play a larger role in the Middle East to increase Moscow’s influence in that region and reduce the threat from restive Muslims within and beyond Russia’s southern borders. To achieve these goals, he seeks to reduce the influence of the United States in Central and Eastern Europe and other areas that he considers part of Russia’s sphere, and to counter or at least mute our efforts in the countries roiled by the Arab Spring.”

At least now we have a president who understands what Putin is about and is determined to prevent him from succeeding—no matter how softly that president speaks.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate!

What starts in Ukraine may not stay in Ukraine: How war could affect Southwest Florida

Ukrainian soldiers train at US Marine Corps Camp Lejeune in 1998. The US-Ukrainian military relationship stretches back decades. (Photo: US DoD)

Jan. 26, 2022 by David Silverberg

In Southwest Florida, the crisis over the Ukraine may seem like a “quarrel in a faraway country, between people of whom we know nothing.”

That’s the way British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain described the dispute between a democratic Czechoslovakia and Nazi Germany in 1938.

The Czechoslovak government was pressured to give up parts of its territory to appease Adolf Hitler and once he had those pieces he swallowed the rest of the country whole. A full-scale world war eventually followed.

Today Vladimir Putin is endangering Ukraine, threatening war to get his demands met. It seems like a very close replay of Hitler’s moves on Czechoslovakia.

Two of the most knowledgeable Ukraine-Russia analysts have put forward their evaluations of the situation.

Alexander Vindman, a retired US Army lieutenant colonel, was director for European Affairs at the National Security Council when in 2019 he blew the whistle on President Donald Trump’s improper political demands on the Ukrainian government. He offered his take on the current situation on Jan. 21 in the magazine Foreign Affairs: “The Day After Russia Attacks: What War in Ukraine Would Look Like—and How America Should Respond.”

Fiona Hill was an intelligence officer on Russian and Eurasian affairs for presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama and served on the National Security Council under Trump. In a clinical and steely performance, she too testified against Trump’s improper use of his office during his first impeachment hearings. Her article appeared on Jan. 24 in The New York Times under the headline: “Putin Has the U.S. Right Where He Wants It.”

Both call for a strong, robust American response and in particular urge the United States to take the initiative and not just react to Putin’s moves. Hill believes Putin has a much larger goal: to kick the United States out of Europe altogether, allowing Russia to dominate the continent. Both warnings are scary, insightful and deserve heeding.

But why should anyone in Southwest Florida care? It’s not as though Naples is on the front lines or Russian tanks will be rolling into Fort Myers. No matter what happens on the frosty plains of Ukraine, Southwest Florida will still have its sun and beaches.

As World War II demonstrated 80 years ago, conflicts in faraway lands have a way of impacting even places very remote from them, especially in today’s interconnected world. What is more, shooting wars have a nasty tendency to spread their effects in unexpected and uncontrolled ways, especially the longer they go on.

Southwest Florida has already seen how a large, overarching crisis can affect daily life in countless everyday ways. The COVID pandemic emptied store shelves, disrupted travel, upended the supply chain and sowed deep and passionate political divisions over health precautions and vaccinations.

COVID is an assault by an impersonal force of nature; a war in Ukraine that expanded into a US-Russian conflict—presuming that it remained non-nuclear—would be the result of human decisions but would be no less and in some ways, even more impactful.

So how could a hot war in Ukraine immediately affect residents, retirees and tourists in Florida’s Paradise Coast?

Gas prices

United States officials are already negotiating with oil producers to make up for shortfalls in oil supply should Russian oil exports be shut off, either by the Russians or Western blockades.

While Southwest Florida doesn’t get its gasoline from Russia, a global tightening of supply would send prices at the local pumps higher—potentially much higher.

Indeed, gasoline supplies could be so straitened that Floridians—and all Americans—could see the return of gas lines reminiscent of the oil embargoes of the 1970s.

If the scarcity persists, US oil companies could again start eyeing oil drilling and exploitation in eastern Gulf of Mexico or under the Everglades and this time there would be little political will to stop them, even if it would take years for Florida oil to make a difference.

Cyber disruption

The Russians have mastered the art of the cyberattack as a weapon of war. Prior to what the military calls “kinetic” assaults they have launched major electronic onslaughts. They’ve done this in Estonia, Georgia and they just did it in Ukraine, one reason that the alert level of an imminent invasion went up so urgently.

As the Internet has broken down national boundaries, so it has dissolved protective barriers. Cape Coral, Fla., is as vulnerable to cyber-attack as Kyiv. It is not as likely to be a deliberate target since it holds no strategic interest or assets. Nonetheless, should war break out, it might experience collateral damage along with the rest of the United States.

Just how interconnected the electronic world is, was brought home to this author during the 2018 congressional campaign of Democrat David Holden in Southwest Florida’s 19th Congressional District. Staff discovered that the campaign website was being monitored from Moscow—and not just from Moscow but by someone in the Arsenal building, a very secure and secret spot in the very heart of the Kremlin complex. The campaign contacted US authorities. The incident proved that even a place as obscure, remote and strategically insignificant as Southwest Florida could find itself under a watchful Russian eye.

If war breaks out, every time there is an interruption in digital service, whether of the Internet, wi-fi, cable television or telephone, Southwest Floridians may be left wondering whether it’s the result of a technical glitch, a random accident or a deliberate attack. They will not know how long it will last. It will make the web of connectivity that binds us together unstable and affect virtually every human activity. It will make commerce, communications and control extremely difficult and in many cases impossible.

A key cyber vulnerability will be in the banking and financial system. If this system is disrupted, credit card transactions might not go through due to downed networks. Access to bank accounts may be blocked. Electronic payments and income may become erratic and undependable.

Stock market crash

Collier County, Fla., tops the country’s midsize markets in numbers of people who get passive income from stocks, bonds and investment, with Lee County a close second, according to a report from the US Chamber of Commerce. That passive income is dependent on a healthy and robust stock market.

Over the past weeks, the New York Stock Exchange has experienced precipitous plunges as a result of war jitters. If war actually breaks out it might crash on the scale of 1929. We might see halts in trading as circuit breakers kick in to stop free-falls. There could be massive losses of wealth that could have a very direct effect on Southwest Florida residents.

Inflation, already high but expected to decline later this year, could climb higher, eroding everyone’s purchasing power.

Supply chain disruption

The world is already dealing with supply chain disruptions caused by COVID. Shoppers in local stores are seeing empty shelves where once items like cream cheese or paper products or frozen vegetables were once plentiful. During the early days of the pandemic the rush was on for face masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and toilet paper.

Depending on the scale and scope of a Ukrainian war, supply chains might be disrupted around the world.

Russian attacks on cyber infrastructure combined with extremely high military demand for key elements like steel or silicon could result in scarcity in a wide variety of goods at the retail level, including here in Southwest Florida. However, it’s impossible to predict with any precision which goods might be affected or where scarcity might emerge.

Travel disruption

Anyone who has traveled, especially by air, has experienced travel delays due to weather or other unexpected obstacles. The COVID Omicron surge was a major disruptor, felling flight crews and introducing unpredictability into airline schedules and flights.

A US-Russian conflict could compound that with deliberate Russian efforts to disrupt air corridors, interfere with commercial aviation or confuse navigation systems on the ground or in the air.

Social media disinformation

As the Mueller Report detailed, Russian operatives substantially interfered in the 2016 election (especially in Florida), helping to put Donald Trump in office. They are now practiced and proficient in the use of American social media to achieve political and strategic aims. After all, the word “disinformation” is originally a Russian word (дезинформация).

A US-Russian conflict would likely see a tsunami of Russian-aided social media and Internet propaganda and disinformation aimed at confusing, misleading and dividing Americans.

A unique local aspect of this is the Florida presence of two major American pro-Russian sympathizers, Donald Trump and Michael Flynn. On Jan. 24, Flynn penned an op-ed in the conservative Western Journal that was characterized by Forbes magazine as voicing support for a Russian invasion. It presented the Russian viewpoint on Ukraine.

It will likely be impossible for Americans to wall themselves off from these efforts but with public discernment, skepticism and the efforts of social media platforms to responsibly weed out false and misleading disinformation, perhaps the impact can be kept to a minimum.

Avoiding the inevitable

Nothing in human affairs is inevitable except death and taxes. Even the most seemingly unstoppable force can be stopped if it’s controlled by human decisionmaking. War is one of these kinds of events.

A diplomatic solution in Ukraine is entirely possible although the alignment of forces doesn’t favor it at the moment. Putin simply doesn’t regard Ukraine as an independent country. He attempted to dominate it through subterfuge, first by putting his own candidate in the Ukrainian presidency, then by backing breakaway areas and competing regional governments. He put his own candidate in the American presidency to aid and abet these efforts but that puppet is now gone from power. His efforts to date have not yielded the desired result.

Now he’s left with either threatening physical force or using it on a massive scale.

The United States and its NATO allies recognize Ukraine as a separate, independent state and treat it that way. This irreconcilable difference is what is fueling the current crisis.

Though seemingly mild-mannered and quiet, President Joe Biden long recognized the Russian threat. In particular he had an early awareness of the danger presented by Russian corruption, bribery and subversion as a state tool to buy agents and defeat obstacles to its ambitions. The US government is taking action to thwart those efforts.

Obviously, a win-win-win (Ukraine-Russia-US) diplomatic solution would be the most desirable for all parties. However, if conflict breaks out, there exists the very real possibility that a Russian invasion could be thwarted, that Russian cyberattacks could be stopped and a successful counteroffensive launched. Americans could unite in defense of their country. Russia could suffer cyber damage as great or worse than any inflicted on the United States. Its economy could be shattered. Ukraine, the United States and NATO could emerge victorious—but at a cost in lives and treasure and all this amidst an ongoing pandemic.

There is no telling at this point how the Ukraine crisis will resolve itself. But only 80 years ago history provided an example: appeasement of Hitler did not work.

Appeasement of Putin will not work now. There come times when the forces of law and democracy must stand firm to survive. That’s true in international affairs and it’s true in domestic affairs.

Like an earthquake or a tsunami, the aftershocks from a Ukraine conflict will reach Southwest Florida in one form or another. This is not a “quarrel in a faraway country, between people of whom we know nothing.”

In this time and place that “faraway country” is right next door. And those “people of whom we know nothing” are our neighbors.

*  *  *

For further reading about post-Soviet Russia and the rise of Vladimir Putin (both available in the Collier and Lee county public libraries), see:

Putin’s People: How the KGB took back Russia and then took on the West by Catherine Belton.

From Cold War To Hot Peace: An American Ambassador in Putin’s Russia by Michael McFaul.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate!

Oakes, Donalds, Rooney and Gingrich: Four Floridians and the attack on America’s Capitol–Updated

On Jan. 6 a mob attacks the US Capitol.

Jan. 6, 2022 by David Silverberg

–Updated Feb. 9, 2022 with with input from Alfie Oakes and corrections

If Dec. 7, 1941 is a day that will live in infamy, Jan. 6, 2021 is a day that will live in disgrace.

It was the day that democracy almost died.

It was a day when Americans, incited by a delusional and dictatorial president, went on a rampage that came close to destroying the Constitution, Congress and government by, for, and of the people.

On this, the first anniversary of the insurrection and attack on the United States Capitol and Congress, the words and actions of four Floridians—all residents of Naples—bears remembrance, as well as their words and actions in the days afterward. They illustrate a range of characters and reactions to what was one of the most horrific events of the early 21st century.

Outside the Capitol

Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) and Francis Alfred “Alfie” Oakes III both protested the election, one from inside the Capitol, the other from outside.

Oakes, a Naples farmer, grocer and deep and fervent supporter of President Donald Trump, had chartered two buses to carry about a hundred Trumpers to the “Stop the Steal” rally. He traveled to Washington to participate in the rally.

According to Oakes, he participated in the rally and then flew home directly that night. He never breached police barriers, the Capitol grounds or entered the building itself.

With My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell and former national security director Michael Flynn in the foreground, Rep. Byron Donalds looks out on the “Stop the Steal” rally before going to the Capitol. (Photo: Twitter)

On the morning of Jan. 6, Byron Donalds, who had sworn to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution three days before, attended the rally on the Ellipse outside the White House.

He left the rally before it ended and went to the Capitol to register his objection to certifying the vote of the Electoral College.

“I’m walking into the Capitol to sign the objection to the Electoral College certification. It’s important we always uphold our laws and our Constitution, no matter what,” he tweeted at 11:17 am that morning.

Rep. Byron Donalds signs a paper registering his objection to certifying the election. (Photo: Office of Rep. Byron Donalds)

Donalds was inside the Capitol attending the certification when rioters breached police barriers and began attacking the building. He and the other members were evacuated from the House chamber.

“On my fourth day as a United States Congressman, I followed Capitol staff into a safe room with a gas mask in hand rather than representing my constituents,” Donalds recounted in a statement on the events.

At 2:49 pm, the height of the attack, Donalds tweeted: “Americans have the right to peacefully protest & demand their government works for them—that doesn’t mean we resort to violence. Rule of law must stand during our nation’s brightest & darkest hours & that includes right now. We are better than this. There is no place for anarchy.”

At 10:09 pm, after the riot was over and the rioters had been evicted from the building, Donalds issued a lengthy statement, calling the rioters “lawless vigilantes” and condemning their actions as “thuggery.”  Despite this, he voted against certification.

The defenders

Then-Rep. Francis Rooney (center) discusses Lake Okeechobee with President Donald Trump during the latter’s visit in March, 2019. (Image: C-Span)

For two former Republican members of Congress the attack on the Capitol was unacceptable, outrageous and enraging.

Francis Rooney of Naples had just retired from two terms representing the 19th Congressional District, the coastal area from Cape Coral to Marco Island.

As the violence peaked at 3:49 pm that day he stated on Facebook: “All of America should be saddened and sickened by today’s events at the US Capitol. President Trump is complicit in inciting violence to contest an election that is over and adjudicated. This must stop now.”

Newt Gingrich appears on Fox News the day after the attack. To the right is the scene inside House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office. (Image: Fox News)

Newton “Newt” Gingrich served as Speaker of the House from 1995 to 1999. He and his wife Callista quietly moved to Naples in September 2021.

When rioters invaded the Office of the Speaker on Jan. 6th, they weren’t vandalizing one individual’s office; they were attacking the chamber of the highest ranking official in the House of Representatives. That room wasn’t just the personal office of Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.), it was the sanctum that Gingrich had also inhabited for four years. Every Speaker had occupied it, regardless of party, since the current House wing of the Capitol was completed in 1857.

For Gingrich the riot hit close to home and he responded with fury.

“I was furious. I am furious. Every person who broke into the Capitol has to be arrested and has to be prosecuted,” he said in a Fox News interview the day after the riot. “This is the center of freedom on the whole planet. It’s a symbol for everybody. And what happened yesterday was utterly, totally inexcusable. People should be locked up and punished. And I’m delighted that they’re increasing the preparations for the inaugural because we have to make absolutely certain nothing like this happens again. But as a former House member as well, as you point out, former Speaker, I found it enraging that people who clearly are not patriots — these are people are destructive barbarians and they are frankly criminals, and they should be treated that way and locked up. And I’m very proud of the Capitol Police, that they clearly needed a lot more reinforcements yesterday.”

In the year since

Gingrich may have been angry over the insurrection but it wasn’t sufficient to permanently turn him from Donald Trump. A mere five months after the insurrection he made the pilgrimage to Mar-a-Lago to craft a new, Trumpist “Contract with America,” the political device that brought a Republican Congress to power and him to the Speakership in 1995.

Details are sparse but the new contract may be unveiled this year in time for the midterms.

“It should be positive,” Gingrich was quoted as saying about it in the publication Politico in May. “School choice, teaching American history for real, abolishing the ‘1619 Project,’ eliminating critical race theory and what the Texas legislature is doing. We should say, ‘Bring it on.’”

He made no mention of preserving democracy or punishing insurrection.

Over the past year Francis Rooney continued to post on Facebook and do the occasional op-ed, concentrating on his real passions of foreign affairs and environmental stewardship.

Four days after Alfie Oakes returned from Washington he gave a lengthy account of the riot on Facebook on Jan. 10. In it he argued that the assault on the Capitol was “an incredibly clever tactic orchestrated by those that will stop at nothing to ensure the Globalist take over of our United States.”

According to Oakes, “Leading the group was the obvious six or eight paid actors(used in other events such as BLM riots, hard to believe they would be that blatant and sloppy) … followed by a small group of aggressive Trump supporters caught up in the moment.”

Nonetheless, he did acknowledge in his Jan. 10 post that “I have now found ONE thing that I completely agree on with the ever corrupt main stream media on…..This is truly one of the lowest days in our country’s history!”

When it came to Byron Donalds, after denouncing the riot, he watered down his tweet condemning the rioters to say that they “do not embody my constituents’ values and heart.” Their actions, he tweeted at the time, “will not alter my decision to object to the Electoral College certification” and he indeed voted against certifying the election when the roll call was taken.

Nonetheless, at 3:26 am on the morning of Jan. 7, Vice President Mike Pence, who had been threatened with lynching by the mob, certified the vote of the Electoral College that confirmed Joseph Robinette Biden as president of the United States.

During the rest of 2021 Donalds proved a reliable right wing megaphone, following Republican talking points in denouncing Biden and Democrats, promoting a MAGA agenda and never condemning or acknowledging Donald Trump’s role in the “anarchy” of Jan. 6.

On Dec. 13 Donald Trump endorsed Donalds for re-election.

Rep. Byron Donalds, Donald Trump, Melania Trump and Erika Donalds in Naples, Dec. 13. (Photo: Office of Rep. Byron Donalds)

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

2022, Florida and the future: Anticipating the political year ahead

A vision of Florida’s future? The dome homes of Cape Romano off the coast of Southwest Florida. When built in 1979 they were on solid land. (Photo: Andy Morfrew/Wikimedia Commons)

Jan. 3, 2022 by David Silverberg

At the end of every year, most newspapers and media outlets like to do retrospectives on the year past. They’re easy to do, especially with a skeleton crew: just go into the archives, pull out a bunch of the past year’s photographs or stories, slap them together, throw them at the readers or viewers and then staff can relax and party for the New Year. Or better yet, when it comes to a supposedly “daily” newspaper, don’t print any editions at all.

What’s much harder to do is look ahead at the year to come and try to determine, however imperfectly, what the big stories will be.

That takes some thought and effort but it’s much more valuable and helpful in setting a course through the fog of the future.

Although there will be surprises and any projection is necessarily speculative, there are a number of big issues in the nation and Southwest Florida that are likely to dominate 2022.

Democracy vs. autocracy

Donald Trump may no longer be president but the impact of his tenure lives on. Just how much will he and his cultists continue to influence events this year?

Although the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection and coup failed, the effort to impose autocratic, anti-democratic rule continues at the state and local levels as Trumpist politicians push to create mechanisms to invalidate election results they don’t like.

Nowhere is this truer than in Florida where Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is playing to the most extreme elements of his base as he tries to ensure his own re-election and mount a presidential bid in 2024. He also has to outdo his other potential presidential hopefuls, most notably Texas’ Gov. Greg Abbott (R).

In Florida, the race is on to produce the most extreme, radical right measures both by DeSantis and members of Florida’s Republican-dominated legislature.

Examples of this include DeSantis’ 2022 $5.7 million budget proposal for an Office of Election Crimes and Security within the Department of State to investigate election crimes and allegations. In another time and in other hands, this might seem like a politically neutral and straightforward law enforcement agency, if a redundant and unnecessary one. However, given the past year’s efforts in Florida to narrow voting options and the continuing influence of Trump’s Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him, it could have more sinister purposes, like invalidating or discarding legitimate election results.

DeSantis is also proposing creation of a Florida State Guard, which would be wholly subject to his will and authority. The Florida National Guard, by contrast, can be called up for national duty and is answerable to the US Department of Defense in addition to the governor.

These efforts, combined with DeSantis’ past assaults on local autonomy and decisionmaking and his anti-protest legislation, are moving Florida toward a virtual autocracy separate and unequal from the rest of the United States.

The question for 2022 is: will they advance and succeed? Or can both legislative and grassroots opposition and resistance preserve democratic government?

The state of the pandemic

The world will still be in a state of pandemic in 2022, although vaccines to prevent COVID and therapeutics to treat it are coming on line and are likely to keep being introduced. However, given COVID’s ability to mutate, new variants are also likely to keep emerging, so the pandemic is unlikely to be at an official end.

Globally, vaccines will be making their way to the poorer and more remote populations on earth.

In Florida and especially in Southwest Florida, vaccination rates are high. However, there’s no reason to believe that anti-vaccine sentiment and COVID-precaution resistance will slacken. Further, as President Joe Biden attempts to defeat the pandemic by mandating and encouraging vaccines, Republican states are trying to thwart mandates in court. At the grassroots, as rational arguments fail, anti-vaxxers are resisting COVID precautions in increasingly emotional and extreme ways, potentially including violence.

In Southwest Florida the political balance may change in favor of science as anti-vaxxers and COVID-deniers sicken and die off. This will reduce their numbers and their political influence. As their influence wanes that of pro-science realists should rise—but it’s not necessarily clear that realistic, pro-science sentiment will automatically translate into equal and opposite political power.

This year will reveal whether the DeSantis COVID gamble pays off. He has bet that resisting and impeding COVID precautions in favor of unrestrained economic growth will result in political success at the polls.

Will Floridians forget or overlook the cost in lives and health at election time? It’s a result that will only be revealed in November.

Choice and anti-choice

Abortion will be a gigantic issue in 2022. Anti-choicers are hoping that a conservative majority on the Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade and abortion will be outlawed.

A Supreme Court ruling on a Mississippi law outlawing abortion is expected in June. There may be a ruling on Texas’ ban on abortions before then. If Roe is overturned, a number of Republican state legislatures are poised to enact their own bans based on the Texas model and Florida is one of these.

If House Bill 167 passes the Florida legislature, it will inaugurate an environment of civil vigilantism as individual citizens sue anyone suspected of aiding or performing abortions. It’s hard to imagine anything more polarizing, more divisive or more destructive both at the state level and grassroots, as neighbor turns on neighbor.

By the same token, the threat to safe abortion access may galvanize political activism by pro-choice supporters regardless of political party. That was the situation in Georgia in 2020 when a fetal heartbeat bill was passed and signed into law, only to be thrown out in court. Politically, the issue helped turn the state blue.

This year, if Roe is struck down, millions of women may turn against an anti-choice Republican Party and mobilize to enact reproductive rights legislation.

What will be the reaction if Florida follows Texas’ lead and enacts an abortion ban?

Whichever way it goes, abortion will be a sleeping but volcanic issue this year. It will erupt when court decisions are announced. It has the potential to completely reshape the political landscape.

Elections and redistricting

All other issues and debates will play out against the backdrop of a midterm election. Nationally, voters will be selecting 36 governors, 34 senators and the entire House of Representatives.

The national story will center on whether Democrats can keep the House of Representatives and their razor-thin majority in the Senate. In the past, the opposition party has usually made gains in the first midterm after a presidential election. That is widely expected to happen again this year.

In Florida, DeSantis is up for re-election as is Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), all state senators, all state representatives and county and municipal officials.

DeSantis is a base politician, in every sense of the word “base.” He doesn’t try to appeal to all Floridians but has clearly decided that his victory will be won by pandering to his most extreme and ignorant supporters—including Donald Trump. His actions reveal that he is calculating that this will give him sufficient support to keep him in office and provide a platform for the presidency in 2024.

Trump, however, is a jealous god and has lately been denigrating his protégé, whom he apparently sees as a potential threat for 2024 and getting too big for his britches. DeSantis may face a Trump-incited primary on the right from Roger Stone, the previously convicted and pardoned political trickster and activist, who lives in Fort Lauderdale.

If the Stone primary challenge does indeed materialize, it will make for one of the great political stories of 2022.

The primary action on the Democratic side will be between the three candidates for the Party’s gubernatorial nomination: Rep. Charlie Crist (D-13-Fla.), a former governor; Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the only statewide Democratic officeholder; and state Sen. Annette Taddeo (D-40-Miami.). This battle will be resolved on primary election day, Aug. 23.

On the Senate side Rep. Val Demings (D-10-Fla.), is currently the leading contender to take on Rubio, although Allen Ellison, who previously ran in the 17th Congressional District, is also seeking the Party’s nomination.

In Southwest Florida Democrat Cindy Banyai is pursuing a rematch with Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.). Currently, no other Democrat is contesting her candidacy.

The congressional and state elections will be occurring in newly-redrawn districts and the exact boundaries of all districts, congressional, state and local, will be a major factor in determining the political orientation of the state for the next decade. The Republican-dominated legislature, which begins meeting on Jan. 11, must finalize the state’s maps by June 13, when candidates qualify for the new districts.

If the maps are overly gerrymandered they will be subject to court challenges. In 2010 court challenges were so numerous and complex that maps weren’t finalized for six years. This year state Sen. Ray Rodrigues (R-27-Fort Myers), who heads the Senate redistricting committee, has publicly stated that he wants to avoid a repeat of that experience by drawing fair maps at the outset.

Whether the final maps approved by the legislature are in fact fairly drawn and meet the terms of Florida’s Fair Districts Amendment, will be a major question in 2022.

Battle over schools

School boards were once sleepy and relatively obscure institutions of government and education was a quiet area of governance.

That all changed over the past two years. With schools attempting to keep students, teachers and employees safe with mask and vaccine mandates despite vocal opposition from COVID-denying parents as well as right-wing hysteria over the teaching of critical race theory, school board elections have become pointed ideological battlegrounds. Frustrated Trumpers are determined to impose ideological restrictions on teaching and curriculum and use school boards as grassroots stepping stones to achieving power.

In Virginia the 2021 gubernatorial race turned on the question of parental control of curriculum, resulting in a Republican victory. Across the country Republicans will be trying to duplicate that success by making education a major focus of their campaigns. The resulting battle is already fierce and poised to become fiercer. It has erupted at the grassroots as school board members have been physically threatened and Attorney General Merrick Garland’s mobilization of law enforcement assets to protect school board members was denounced by right wing politicians and pundits as threatening parents.

This is prominently playing out in Florida. DeSantis has proposed the Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees [WOKE] Act to prohibit critical race theory teaching and allow parents to sue school board members and teachers. Locally, state Rep. Bob Rommel (R-106-Naples) has proposed putting cameras in all classrooms to monitor teachers. Local grocer, farmer and conservative extremist Francis Alfred “Alfie” Oakes, has demanded that teachers’ unions be “taken down” by “force.”

The school board elections of 2022 will not be what were once considered normal, non-partisan contests. They will be extreme, passionate, heavily politicized, bare-knuckled ideological battles. The outcome of these elections will determine whether students, teachers and school employees are kept safe from the pandemic, whether teachers are able to teach free of surveillance and liability, and whether the lessons imparted to students encourage open inquiry and critical thinking or narrow, ideologically-driven indoctrination.

Climate change—natural and political

The past year was one that saw some of the most extreme weather on record, clearly driven by a changing climate. Biden’s infrastructure plan had some measures to address these changes and build resilience in the face of what is sure to be climatic changes ahead. However, a major initiative to halt climate change is stalled along with the rest of his Build Back Better plan.

Climate change is the issue that undergirds—and overhangs—every other human endeavor. That was true in 2021, it will be true in 2022 and it will be true for the rest of the life of the human race and the planet.

Florida was extraordinarily lucky last year, avoiding the worst of the storms, wildfires, droughts and heat waves that plagued the rest of the United States.

Locally, Southwest Florida got a taste of climate change-driven weather when an EF-1 tornado touched down in Cape Coral on Dec. 21, damaging homes and businesses.

Nonetheless, on Dec. 7 at a Pinellas County event, DeSantis accused climate activists of trying to “smuggle in their ideology.”

“What I’ve found is, people when they start talking about things like global warming, they typically use that as a pretext to do a bunch of left-wing things that they would want to do anyways. We’re not doing any left-wing stuff,” DeSantis said to audience cheers.

“Be very careful of people trying to smuggle in their ideology. They say they support our coastline, or they say they support, you know, some, you know, difference, our water, environment. And maybe they do, but they’re also trying to do a lot of other things,” he said.

This does not bode well for the governor or legislature addressing climate change impacts this year. Still, even the most extreme climate change-deniers are having a hard time dismissing it entirely.

Reducing or resisting the effects of climate change will be the big sleeper issue of 2022, providing a backdrop to all other political issues as the year proceeds. If there is a major, catastrophic event like a very destructive hurricane—or multiple hurricanes—DeSantis and his minions may have to acknowledge that the urgency of climate change transcends petty party politics.

Beyond the realm of prediction

It is 311 days from New Year’s Day to Election Day this year. A lot can happen that can’t be anticipated or predicted.

In past years a midterm election might seem to be a routine, relatively sleepy event of low voter turnout and intense interest only to wonks, nerds and politicos.

But the stakes are now very high and the dangers considerable. As long as Trumpism continues to threaten democracy and the future of the United States, nothing is routine any more.

The world, America, Florida and Florida’s southwest region are facing unprecedented perils. But as long as America is still an election-driven democracy, every individual has a say in how those perils are addressed.

That precious vote is a citizen’s right and obligation—and it can no longer be taken for granted.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Banyai slams Trump endorsement of Rep. Byron Donalds

Democratic congressional candidate Cindy Banyai. (Image: Banyai for Congress campaign)

Dec. 14, 2021 by David Silverberg

In a bid to tighten his control of the Republican Party, former President Donald Trump yesterday, Dec. 13, formally endorsed Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) for re-election, a move slammed today by Democratic congressional candidate Cindy Banyai.

“Donald Trump’s endorsement of my opponent can only lead to one thing— the continuation of the Trump administration,” stated Banyai in a message to supporters. “We will not stand for this any longer, and we need to keep our momentum going to show Byron Donalds and Donald Trump that we can defeat them.”

The endorsement was made from the Twitter account of the Trump War Room and stated that Donalds had been “a terrific advocate for the people of Florida and our Country” and had Trump’s “Complete and Total Endorsement.” (Capitalization as given.)

“Thank you, POTUS Trump, for your ENDORSEMENT and your unwavering support,” Donalds responded on Twitter. “Americans feel the pain of the America Last policies supported by the Biden-Harris administration and undoubtedly miss your America First agenda. I’ll always fight for the forgotten men and women of our nation.”

“I want to put our community first,” Banyai stated. “Byron Donalds is only interested in his allegiances to corporations, and harmful politicians like Trump. We cannot afford to have a representative who proudly posts pictures of himself with someone who has repeatedly damaged our country.”

Donalds and his wife Erika met with Trump during the latter’s nighttime visit to Naples on Dec. 3 and was photographed with Trump and his wife Melania.

The Donalds endorsement was one of a slew of endorsements issued by the Trump War Room yesterday. Trump is reaching down into state and local races to ensure a vise-like grip on the Party at all levels.

In addition to Donalds, Trump endorsed Angela Rigas who is running for Michigan state representative in the 86th District, Jacqueline “Jacky” Eubanks running for Michigan state representative in the 32nd District, and Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-13-Texas), who had served as the White House physician from 2013 to 2018 and Assistant to the President and Chief Medical Advisor, a newly-created position, in 2019.

Rep. Byron Donalds, Donald Trump, Melania Trump and Erika Donalds at the Dec. 3 Naples event. (Photo: Office of Rep. Byron Donalds)

Liberty lives in light

(c) 2021 by David Silverberg

Like a thief in the night, Trump steals into and out of Naples

A person disembarks from Donald Trump’s airplane at the Naples Airport on Friday, Dec. 3. (Image: NBC2 News)

Dec. 6, 2021 by David Silverberg

Former president Donald Trump made a brief, furtive sortie into Naples on Friday night, Dec. 3, flying into Naples Airport.

In contrast to the hoopla and publicity surrounding his previous appearances while both in and out of office, Trump’s initial destination was kept secret from the public, then revealed as being the Naples Airport. There, an event took place in a hangar on the airport grounds amidst a heavy security presence.

NBC-2 News also reported that Trump visited a private home in the rich Naples neighborhood of Port Royal.

The visit’s purpose was to raise funds. The ultimate recipient of the funds was not publicly revealed by the organizers nor was the sponsoring organization, although arrangements were made by WHIP Fundraising based in New York, a professional event and fundraising company.

Attendance at the event cost individuals $10,000, couples $20,000 and families or groups of four $30,000. Donors were allowed one photo with the former president.

In stark contrast to his fleeting Naples incursion, Trump’s previous visits to Southwest Florida were heavily publicized and he traveled with an extensive entourage. Two were held during his presidential campaign in 2016. He also held a large rally at what is now Hertz Arena in Estero on Halloween, Oct. 31, 2018, and made a campaign visit to Fort Myers on October 16, 2020.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

Trump coming to Naples on Friday for private fundraiser

Then-First Lady Melania Trump walks among the White House Christmas decorations in 2018. A hangar at the Naples Airport will be decorated like the Trump White House for a fundraiser with former president Donald Trump on Friday. (Image: White House)

Nov. 3, 2021 by David Silverberg

Former president Donald Trump will be briefly stopping in Naples on Friday, Dec. 3 at 7 pm, for a private fundraising event.

The event will be taking place at a hangar at the Naples Airport and is only for donors, according to Richard Johnson, writing in the New York Daily News.

The hangar will be decorated in the Christmas color scheme that former first lady Melania Trump used at the White House during her tenure.

The location was undisclosed to the general public on the event’s website.

Donors have a choice of three packages for admission to the event. A $10,000 contribution gets a single admission and a photo with Trump. A $20,000 contribution provides admission for a couple and a photo. A $30,000 contribution gets a family or up to four people access to the party and a photo.

The event is billed as an Evening of Celebration. “With sunshine over your head, and presents under the tree, this event will give you a lifetime of festive memories! Tickets are extremely limited,” states the event website.

The purpose and final destination of the funds raised is not provided on the website.

Liberty lives in light

©2021 by David Silverberg