Don or Ron? It’s time for SWFL politicians to choose sides

Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis in happier times. (AP/Brynn Anderson)

May 22, 2023 by David Silverberg

It can’t be put off any longer: Florida’s Republican politicians will have to choose between former President Donald Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) to be the next Republican presidential nominee.

That choice will represent the biggest issue facing the Florida Republican Party between now and the primary. Voters won’t have to make their decisions until the Republican Florida presidential preference primary on March 19, 2024. But state Republican politicians have to make their choice now, as DeSantis’ formal declaration draws near and both sides demand oaths of fealty. By and large they have already done so.

In Southwest Florida (SWFL), declarations of loyalty came early and initially favored Trump, who declared his candidacy last November. However, at the state level the endorsements favored DeSantis.

Team Don

Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) was the first SWFL politician to endorse Trump, doing so on April 6. In a lengthy statement he said that Trump would get the country “back on track, provide strength and resolve and make America great again.” He has been actively campaigning for Trump ever since. Rumors are swirling that he is considering a gubernatorial bid in 2026.

Donalds was followed by Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) who endorsed Trump during an appearance on Newsmax on April 17, saying “he’s the only person who can reverse on day one all these disastrous policies of the Biden administration.”

Also in the Trumpist column is Collier County Republican Committeeman Francis Alfred “Alfie” Oakes III, the grocer and long-time Make America Great Again (MAGA) activist. Oakes was present at Trump’s campaign announcement on Nov. 15 at Mar-a-Lago.

Team Ron

DeSantis has lagged behind on endorsements largely because he hasn’t been a declared candidate.

Nonetheless, state Senate President Sen. Kathleen Passidomo (R-28-Naples) endorsed DeSantis on May 16, in a statement calling him, “exactly the kind of leader we need for our country, and I look forward to supporting him for President.”

In the state House of Representatives SWFL Reps. Spencer Roach (R-76-DeSoto and Charlotte counties), Tiffany Esposito (R-77-Lehigh Acres), Jenna Persons-Mulicka (R-78-Fort Myers), Mike Giallombardo (R-79-Cape Coral), Adam Botana (R-80-coastal Lee County), Bob Rommel (R-81-Naples) and Lauren Melo (R-82-Hendry and Collier counties) have all endorsed DeSantis.

DeSantis was also endorsed by Florida House Speaker Rep. Paul Renner (R-19-Flagler and St. Johns counties).

What to watch

SWFL politicians to watch in the days ahead include Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-26-Fla.), who has not yet declared.

Neither of Florida’s senators, Republicans Marco Rubio or Rick Scott, have endorsed either candidate. Scott has stated that he is remaining neutral in the contest.

As of this writing, 13 Florida legislators had not made their commitments known.

Also unclear at this point are endorsements at the county and city level.

Endorsements are important indicators of Party support for candidates. The website has an excellent, constantly updated interactive page on endorsements: “Which 2024 Republican Presidential Candidate Has The Most Endorsements?” It assigns different point values to endorsements based on the prominence and position of the endorsers. It currently shows Trump far ahead overall.

Clearly, Trump’s lead will change after DeSantis makes his announcement.

Below is the full list of state officeholders (arranged alphabetically by last name) who endorsed DeSantis as of May 17, courtesy of NewsChannel 8, Tampa.

Florida Senate

  • Senate President Kathleen Passidomo
  • Sen. Ben Albritton (Senate District (SD)-27))
  • Sen. Bryan Avila (SD- 39) 
  • Sen. Dennis Baxley (SD-13)
  • Sen. Jim Boyd (SD-20)
  • Sen. Jennifer Bradley (SD-6)
  • Sen. Jason Brodeur (SD-100)
  • Sen. Douglas Broxson (SD-1)
  • Sen. Danny Burgess (SD-23)
  • Sen. Colleen Burton (SD-12)
  • Sen. Alexis Calatayud (SD-38)
  • Sen. Jay Collins (SD-13)
  • Sen. Nick DiCeglie (SD-18)
  • Sen. Gayle Harrell (SD-31)
  • Sen. Travis Hutson (SD-7)
  • Sen. Blaise Ingoglia (SD-11)
  • Sen. Jonathan Martin (SD-33)
  • Sen. Debbie Mayfield (SD-19)
  • Sen. Keith Perry (SD-9)
  • Sen. Corey Simon (SD-3)
  • Sen. Jay Trumbull (SD-2)
  • Sen. Clay Yarborough (SD-4)

Florida House

  • Speaker of the House Paul Renner
  • Rep. Shane Abbott (House District (HD)-5)
  • Rep. Thad Altman (HD-32)
  • Rep. Danny Alvarez (HD-69)
  • Rep. Adam Anderson (HD-57)
  • Rep. Alex Andrade (HD-2)
  • Rep. Jessica Baker (HD-17)
  • Rep. Douglas Bankson (HD-39)
  • Rep. Webster Barnaby (HD-29)
  • Rep. FabiánBasabe (HD-106)
  • Rep. Melony Bell (HD-49)
  • Rep. Kimberly Berfield (HD-58)
  • Rep. Adam Botana (HD-80)
  • Rep. Robert Brackett (HD-34)
  • Rep. Chuck Brannan (HD-10)
  • Rep. James Buchanan (HD-74)
  • Rep. Jennifer Canady (HD-50)
  • Rep. Mike Caruso (HD-87)
  • Rep. Ryan Chamberlin (HD-24)
  • Rep. Linda Chaney (HD-61)
  • Rep. Chuck Clemons (HD-22)
  • Rep. Wyman Duggan (HD-12)
  • Rep. Tiffany Esposito (HD-77)
  • Rep. Tom Fabricio (HD-110)
  • Rep. Juan Fernandez-Barquin (HD-118)
  • Rep. Randy Fine (HD-33)
  • Rep. Alina Garcia (HD-115)
  • Rep. Sam Garrison (HD-11)
  • Rep. Mike Giallombardo (HD-79)
  • Rep. Karen Gonzalez Pittman (HD-65)
  • Rep. Peggy Gossett-Seidman (HD-91)
  • Rep. Michael Grant (HD-75)
  • Rep. Tommy Gregory (HD-72)
  • Rep. Griff Griffitts (HD-6)
  • Rep. Fred Hawkins (HD-35)
  • Rep. Jeff Holcomb (HD-53)
  • Rep. Berny Jacques (HD-59)
  • Rep. Sam Killebrew (HD-48)
  • Rep. Traci Koster (HD-66)
  • Rep. Chip LaMarca (HD-100)
  • Rep. Tom Leek (HD-28)
  • Rep. Vicki Lopez (HD-113)
  • Rep. Randy Maggard (HD-54)
  • Rep. Patt Maney (HD-4)
  • Rep. Ralph Massullo (HD-23)
  • Rep. Stan McClain (HD-27)
  • Rep. Lawrence McClure (HD-68)
  • Rep. Fiona McFarland (HD-73)
  • Rep. Lauren Melo (HD-82)
  • Rep. Kiyan Michael (HD-16)
  • Rep. Jim Mooney (HD-120)
  • Rep. Toby Overdorf (HD-85)
  • Rep. Bobby Payne (HD-20)
  • Rep. Daniel Perez (HD-116)
  • Rep. Jenna Persons-Mulicka (HD-78)
  • Rep. Rachel Plakon (HD-36)
  • Rep. Alex Rizo (HD-112)
  • Rep. Spencer Roach (HD-76)
  • Rep. Will Robinson (HD-71)
  • Rep. Bob Rommel (HD-81)
  • Rep. Joel Rudman (HD-3)
  • Rep. Michelle Salzman (HD-1)
  • Rep. Jason Shoaf (HD-7)
  • Rep. Tyler Sirois (HD-31)
  • Rep. David Smith (HD-38)
  • Rep. John Snyder (HD-86)
  • Rep. Paula Stark (HD-47)
  • Rep. Kevin Steele (HD-55)
  • Rep. Cyndi Stevenson (HD-18)
  • Rep. John Temple (HD-52)
  • Rep. Josie Tomkow (HD-51)
  • Rep. Dana Trabulsy (HD-84)
  • Rep. Chase Tramont (HD-30)
  • Rep. Keith Truenow (HD-26)
  • Rep. Kaylee Tuck (HD-83)
  • Rep. Taylor Yarkosky (HD-25)
  • Rep. Brad Yeager (HD-56)

Liberty lives in light

© 2023 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

DeSantis’ book warns of danger to America—from him

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis promotes his book in Davenport, Iowa on March 10 of this year. (Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

May 9, 2023 by David Silverberg

Any day now, Florida Gov. Ronald DeSantis (R) is going to declare his candidacy for President of the United States.

The legislative session is over. An exception has been made to the state’s resign-to-run law enabling him to run. Trips to key primary states have been made and an international tour has attempted to establish his international credentials (with very mixed success). Consultants have been hired, funds raised and an organization built. All the gears are grinding toward a presidential campaign.

Among his many preparations, a book has been published under DeSantis’ name called The Courage to Be Free: Florida’s Blueprint for America’s Revival.

It’s easy to dismiss candidate campaign books and political autobiographies. They’re written and published with clear ends in mind: to prepare the way for future runs and/or to justify past actions. An effective campaign book does both.

Yet for all their self-serving ends, all the staff-written ghost writing, all the vetting and editing and weighing of words, often by committees, they can still be revealing. They’re especially valuable for explaining political goals and ends. No matter how little the actual author did the writing, they still unveil a personality and an individual’s thinking.  

One of history’s most complete and revealing campaign books was Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Perhaps if more people had actually read it and realized what he was saying when it was first published he would have been stopped and there wouldn’t have been a Second World War.

The Courage to Be Free is not Mein Kampf. But it is a DeSantis manifesto and worth careful reading, review and analysis.

A simple style for simple readers

Stylistically, this is a very plain and easily read book. It’s very straightforward and accessible in its narrative.

DeSantis has a distinctive “voice” but it’s not present throughout the book. His introduction, “A Florida Blueprint” lays out his ideology and doctrinal principles. This is the one chapter that doesn’t “sound” like him. It’s stilted, almost as though copied verbatim from some conservative political cribsheet, or perhaps it represented his first writing effort, or his final summary. Whatever the reason, if there’s any chapter that reads as though it were written by a different author, this is it.

It also appears that DeSantis and any co-author or editors decided that this was the chapter most likely to be hastily skimmed by casual readers, voters or journalists and they wanted to get their doctrinal material up front.

It is in this introduction that DeSantis lays out his main themes: that the United States is run by illegitimate “elites,” that he is a bold and brave governor, that his governorship led to freedom and success and that Florida under his administration represents the future.

“Florida has consistently defended its people against large institutions looking to cause them harm—from public health bureaucrats looking to keep kids out of school to large corporations trying to undermine the rights of parents and to federal agencies trying to push people out of work due to COVID shots,” he writes.

Much of the rest of the book is more personal. It’s a memoir of his upbringing, life in politics and rise through the ranks. It recounts his time as a representative in Congress and his run for governor. It then goes over the issues he tackled in office and why he tackled them the way he did.

Like his prose, the person that emerges from this book is relatively straightforward and simple. DeSantis is not a deep thinker, although he’s careful to cite credible sources, especially the Federalist Papers, for his arguments. However, there isn’t any introspection, or contemplation or even nuanced consideration of larger issues. While there’s some acknowledgement of wider causes and effects, there’s little attempt to derive insight from them. Unlike, for example, a Henry Kissinger memoir, there’s no effort to peer deeply into a topic and reflect on the history behind it or draw lessons from it. Once DeSantis has made his assumptions and has his set conceptions the rest follows, largely without reflection.

DeSantis was a baseball athlete in school and one cannot help but consider that this is the kind of account that any jock might produce for a sports memoir.

Trump vs. Trump-lite

Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign book.

DeSantis’ main political rival at this point in time is former president, former mentor and fellow Floridian, Donald J. Trump. Trump is certainly a topic in DeSantis’ book but a gingerly treated one.

It’s interesting to contrast DeSantis’ memoir with Trump’s own 2016 campaign book, Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again.

Reading Crippled America was a fascinating, if exhausting, experience. No matter what the topic being addressed at the top of any page, by the bottom of the page the prose had turned to an extravagant, adulatory paean to Donald Trump. Every. Single. Page.

As the world discovered during his presidency and afterwards, Donald Trump loves Donald Trump. But not just “loves.” The English language does not quite have the words that fully convey his self-regard. “Selfish,” “egomaniacal,” “narcissistic” all apply but not at the cosmic depth and intensity that burned from the pages of Crippled America. In this book Trump was revealed as a universe unto himself, a universe with a single inhabitant at whose core was not a soul but a throbbing black hole of me-ness that sucked in all energy, light and life.

Mercifully, even if the DeSantis personality that emerges from Courage is simple and often simplistic, at least it has some grip on reality.

It’s very interesting to contrast the DeSantis and Trump accounts of Trump’s endorsement of DeSantis for governor when he first ran. Then, DeSantis was an obscure congressman running against Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam, an overwhelmingly favored rival for the Republican gubernatorial nomination.

As DeSantis tells it: “In late 2017, I asked the president if he would be willing to send out a tweet touting me as a good candidate for Florida governor. He seemed amenable, but at the same time, I was not holding my breath; the president has a lot on his plate, and this was not likely to rank on his list of things to do. About a week later, a Trump tweet appeared:

“Congressman Ron DeSantis is a brilliant young leader, Yale and then Harvard Law, who would make a GREAT Governor of Florida. He loves our Country and is a true FIGHTER!”

That’s it. He then goes on to recount the campaign and how he won.

As Trump told the story in a lengthy, rambling, digressive interview with Sean Hannity, DeSantis requested a meeting with him and, “with tears in his eyes” begged for an endorsement. Although Trump thought DeSantis had little chance, saying: “Ron, you’re so far behind I can’t imagine that if you got George Washington’s endorsement, combined with the late, great Abraham Lincoln, if you had their endorsements, that you would win,” Trump decided to take a chance because, unlike Putnam, DeSantis had defended Trump against impeachment charges. Trump describes the endorsement as variously having the impact of a nuclear bomb or a rocket launch.

That the endorsement made the difference in the race is undeniable, although Trump gets next to no credit in DeSantis’ book.

Despite the bad blood that has bubbled between the two men, DeSantis continues to defend Trump against charges of Russian collusion. He does this, however, in the context of attacking what he always calls the “legacy media.”

 “The Mount Everest of anonymous source-fueled political narratives was the Trump-Russia collusion conspiracy theory, which was a media-driven hoax designed to cast doubt on the results of the 2016 presidential election and strangle the Trump presidency in the crib,” he writes. “The theory—that Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with the Russian government to steal the 2016 presidential election—represented perhaps the most serious charge ever leveled against an American president.”

(Russia’s involvement in the 2016 presidential campaign was extensively documented in the Report On The Investigation Into Russian Interference In The 2016 Presidential Election by Robert Mueller. The role that Florida played is covered in the 2019 article, “Trump, Florida, Russia: Tracking the Sunshine State in the Mueller Report.”)

It is noteworthy that nowhere in the book does DeSantis mention Trump’s incitement of the January 6th insurrection and its mob violence, even as he condemns disorder. “Since mob violence constitutes a mortal threat to social order, swift and strong accountability is the only logical response,” he writes, touting his own anti-protest legislation. He condemns rioters in Portland, Oregon in the wake of George Floyd’s death but not those who attacked the United States Capitol, tried to destroy Congress and overturn the election.

Of course, in the Trump universe DeSantis has gone from “a brilliant young leader” to “Ron Desanctimonious” and “Meatball Ron.” However, if there’s any resentment on DeSantis’ part, it never made it into the book.

Instead, DeSantis’ resentment is reserved for other targets, those that will resonate with Donald Trump’s Make America Great Again (MAGA) base and presumably win DeSantis the nomination.

The targets

Chief among DeSantis’ targets are “elites.”

“Whom, exactly, are these elites?” DeSantis asks in his introduction. He relies on a definition provided by author and academic Angelo Codevilla, defining them as an “ideological, incompetent, and self-interested ‘ruling class’ that has consolidated power over American society in the past fifty years.”

He continues: “These elites are ‘progressives’ who believe our country should be managed by an exclusive cadre of ‘experts’ who wield authority though an unaccountable and massive administrative state. They tend to view average Americans with contempt, believe in the need for wholesale social engineering of American society, and consider themselves entitled to wield power over others.”

Of course, unmentioned is the fact that these “elites,” ever more open to talent, intelligence and education rather than heredity or class or race, led the United States through a Great Depression, a world war, a Cold War, a terrorist war, and made the country the richest and mightiest in history with the widest distribution of prosperity. They shaped the world according to rational rules that spread democracy and secured a rough peace for nearly a century.

But no matter, throughout the rest of the book, DeSantis wages rhetorical war on these elites and experts whenever possible.

He does not overlook his own elite Ivy League education at Yale University, where he graduated magna cum laude, and Harvard Law. But DeSantis maintains that he was untainted by elitism.

“Experiencing unbridled leftism on campus pushed me to the right,” he writes. “I had no use for those who denigrated our country or mocked people of faith.” Although he thought that the leftist ideas he found on campus would whither in the light of reality, he writes that he was mistaken. On the contrary, “the ideology that dominates so many major institutions in American life, including our largest corporations, is a clear reflection of the campus dogma that has infected a generation of students at elite American universities.”

It is when it comes to this ideological combat that DeSantis’s book proves most valuable because it puts his actions as governor into an overall context. Like many other conservatives, DeSantis sees all of American society dominated by an elite-guided “woke” ideology. “These elites control the federal bureaucracy, lobby shops on K Street, big business, corporate media, Big Tech companies, and universities,” he writes.

DeSantis is at war with all these institutions and the book documents his battles. His attacks on the Florida university system and its professors are just one part of his ideological crusade. His war with the Disney Company is a front in his struggle against a “woke” corporate culture. His attacks on “Big Tech” are an essential element of his battle with elites.

DeSantis devotes an entire chapter to the COVID-19 pandemic and his response to it.

“Florida bucked the ‘experts’ and charted a course that sought to maintain the functioning of society and the overall health of its citizenry,” he writes of the pandemic. “Power-hungry elites tried to use the coronavirus to impose an oppressive biomedical security state on America but Florida stood as an impenetrable roadblock to such designs.

“We also recognized the intellectual bankruptcy and brazen partisanship of the public health elites, such as Dr. Anthony Fauci. The performance of these so-called experts—they were wrong on the need for lockdowns, the efficacy of cloth masks, school closures, the existence of natural immunity and the accuracy of epidemiological ‘models’—was so dreadful that no sane person should ever ‘trust the experts’ ever again.”

DeSantis goes into great detail describing how he and his surgeon general, Joseph Ladapo, disproved the data coming out of Washington and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and reached their own conclusions about defying the guidance and administering vaccines—or not.

“I was not going to allow our state to descend into a Faucian dystopia in which people’s freedoms were curtailed and their livelihoods destroyed,” DeSantis writes. “Florida protected individual freedom, economic opportunity and access to education—and our state is much better for it.”

While DeSantis acknowledges that there was some “mortality” in Florida from COVID, the 86,850 Floridians who died from COVID or the 7.5 million who were stricken get short shrift. Nor does he have a word of praise or appreciation for the healthcare workers who struggled to care for and cure them. These people, living and dead, apparently did not merit mention.

He also doesn’t address a two-week period in December 2021 when he disappeared from public view and rumors swirled that he had a bout of COVID. (In an almost-covert act, DeSantis received a vaccination in April 2021.)

In addition to the “biomedical security state,” throughout the book DeSantis constantly attacks what he variously calls the “legacy media,” or “corporate media,” and, of course, what Trump characterized as the “fake news.”

On this issue, DeSantis does have a solid example of shoddy reporting to bolster his claims: the 2021 report by the television show “60 Minutes.” That broadcast, “A Fair Shot,” irresponsibly and inaccurately drew a connection between DeSantis and the award of a contract to provide COVID vaccines through the Publix supermarket chain. (To read in-depth coverage of the incident and Publix politics, see “Publix: Where politics bring no pleasure.”) “60 Minutes” was condemned by just about all parties for implying wrongdoing where none was proven and using smear tactics to further its preferred story.

However, despite this legitimate complaint about this particular report, DeSantis’ hatred of the media is painted with a far broader brush. He agrees with Trump’s infamous tweet that the media “is the enemy of the American people.” (This came one month into Trump’s presidency when the world refused to buy his obviously false insistence that he’d had the largest inaugural crowd in history).

For DeSantis, “The national legacy press is the praetorian guard of the nation’s failed ruling class, running interference for elites who share their vision and smearing those who dare to oppose it. All too often, the legacy press operates in bad faith, elevates their preferred narratives over facts, and indulges in knee-jerk partisanship.”

He writes: “Legacy media outlets have evolved into something akin to state-run media. They do not seek to hold the powerful accountable. Instead, they protect the nation’s left-leaning ruling class, including the permanent bureaucracy in Washington and Democratic elected officials.”

DeSantis also fully explains his feud with the Disney Corporation in a chapter titled “The magic kingdom of woke corporatism.”

DeSantis sees private companies as purely political entities, writing, “corporate America has become a major protagonist in battles over American politics and culture. The battle lines almost invariably find large, publicly-traded corporations lining up behind leftist causes. It is unthinkable that these large companies would side with conservative Americans on issues such as the Second Amendment, the right to life, election integrity and religious liberty.”

Guns and mass shootings get only passing mention, as in DeSantis’ Second Amendment reference above. The 2018 Parkland shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School resulted in new gun reforms in Florida, which DeSantis stated he would have vetoed had he been governor at the time. Otherwise, he writes, “Rather than a firearms issue, I viewed the Parkland massacre as a catastrophic failure of leadership that cried out for accountability.” He blames the Broward County sheriff for the shooting and points to spending $750 million on school safety measures during his tenure.

This is particularly interesting because on June 14, 2017, after a baseball practice, DeSantis and another congressman were approached by a man who asked if baseball players on a playing field in Alexandria, Va., were Republicans or Democrats. DeSantis’ companion said they were Republicans and then the two went to a car and left. It was only later in the morning when he was in the congressional gym that he learned the man had shot at the players, wounding Rep. Steven Scalise (R-1-La.) before being killed himself.

In other hands, this incident would be an excellent opportunity to reflect on the problem of gun violence in America, or the need for more widespread mental health care, or even the fragility of life. DeSantis only relates that he was relieved he left practice early.

Other than a similarly passing reference to “the right to life,” DeSantis doesn’t examine the abortion issue in Florida in the book. As governor he signed into law a ban on abortions after six weeks, although he didn’t address—or discourage—calls to ban abortions completely.

Another subject that gets short shrift is foreign policy. As a congressman, DeSantis supported moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. He also opposes Chinese Communist Party activities in the United States. Other than that, the world outside Florida doesn’t interest him much, at least as far as his book is concerned.

Analysis: Florida and the future

Political autobiographies usually set out to do two things: get the author elected and provide a blueprint for what he or she would do if elected.

In terms of getting DeSantis elected, the book certainly spells out what he believes and how he perceives the world. Theoretically, it should confirm the biases and orientations of the Trumpist, MAGA base, whose votes DeSantis is seeking.

However, whatever his thoughts and feelings, as long as Trump is in the race DeSantis can only run as “Trump-lite” and the master himself will provide the pure, unadulterated hatred, prejudice and rage that MAGA addicts crave.

This brings up another factor evident in the book—and one that is actually commendable.

Nowhere in the book does DeSantis advocate violence or extralegal measures. Trump, by contrast, encouraged violence among his followers and even took physically violent action himself. On Jan. 6, thwarted by his electoral failure, he incited a full-scale riot and insurrection, encouraged the attempted lynching of his vice president and grabbed the throat of a Secret Service agent who wouldn’t drive him to the Capitol. He has never apologized or expressed regret or remorse (or been held to account) for any of this and he’s touted incarcerated rioters as political prisoners. He’s never condemned violence in principle.

DeSantis presents himself as a law and order governor and so there are no insinuations or incitements to political violence in his book (or during his appearances). This is not to be overlooked or minimized or, for that matter, taken for granted. Political violence is a hallmark of true fascism and Trump encouraged it as part of national political life.

However, it would be especially commendable if, as part of his condemnation of mob violence, DeSantis would also take a firm, principled stand condemning the insurrection of Jan. 6 and those who participated in it. In the absence of that, he does what he accuses the left of doing; applying the law and condemnation selectively, depending on the cause and the participants in the disorder.

That said, in its first goal of getting him the nomination, the DeSantis book might win over a few wavering Trumpers but it’s unlikely to convert anyone outside the MAGA orbit to DeSantism. Its narrative is not so compelling or its arguments so powerful that it will sweep voters into his corner.

Looking to its larger purpose of providing a blueprint for governing, the book will likely prove repugnant to thinking Americans who don’t want Trump or a Trump-like president.

The key reason for this is that for all their differences, Trump and DeSantis share a most important characteristic: both are absolutists.

Trump classifies people by their personal loyalty to him. For DeSantis, the dividing line is whether they agree with his agenda, the one spelled out in this book. Ultimately, though, both men want absolute obedience—and that is not the American way.

DeSantis’ demands are perhaps somewhat more complex and more subtly expressed than Trump’s but their intents are the same. DeSantis is at war with “woke” as he defines it and whether it’s individual citizens or schools or universities or businesses or corporations or scientists or public servants or the media, he doesn’t want them thinking the way he opposes. He doesn’t want to convince them to his thinking, he wants to crush their heresy through legislation, legal action or all the tools of the state.  

As Floridians are finding out, no one is safe from DeSantist demands, whether those demands are made by the governor himself or by a servile legislature competing to implement this absolutist agenda.

As so many would-be tyrants have proven through history, absolute agendas of this sort may be called “freedom” by their advocates but in practice they’re anything but free. DeSantis may claim that he’s showing courage by pursuing absolute power despite criticism and opposition. Maybe, though, his opponents and detractors see something different and more oppressive to which he himself is blind.

So in many ways, it’s a good thing that Ron DeSantis has laid out his blueprint for America’s “revival” in The Courage to Be Free. By reading it and being aware of his agenda, freedom-loving Americans will gain their own wisdom and have their own courage to ensure that America stays free from his absolutism—which threatens them so absolutely.

Liberty lives in light

© 2023 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

An open memo to Nikki Fried: A request of the Florida Democratic Party

Florida Democratic Chairwoman Nikki Fried. (Image: Florida Democratic Party)

April 28, 2023

To: Nikki Fried, Chairwoman, Florida Democratic Party

From: The Paradise Progressive

RE: Request

Chairwoman Fried:

Back on March 15 you tweeted an open request for suggestions for the Florida Democratic Party: “Tell me what you want to see from your new @FlaDems Party. Today, this cycle, this decade. I’ll read the replies.”

The most constructive and long-term contribution I believe you can make to the Florida Democrats is to define what the Party is for.

I don’t mean issues; the Democratic Party has plenty of good issues. But the opposition has themes, broad, simple concepts that they can pound into the most primitive brains.

I’m writing from a lone liberal perspective way down at the bottom of the state and at the root of the grassroots—or in the sand, the sawgrass and the mangroves, as it were. Here in deep red, fanatically MAGA Southwest Florida, Democrats are outnumbered 65 percent to 35 percent in party registrations.

Anyone on any street corner in Southwest Florida can tell you in a nutshell what MAGA Trumpers believe; basically, God, guns and Trump, as well as, in no particular order: no vaccines, no health mandates, no science, no education, no church-state separation, no abortion, no women’s rights, no learning, no tolerance, no immigrants, no voting, no government and no inclusion.

A souvenir t-shirt sold in Naples, Fla. (Photo: June Fletcher)

Democratic principles can’t be recited the same way by either friends or foes. They’re all over the place. Will Rogers’ old adage still holds true: “I don’t belong to an organized political party. I’m a Democrat.”

What is more, DeSantis, Republicans, MAGAs and Trumpers have successfully used the most extreme fringe causes of the Democratic Party to shape the party’s identity in the public mind. They are defining the Democratic Party.

So what would be most helpful would be a three-word encapsulation of the Party’s core values and principles. Three-element slogans have enormous power. (For example, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” or “our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor” or “liberté, egalité, fraternité” or “truth, justice and the American way.” Donald Trump himself once inadvertently best characterized his principles as “hatred, prejudice and rage.”)

If it were up to me, I’d like to see the Party’s principles be “democracy, dignity and justice.” But while that floats my boat, I’m not sure how it would focus-group. There may be more effective slogans out there. The main point, though, is that the Democratic Party has to stand for something positive and whatever that is has to be clear, simple and strong.

So, I’m just asking for three words. Any three words you think would work. I think if you can provide them, we’ll all be better off.

Thank you for your time and attention and I’m available for any questions or to provide any further information you may require.

Liberty lives in light

© 2023 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Rick Scott, already in a hole, digs deeper

Sen. Rick Scott. (Illustration: Donkey Hotey)

Feb. 13, 2023 by David Silverberg

There’s an old adage: “When you’re in a hole, stop digging.”

But Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), seems to have turned that wisdom on its head: already deep in a hole, he’s digging deeper.

Just where he’ll end up is anybody’s guess.

The hole

President Joe Biden reads from Sen. Rick Scott’s “American Rescue” plan during his visit to Tampa on Feb. 9. (Image: CSPAN)

What hole is Scott in? Consider the following:

In early 2022 Scott was explicitly told by his ostensible boss, Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), not to issue a Republican platform based on the 1994 “Contract With America.”

But as Scott would put it in a post-election letter to his fellow senators, “after travelling the country to support our candidates I believe voters want a plan. They are begging us to tell them what we will do when we are in charge.” McConnell wanted to keep the Republican platform vague.

Scott chose to deliberately defy him and on March 30, 2022 unveiled an 11-point (later 12-point) “Rescue America” plan in collaboration with former President Donald Trump. Among its points: “All federal legislation sunsets in 5 years. If a law is worth keeping, Congress can pass it again.” (More about that later.)

After being entrusted by his fellow Republican senators in 2020 to win the Senate for the Party, Scott oversaw the disappointing Republican 2022 returns, having boosted such fringe candidates as Herschel Walker in Georgia, Kari Lake in Arizona and Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, all of whom went down to embarrassing defeats. Democrats kept the Senate and gained a seat.

Even the famously taciturn McConnell was moved to comment: “I think there’s a probably a greater likelihood that the House flips than the Senate,” he said at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Kentucky in August. “Senate races are just different—they’re statewide, candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome.” McConnell’s insight was proven correct.

Having now failed his Party, his colleagues and his boss, Scott turned on McConnell and ran against him for Party leader.

In a Nov. 15 letter to colleagues, Scott wrote: “I’m writing to you today because I believe it’s time for the Senate Republican Conference to be far more bold and resolute than we have been in the past.”

He brushed aside the criticism of his performance at the National Republican Senatorial Committee: “Despite what the armchair quarterbacks on TV will tell you, there is no one person responsible for our party’s performance across the country.”

He noted that he had heard voter requests for a Republican plan and stated: “Unfortunately, we have continued to elect leadership who refuses to do that and elicits attacks on anyone that does. That is clearly not working and it’s time for bold change”—clear criticism of McConnell.

Scott was endorsed by Trump, who even before the midterms called McConnell a “lousy leader.”

“I think Rick Scott is a likely candidate — he hates the guy,” Trump said of Scott’s attitude toward McConnell. “He’s tough — he’s tough, and I think he would probably go for it.” He later added that Scott was “underrated”—perhaps winning over some Trumpers.

But when the election for Senate minority leader came to pass, McConnell, a superb vote-counter announced, “I have the votes.” Indeed he did, crushing Scott by a vote of 37 to 10.

McConnell was gracious in victory. “I’m not in any way offended by having an opponent or by having a few votes in opposition,” he said in a not-so-subtle dig at Scott’s lack of support.

Still, McConnell was clearly disgusted with Scott and on Feb. 2 removed him from the prestigious Senate Commerce Committee. Scott told a reporter, “Well, he just kicked me off a committee. So that was pretty petty.”

On the home front, Scott didn’t do any favors for Florida, the state he ostensibly represents. In September he voted against the $1.7 trillion Continuing Appropriations and Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2023 (House Resolution 6833) that included $20 billion in disaster relief, funding desperately needed by a state reeling from Hurricane Ian.

In doing this he also once again defied the Senate Republican leadership, which supported the bill. And as though the potential injury of his negative vote was not enough, he added insult by calling President Joe Biden “a raving lunatic” just before the president came to Southwest Florida to see the damage for himself and pledge full support for the region’s recovery.

Then, in the past two months as Republicans began engaging in fiscal brinksmanship over raising the national debt ceiling and appeared to jeopardize vital programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, Scott’s “American Rescue” plan came back to bite him. That 6th point sunsetting all federal programs after five years was the chief Republican threat to the key trio of social safety programs.

President Joe Biden, Scott’s “raving lunatic,” hammered the Republicans for menacing the programs, using the American Rescue plan as a wedge. First, he did it in his State of the Union speech last Tuesday, Feb. 7.

Then, when he came to Tampa last Thursday, Feb. 9 he had copies of the plan placed on the seats of attendees at the University of Tampa.

“The very idea the senator from Florida wants to put Social Security and Medicare on the chopping block every five years I find to be somewhat outrageous, so outrageous that you might not even believe it,” said Biden. “But it’s what he…I won’t do it again,” he said of reading Scott’s plan, then changed his mind, “but, well, I will,” and he pulled the pamphlet out of his jacket.

“Twelve-point American Rescue plan,” he read. “One of the points: ‘All federal legislation sunsets every five years. If the law is worth keeping, the Congress can pass it all over again.’ Look, if it doesn’t get reauthorized, it goes out of existence. If Congress wants it, they got to keep it and they got to vote on the same thing. And then, in case there was any doubt, just yesterday, he confirmed that he still, he still likes his proposal.”

Biden continued: “Well, I guarantee you, it will not happen. I will veto it. I’ll defend Social Security and Medicare.”

In addition to these blows to his policy proposals and standing in the Senate, Scott had harbored presidential ambitions in 2024, although he said these were contingent on Trump not running. On Jan. 26 Scott announced he would not be seeking the presidency, would seek re-election to the Senate and would remain neutral in the presidential nominating process.

To add it all up as of this writing: Scott failed in his mission to elect a Republican Senate, failed to unseat the Republican Senate leader, failed to vote for aid to his state, failed to advance his presidential ambitions, provided a weapon for Democrats to hammer Republicans, became the face of Republican callousness, may have lost all of America’s senior voters—and he did all this while personally insulting the president and his own boss in the Senate.

That’s a pretty deep hole.

Digging deeper

Fox News host John Roberts challenges Sen. Rick Scott on his “Rescue America” plan. (Image: The Lincoln Project)

Most people, having failed in their pursuits and offended their friends, colleagues and the world at large, might draw back a bit, quiet themselves, contemplate their failings, ask forgiveness, humbly seek redemption and try to make amends.

Not Rick Scott. He has doubled down and dug deeper.

The morning after the State of the Union speech, Scott issued a statement arguing that he wasn’t advocating ending Social Security.

He stated that while “Last night, Joe Biden rambled for a while,” and was “confused,” Scott argued that accusing him of wanting to cut Social Security and Medicare was “dishonest” and a “lie” resulting from Biden’s “confusion.”

“In my plan, I suggested the following: All federal legislation sunsets in five years. If a law is worth keeping, Congress can pass it again. This is clearly and obviously an idea aimed at dealing with ALL the crazy new laws our Congress has been passing of late,” he stated.

Implying that Biden’s assertion was the result of senility, Scott stated, “Does he think I also intend to get rid of the U.S. Navy? Or the border patrol? Or air traffic control, maybe? This is the kind of fake, gotcha BS that people hate about Washington. I’ve never advocated cutting Social Security or Medicare and never would. I will not be intimidated by Joe Biden twisting my words, or Chuck Schumer twisting my words – or by anyone else for that matter.”

He argued that, to the contrary, Democrats in essence cut Medicare when Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act gave the federal government power to negotiate lower prescription drug prices.

“They lie about it and the liberal media covers for them,” he complained. “If they think they can shut me up or intimidate me by lying… I’m here for it… I’m ready to go. I will not be silenced by the Washington establishment.”

But even conservative media hadn’t bought Scott’s plan when it was unveiled. The Lincoln Project, an anti-Trump, pro-democracy media organization, gleefully released a March, 2022 sound bite of Fox News host John Roberts arguing with Scott that his plan cut Social Security and Medicare.

Scott dismissed Roberts’ assertion as a “Democratic talking point,” to which Roberts forcefully responded, “It’s not a Democratic talking point, it’s in the plan,” and kept repeating “it’s in the plan” despite Scott’s denials.

Not content with denials and arguments, on Feb. 7, Scott announced on Twitter that he was  releasing an advertisement to run in Florida, calling on Biden to resign. “I’m Rick Scott. Biden should resign. I approve this message,” it concludes.

That suggestion is not likely to go far.

Analysis: Channeling Trump and digging deeper

Sen. Rick Scott and then-President Donald Trump listen to a briefing on Hurricane Dorian on Aug. 31, 2019. (Photo: White House)

In this give-and-take over whether he wants to cut essential social safety net programs, Scott has clearly chosen to take the Trump approach to criticism: never apologize, never back down, attack your attackers and discredit the media that reports your failings.

Using this approach, Trump bulldozed his way through scandals, two impeachments, a failed coup and even, arguably, treason.

Scott is trying to do the same thing, only he’s not driving a bulldozer, he’s pushing a spade on the end of an idiot stick and the only place he’s going is deeper into the hole he’s already in.

As chronicled before (“Rick Scott meets the Peter Principle”), Scott, who has been able to essentially buy his elections in Florida, was out of his depth on the national stage when he tried to win the Senate.

Now he’s denying that his “Rescue America” plan implicitly endangers Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. However, as Joe Biden, John Roberts and a host of other commentators and critics have pointed out, it does precisely that by jeopardizing all longstanding, duly legislated programs.

In fact what this whole affair really shows is that Scott, in pursuit of broad-brush, politically advantageous slogans was and is unable or unwilling to truly think through the full implications of his policy proposals. In this he is also like Trump—and that’s not a good attribute for presidents or senators.

As previously noted, Scott is not a natural politician, either in his approach to people or leadership. His policy prescriptions are shallow, extreme and unimaginative. He’s not a deep thinker. In his challenges to McConnell and the Republican Senate leadership he’s demonstrated ineptitude and insensitivity and an almost total lack of self-awareness. Outside his own MAGA cheerleading section and whatever voices are in his head, his own statements and actions are coming back to haunt him.

Not to be forgotten in this is his friction with Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), a leading Republican presidential possibility. The two have never gotten along and their antipathy is likely to intensify as the presidential nominating process proceeds. His protestations of neutrality aside, Scott will no doubt remain a Trump partisan and there is always the possibility that he could be primaried by a viable DeSantis loyalist.

Florida Democrats should welcome Scott’s run for another term in 2024. By his arrogance, blindness and incompetence, Scott is making his Senate seat available. It’s an opportunity for the Florida Democratic Party to reconstitute itself and recapture a statewide office. Like all Scott races it will be expensive. Scott spends whatever it takes to buy votes, but he nonetheless offers Democrats a ray of sunshine after an otherwise dark season.

How deep a hole will Scott dig? He shows no signs of slowing down or changing course. But as anyone who has ever dug a pit knows, the deeper you dig, the more dangerous and unstable it becomes—and when you’re in over your head, that hole just may become your grave.

Liberty lives in light

© 2023 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Politics in 2023: Looking ahead at Don vs. Ron, MAGA madness and the race to the right

Gazing at a crystal ball on the beach at sunset—a Florida way to discern the future.

Jan. 1, 2023 by David Silverberg

New Year’s parties are celebrations of hope that the year to come will be better than the year past; that problems will be solved, challenges met and new opportunities open.

But just what are the political challenges and events Southwest Florida, the Sunshine State and the nation are likely to face in 2023? As the immortal Yogi Berra once put it so well: “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”

Tough as predicting is, existing trends provide some indication of where things are going and when it comes to politics, it’s wise to be ready for what’s ahead—or at least to brace for it.

Don vs. Ron vs. Joe

Are you already tired of hearing about the rivalry between former President Donald Trump and Gov. Ronald DeSantis (R)?

Well, too bad. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

This is the political story likely to dominate the year. It’s got everything: colorful characters, high stakes, nasty insults, personal rancor, fanatical partisans, absurdity galore, mentor vs. protégé, sorcerer vs. apprentice, and horse-race polling to generate headlines as each candidate pulls ahead or behind ever more exotic and narrow slices of the electorate.

What’s more, the rivalry will fill in the news gap between election years, when there’s usually little happening, so political reporters can always cover the contest when they’re on deadline and there’s nothing else to report.

As a result, every belch, snort and fart from these two will be analyzed and evaluated through a campaign lens.

At issue, of course, is the presidency and with it the future of the United States. That part is serious.

Integral to this story will be the indictment and prosecution of Trump for a long list of transgressions stretching back from before his presidency.

Not only has Trump now officially been accused of actual crimes: obstructing an official congressional proceeding; conspiracy to defraud the United States; conspiracy to make a false statement; and aiding an insurrection, but if tried and found guilty, he’s facing punishment. Whether this actually happens is already a major story and it won’t be resolved any time soon.

But beyond that question, the entire political establishment, both Democratic and Republican, the “deep state” and the mainstream media and a majority of voters don’t want him back and genuinely fear his possible return. They will do all they can to stop him. The fate of American democracy hangs in the balance.

Also, while it’s easy to forget the existence of Democrats in Florida, nationally they’re still a force to be reckoned with and the chief Democrat, President Joe Biden, has a big decision of his own to make: will he run again?

Expectations are that an announcement may come in February. If he announces another run, the media will focus on that. But if he chooses to retire there may be another Democratic stampede for the nomination as there was in 2020. If he decides to anoint a successor, the focus will be on the heir apparent, who, like DeSantis, will have to walk a narrow and difficult course for the next two years to preserve his or her viability. Or if he decides not to declare, the speculation will be prolonged for another year.

A more intense and exhausting drama than all this could not have been dreamed up by William Shakespeare. And all next year’s a stage.

Congress and revenge

Had the hoped-for Republican “red wave” materialized, Republican members of Congress would have taken revenge on Democrats in a thousand different ways. They would have pushed legislation to turn back the clock to implement the Make America Great Again (MAGA) agenda. They very well might have impeached President Joe Biden for the high crime of being a Democrat. They would have tried to undo or cover up the felonies of the insurrection and would have done all they could to exonerate, excuse and elevate Trump.

Republicans are still likely to try those things. Expect a cascade of House investigations in an effort to weaken and undermine the administration and Biden’s re-election. It will be a replay of Benghazi and Hillary Clinton’s e-mails on steroids.

However, when it comes to substantive legislation, Democrats kept the Senate, meaning that no matter how extreme the proposals coming out of the House, none are likely to make it into law.

The United States has dealt with divided government before and some sessions were surprisingly productive. That doesn’t seem likely this time, though.

In the past, reasonable compromise was considered not just respectable but a strength of the American system. Trump, though, brought an absolutist, zero-sum, win-lose approach to government and politics. He infected his party and about half the population with that attitude. Until time passes and that fever burns off, much of the essential functioning of government could be stymied by political intransigence.

This could especially manifest itself in September when the new fiscal year appropriations must be approved. We could see a government shutdown—or shutdowns—at that time if House Republicans dig in.

The possibility of that happening means that measures to protect Southwest Florida need to be implemented before the showdown. In particular, Congress needs to pass the Harmful Algal Bloom Essential Forecasting Act, which would ensure that federal activities monitoring and responding to harmful algal blooms like red tide will continue despite any shutdowns.

This legislation needs to be passed early, with bipartisan support. The bill was originally the idea and a priority of former Rep. Francis Rooney, who was unable to advance it.

Unfortunately, the key congressman on this legislation, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), who introduced the bill in the last Congress, has shown little to no interest in it. Nor has he shown any legislative ability, so it has few prospects in the 118th Congress.

Unless someone in the Florida delegation is willing to pick up this cause and champion this legislation, Southwest Florida will be at the mercy of a deadlocked, recalcitrant Congress, which in turn will leave the region, literally, at the mercy of the tides.

DeSantis and the race to the right

The most dangerous kind of politician is the kind who actually believes what he says. Ron DeSantis appears to believe a lot of the extremism he espouses.

He has clearly decided that when it comes to policy he cannot allow himself to be outflanked on the right, either at home or nationally. No matter how absurd or illogical the premise he seems convinced that he must be leading the ideological charge—even if it’s headed over a cliff.

This led him to wage cultural war on science, education, vaccines, immigrants, gays and public health during 2022. It won him a resounding re-election in Florida. There’s no reason to expect any change in the next year.

In fact, it’s likely to intensify given his presidential ambitions and the rise of his rivals. For example, in September DeSantis generated headlines by spending state money to fly Venezuelan asylum-seekers from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts without any prior notice or coordination. Potential presidential candidate Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) couldn’t let that go unanswered, so, in December he similarly bused Central and South American immigrants from Texas to Vice President Kamala Harris’ official residence in Washington, DC.

We’re likely to see a lot of such posturing in the year ahead, using people as pawns.

But it won’t just happen at the presidential level. In Florida, given the Republican supermajority in the legislature, the race to the right will be a dominant force there too. State legislators can be expected to prove their MAGA bona fides and curry favor with DeSantis and the far-right base by introducing ever more extreme measures.

One place where this is likely to express itself is in abortion. Last year Florida passed a 15-week abortion restriction. That’s unlikely to stand as state legislators vie to show the depth of their extremism. Anti-abortionists want a complete ban on abortion in the state. DeSantis has coyly stayed uncommitted. Republican legislators have no such restraints. A total abortion ban looms. And who’s going to stop them? Democrats? Certainly not Naples’ own Sen. Kathleen Passidomo (R-28-Naples), who now presides over the state Senate.

Another area is education. DeSantis reached down into local school boards to endorse his own partisans. In the past year state legislators proposed their own measures and Southwest Florida representatives were in the lead. State Rep. Spencer Roach (R-76-Fort Myers) proposed making school board races overtly partisan. Rep. Bob Rommel (R-81-Naples) wanted to put video cameras in classrooms to monitor the dangerous teachers teaching there. In 2023 not only are we likely to see more such measures introduced, they’re likely to pass and be signed into law.

This kind of extremism is particularly manifest locally in Collier County where MAGA candidates now constitute a majority of the county school board. Jerry Rutherford (District 1) revealed after his election that he wants to impose corporal punishment to enforce more rigid and punitive conformity on students, a MAGA rallying cry.

Despite the outrage from parents who suddenly woke up to what they had elected, Rutherford was officially ensconced in his position as was the rest of the board. The Collier County school system, which was previously ­rated the gold standard for the state, is now likely to crater as dogma, discipline and docility take the place of education, enquiry and enlightenment as priorities for students.

Madness at the margins

One might think that all this success for MAGAism would satisfy its adherents. But exactly the opposite has proven to be true. The level of MAGA anger and rage is absolutely incandescent. Reflecting the fury of their increasingly cornered idol, Trump, MAGAs are lashing out in fury and their first target is the one closest at hand: moderate, traditional Republicans, the so called Republicans in Name Only, or RINOs.

MAGAs blame a less than fervent pro-Trump RINO establishment for the dissipation of the expected red wave. Their hatred is manifested in opposition to electing Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-23-Calif.) as Speaker of the House. In Florida they’ve made a determined push to take over county Republican executive committees.

Will this rage dissipate in 2023? This does not seem likely. In fact, it’s likely to increase.

While DeSantis and MAGAs dominate Florida, in the rest of the country MAGAism is being marginalized as people defend democracy. Trump’s big lie about a stolen 2020 election appears more and more delusional and threadbare every day. Only the truly incredulous can continue to believe it. Election deniers did notably poorly in the 2022 election. More losing conservative candidates conceded defeat than followed the examples of Trump or Arizona gubernatorial hopeful Kari Lake in charging fraud. And the conspiracies behind the insurrection were exposed by the January 6th Committee.

MAGAism is gradually being pushed to the fringes of American political life, where it lived before the advent of Trump. For those committed to the creed, however, the sheer frustration, the looming powerlessness, and the futility of their feelings are fueling a bitterness that is truly amazing to behold.

The advance of Republican centrism, the marginalization of extremism and the defeat of MAGAism will be a trend to watch over the coming year, especially as the majority of Americans outside Florida embrace more normal, constitutional politics. But every setback, every defeat, every restraint will fuel MAGA “hatred, prejudice and rage,” as Trump once put it. How that resentment expresses itself, in Florida and elsewhere, will be the other part of this story in 2023.

Storm damage

The dome homes of Cape Romano in 2021. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The 2023 political agenda of Southwest Florida is already set but its creator was not any politician. Rather, it was a storm named Ian.

Hurricane Ian was a force beyond the capacity of any human to alter or stop. Its sheer devastation and destruction will influence Southwest Florida for many years, probably for a generation at least.

In the coming year all Southwest Florida politicians will have to cope with and contribute to the recovery of the region, regardless of their political beliefs. The need is real and continues to be urgent.

Officials at all levels can assist by getting the money for rebuilding that the region is entitled to receive from the state and the federal government and doing what they can to get more. However, the fanatical anti-federal, anti-government, anti-tax, anti-investment ideology most local politicians espouse will not help. Instead it will lead to more actions like the mass resignation of North Captiva firefighters who were denied a reasonable budget increase and so left the service.

Nor will the governor’s line-item vetoes of local funding requests or the refusal of members of Congress like Donalds to request earmarks help the region. Voters and the local mainstream media have to keep watch and ask: who is helping Southwest Florida recover? Who is helping it get the resources it needs? Who is shirking? Names need to be taken and asses kicked when necessary.

Hurricane Ian should have also completely put to rest any residual argument about the reality of climate change. Between ferocious storms like Ian, the Christmas bomb cyclone and fire, flooding and blizzards, climate change is here. No reasonable, sentient human can muster an argument to deny it. Politicians of all persuasions have to acknowledge it and prepare the coastal population for its effects.

Will Florida and its politicians finally acknowledge this? Their sense of reality needs critical scrutiny in the year ahead.

If they need a reminder they need look no further than the famous dome homes of Cape Romano. Built on solid ground in 1982, with every passing year the Gulf encroached and the waters rose around them. This year Hurricane Ian provided the coup d’grace. The homes are now completely under water.

Unless Floridians wake up, the rest of Florida will follow.

The area of the dome homes in Cape Romano after Hurricane Ian. (Photo: NBC2)

Beyond the abyss

If current trend lines are projected outward, Florida’s political future in 2023 looks like a dark, gaping sinkhole of ignorance, illness and intolerance.

But it doesn’t have to be this way and the story that proved it in 2022 took place half a world away from Florida and the United States.

When Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022—a date that will live in infamy—Russian president Vladimir Putin expected the war to be over in two to three days.

The world didn’t have much greater expectations. Ukraine was outnumbered, had less than half the population of Russia, had far fewer resources and a weaker army and appeared to be a rickety, corrupt ex-Soviet colony presided over by a former comedian.

Instead, through patriotism, determination and astonishing courage, Ukraine, its president Volodomir Zelensky and its people fought for their lives and country—and are winning battles and may actually achieve a clear, just victory.

It’s unlikely to occur soon, however. When wars break out people often expect a quick resolution to what is clearly a terrible and painful conflict. That’s what happened at the outset of the American Civil War and the First World War.

However, if history is any guide, Putin’s war in Ukraine may last through 2023 and beyond—as long as Putin is in power. Both sides have too much at stake to give in.

But the Ukrainian case serves as an example to everyone facing apparent inevitability. Determination and courage do make a difference and can hold or turn back a seemingly unstoppable tide of tyranny despite overwhelming odds. It happened in the American Revolution and in Britain’s defiance of Nazi Germany in World War II.

In Florida and the United States in the coming year those who still put their faith in justice and democracy and enlightenment can look to Ukraine’s example for inspiration.

When it comes to human events it’s always wise to remember that humans can affect those events and alter their course. Nothing is set in stone until after it happens.

The San Francisco radio station KSAN used to have a tagline: “If you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own!”

So in 2023, to paraphrase KSAN: if you don’t like this future, go out and make one of your own.

Liberty lives in light

© 2023 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

The MAGA Maneuver: The extreme attempt to take over Florida’s Republican Party and what it means—Updated

Alfie Oakes at Mar-a-Lago on Nov. 15 at Donald Trump’s presidential campaign announcement. (Photo: Facebook)

Dec. 15, 2022 by David Silverberg

Updated Dec. 17 with the results of Lake County election, new Michael Thompson election results statement, and correction to Kristina Heuser’s election status.

On Dec. 5, while much of the political world was focusing on the imminent results of the Georgia Senate runoff election, in Florida forces loyal to Donald Trump and his Make America Great Again (MAGA) ideology launched an attempt to take over the state Republican Party at the county level.

Many attempts succeeded—and nowhere more so than in Collier and Lee counties.

As a result, the Florida Republican Party appears to be metamorphosing into the Trump-MAGA Party going into 2023, which was the activists’ aim.

This was not a coup; there was no violence, rules were not broken and votes took place as scheduled in local party executive committees throughout Florida.

It was—and is—however, a determined effort by a Trumpist faction to implant its adherents and take control of the Party machinery. In many cases non-MAGA Republicans, despite long records of Party activism, conservative beliefs, and indeed, support for Donald Trump, were labeled as Republicans in Name Only (RINOs) or more ominously as “enemies” and even “traitors.”

This intra-party contest could perhaps best be described as an “attack-election” using electoral means to pursue narrow ends among a very limited electorate.

What does this mean for Florida’s Republican Party? What does it mean for Republicans nationally and for the nation as a whole as it begins a presidential election cycle? What does it mean for Donald Trump and his opponent, sitting Gov. Ron DeSantis? Most of all, is this an indication of things to come both within the state and nationally?

Collier County was illustrative of the means, methods and motivation for what took place—and is taking place—state-wide.

The Collier County case

The precursor to the Collier County attack-election came on Nov. 13 when Francis Alfred “Alfie” Oakes III posted a screed to Facebook.

At that point it looked like Democrats might retain the US House of Representatives since a handful of races remained undecided.

“In case you’re not paying attention in the last two days….It’s over !!!!There  is not going to be a 2024 election, Forget Trump…. Forget DeSantis and it’s not because there are more socialist in our country…. it is because of blatant theft of our electoral process… they are stealing every necessary seat right in front of our eyes, worse than 2020,” Oakes wrote. “They will now be taking over the house for absolute and full control … meanwhile our disgraceful Republicans are sitting on their hands! We are the majority!  The globalist run main stream media has duped us into believing that we are not!”

For those unfamiliar with Oakes, he is an outspokenly conservative farmer, grocer and Trump activist. He was elected a state Republican committeeman in 2020 and through his Citizens Awake Now Political Action Committee funded and supported the successful 2022 election campaigns of MAGA candidates for county commission and board of education.

Despite his election successes, Oakes was displeased with the results of the 2022 midterms. Oakes’ screed is worth quoting at length because it reveals the attitude and perceptions that drove the attack-election. (Punctuation, capitalization, syntax and spacing are unchanged from the original.)

“It’s sickening how everyone is just sitting back waiting for the cabal  to complete the full takeover of our country with this blatant and massive election fraud ! It’s like WW2 Jews waiting around, hoping things get better.

“Do we not understand this is the final straw? If we don’t stand up now and take whatever measures are necessary our Republic is over… actually it is over!

“I’m sickened by all this bickering between the people in our party arguing about Donald Trump and Ron Desantis it’s a distraction!

“There is only one enemy the globalist cabal using massive voter fraud right in front of our noses!so called Republicans are not doing a damn thing about one is!

“We need a GIANT call to action for EVERY America First Republican in office to stand up… and for the candidates that have been beaten by fraud, NOT to concede and demand an immediate in person hand count with observers of both parties choices. This is insane what is happening. Like in the Bible, we are being mocked by evil forces (the left) and they are going to tell us come Monday, sorry, you lost now go away or take it to court—and we know how that ends. “WE THE PEOPLE must BOLDLY identify the enemy and NAME them! Make lists! Speak plainly and call them out as being “The enemies of the free people of “these” United States. Get others to completely understand that these are not politician and was likely s, but rather enemies to our freedoms!”

Oakes’ local discontent mirrored that of former White House advisor Steve Bannon, who has long called for a “village-by-village” campaign on behalf of MAGAism. It was also shared by fellow Trumpers.

Ultimately Republicans won the House, if with a narrower majority than the party faithful preferred.

On Dec. 5, the Collier County Republican Executive Committee (CCREC) was scheduled to hold its organizational meeting and election at 6:00 pm that evening. This meeting was restricted to Republican Party members. The public and media were excluded.

But before the meeting, fractures in the local Republican Party between MAGAs and non-MAGAs became glaringly and contentiously apparent in dueling e-mails and personal attacks.

Oakes and other MAGA activists prepared a slate of candidates and two messages, one positively endorsing challengers and another, denouncing incumbents. The two messages were sent out twice on Sunday, Dec. 4, and once at 11:45 am on Monday, Dec. 5, all under Oakes’ name, photo and logo.

The positive endorsement message began: “When tyranny becomes law, it is the duty of We the People to alter or abolish it. Like our Founding Fathers, the American people have endured many abuses. As Republicans, it is our responsibility to begin exercising our constitutionally protected rights and take back our country! Our first step is to elect five America First conservatives to the Collier County Republican Executive Committee (CCREC) Board… .”

The message continued: “…we must elect Nick Lichter (Chairman), Dan Cook (Vice-Chairman), Lisa Johnson (Treasurer), and John Krol (Assistant Treasurer) to the Executive Board.”

It asserted: “These patriots will boldly stand against the enemies of freedom, and they will unite the Republican Party by leading with courage and conviction. For far too long and at every level of government, the CCREC has allowed celebrity politicians and self-seeking grifters in Washington DC, Tallahassee, Collier County, and on the School Board to govern in the wrong direction.”

According to his message, Oakes’ endorsed candidates had agreed to govern according to a long list of principles and practices.

Fifteen minutes after the initial endorsements, the second e-mail went out under Oakes’ logo, photo and name slamming opponents with detailed, in-depth critiques of their personalities and performance.

“Kristina Heuser is not the right person for Chairperson,” was one headline in the message, accusing the aspirng CCREC chair of ethical lapses. “Yvette Benarroch is too divisive to serve” as vice chair, stated another headline, accusing her of being “combative and divisive” and “oftentimes disrespectful to the Chairman.” A third headline stated: “Nanette Rivera has a bad track record as Treasurer.”

The message concluded: “We, as a collective Party, that wants to bring back the America First Agenda MUST stand Up and REFUSE to elect these candidates to our Collier County Republican Executive Committee Executive Board!”

Seven minutes after that Oakes sent another message, this time without the header: “Some selected  members of our REC [Republican Executive Committee] have been sent two emails that appear to be from me…they are not!” it stated.

“I am extremely disappointed that [State Committee member] JoAnn [DeBartolo] and Tom [Ravana], [local conservative, pro-Trump Republican activists] took it upon themselves to attach my picture and name to a hit piece email on Kristina Heuser, Yvette Benarroch and Nanette Rivera.

“While it is true that I am not endorsing any of the above candidates… I would NEVER have sent out a hit piece! There is already way too much drama within our REC, I would never add fuel to the fire.”

In the same message Oakes also accused DeBartolo of deliberately omitting his endorsement of incumbent Kathi Meo as secretary.

Oakes told The Paradise Progressive in a telephone interview that neither e-mail came from his personal e-mail address and “I was very upset when they put my name on that second e-mail.” Further, “some of those people were good people who shouldn’t have been trashed.”

Ravana, one of the two people who Oakes stated was responsible for sending out the e-mails, has stated in his turn that Oakes was well aware of the contents and wording of the second message and knowingly approved it prior to its being sent.

At 11:00 am on Sunday, Dec. 4, Oakes texted several poeple about the message, saying: “It looks very good…well put together…where do I get the list to send it out to everyone?”

That evening Republicans gathered at the Naples Area Board of Realtors building. Present were sitting elected officials Sen. Kathleen Passidomo (R-27-Naples), newly elected president of the Florida Senate, state Rep. Bob Rommel (R-81-Naples), state Rep. Lauren Melo (R-82-East Collier) Collier County Commissioner Bill McDaniel (R-District 5), and incoming Commissioner Daniel Kowal (R-District 4).

During the discussion McDaniel nominated Heuser for chair.

Despite that endorsement and other support for the incumbents, when the voting was held, the MAGA slate swept the balloting.

The victories gave Oakes a 2022 trifecta: his endorsed candidates now sit on two seats of a five seat Collier County Board of Commissioners, three seats on the five-seat county Board of Education and all official seats of the CCREC.

Not only did the midterms and CCREC election result in a near-completely MAGA Collier County, they made Oakes its de facto political boss. He had a far more successful record of endorsements than Donald Trump had nationwide in the congressional midterms.

Oakes doesn’t see himself as a boss, however. “I did help facilitate America First candidates to get exposure,” he told The Paradise Progressive. “I was helpful in vetting people. Yeah, I helped a lot but really, the people spoke and they spoke overwhelmingly.”

A near coin-toss in Lee County

In Lee County the outcome was not nearly as clear and decisive, as detailed by reporter Jacob Ogles on the newssite, Florida Politics.

On Dec. 11, three candidates contended for Lee County Republican Chair, which was being vacated by Jonathan Martin, who was just elected to the state Senate from the 33rd District.

One contender was Andrew Sund, president of the Cape Coral Republican Club. The second was Missi Lastra, former president of Lee Republican Women of Cape Coral and a regional field director for the Trump campaign. The third was Michael Thompson, a long-time conservative activist, founder of a conservative website and fervent Trumper from eastern Lee County.

Thompson won the largest share of votes (88) on the first ballot compared to Sund’s 71 and Lastra’s 36 but not enough for a majority.

In the second round, Lastra endorsed Sund but the tally deadlocked at 96 to 96. According to Ogles’ account, members debated whether to flip a coin for a winner or hold another vote and decided to vote again.

On the third ballot, one Sund supporter gave up a vote and Thompson won by a single ballot, 96 to 95.

Prior to the election Thompson called for a shakeup of the Party. “We have no committees available for volunteers to work on, we have a tired board who want to keep things the same and the two sides are trying to figure out the direction the REC will go moving forward,” he told Florida Politics.

Thompson’s election was not universally welcomed. The vote outcome was “a dark day for the future of the Lee GOP,” said state Rep. Spencer Roach (R-76-Fort Myers), a staunchly conservative representative.

The reaction to his statement was emblematic of the tenor of the executive committee races.

“Apparently Spencer Roach has just jumped the proverbial shark and is now a full-on establishment RINO,” posted a MAGA supporter named Ragnar Danneskjöld on Facebook.  “He really doesn’t like it that you ‘holocaust deniers’ (aka America First  folks) won the Lee county REC .  There has always been doubts as to his ‘conservative’ bonafides, now he’s let us all know the real Roach.  That’s one of the benefits to the America First movement…these RINOs just have to expose themselves, like moths to a flame, or bugs to a roach motel.”

Flynn defeat in Sarasota and other races

In Sarasota County former national security advisor and lieutenant general Michael Flynn, a resident of Englewood, guided the attempted takeover. Here, the MAGA drive failed.

It was, however, a close-run thing. Flynn backed Conni Brunni, a MAGA Trump activist for Republican Party chair. She lost by a mere 33 votes to Jack Brill, 57, the sitting chairman who has been active in Republican politics since he was 17 and who was endorsed by most Republican county officials.

The defeat was ironic because Flynn had made local action a keystone of his message to fellow MAGA believers, telling them that “Local Action = National Impact.” After moving to Englewood last year, he volunteered as a precinct captain and involved himself in the county Republican executive committee. He is widely seen in MAGA circles as a master strategist in light of his brief service in the Trump administration and his key role in trying to overturn the 2020 election.

In other counties, MAGA candidates succeeded. In Alachua County near Gainesville, Tim Marden, a Newberry city commissioner and fervent John Birch Society member, was elected county Party chairman by two votes.

In Hillsborough County, which includes Tampa, Dana Galen, who characterizes herself as “a strict constitutionalist and America First Republican,” won her election for county chair.

In Lake County, west of Orlando, Anthony Sabatini won as chair of the REC, ousting incumbent Walter Price.

“It’s time to make the State and National GOP a true party of the grassroots and the America-First movement,” Sabatini tweeted  after his election. “And that starts right here in Lake County.”

Other Republican county executive committee elections will be taking place in the days ahead.

Analysis: What it means and where it’s going

To partisans of any political organization or cause, the opposition always seems to have all the advantages. They always appear disciplined, organized, united and crafty. One’s own side, by contrast, always seems fractious, contentious and disorganized.

Opponents of this year’s Florida MAGA maneuver see a diabolically sinister plot unfolding. For many MAGAs, though, the executive committee election results were hairsbreadth victories in the face of long odds, numerous mistakes, and fierce RINO opposition

That said, the attempted MAGA takeover of local Florida Republican executive committees is certainly an effort guided by common goals and a common ideology even if not executed with military-style precision or always successful results.

One of the most striking elements of the MAGA maneuver is its attack on people who might otherwise be regarded as loyal Trumpers and deeply committed conservatives, the so-called RINOs. As in any ideological movement, the believers’ fiercest hatred is directed at those who supposedly know the truth but choose to ignore it; the heretics, rogues and apostates.

To an outside observer, however, in this case the supposed RINOs under attack seem like fanatics under fanatical attack by other fanatics for supposedly insufficient fanaticism.

The MAGA maneuver and its success to date raise two political questions for the future. One is practical and immediate. The other is principled and long term.

Practicality: The MAGA maneuver and the presidential race

Oakes may regard the rivalry between former President Donald Trump and sitting Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) as a mere “distraction” but in fact it is fundamental to the political future locally, statewide and nationally.

If viewed through the prism of that 2024 presidential rivalry then the MAGA maneuver is clearly a Trump strike against DeSantis.

Capturing county Party executive committees may not be a decisive blow but it will certainly make DeSantis’ presidential effort a lot harder. His campaign will have to slog through county after county to get the state united behind him and it may not succeed if the MAGA committeepeople stay committed to Trump’s nomination.

It seems unlikely that DeSantis could lose his own state two years hence, but there’s no end to the mischief that could be made by grassroots Trump partisans, especially if they’re in control of the Party machinery throughout Florida.

That, of course, could affect the outcome of the Republican nominating process nationally and the ultimate 2024 general election contest.

What is more, the 2022 election results, the lack of a “red wave” and the Republican failure to take the Senate, seems to indicate that the majority of Americans reject MAGAism and that it’s a losing proposition at the polls and would be so in 2024.

Principle: MAGAism, constitutionalism and democracy

The principles put forth by “America First” candidates ostensibly include supporting the US Constitution and accurately counting elections.

As an example of this, two of the principles listed in the Collier County REC endorsements included commitments to “Hold elected representatives accountable for their unconstitutional actions” and “Lead Florida’s 67 Republican Executive Committees by passing meaningful resolutions – instructing our elected representatives to fulfill their oaths to the Constitution.”

All this is well and good. However, overall the MAGA movement remains in service to Donald Trump and Trump has overtly called for termination of the Constitution. MAGA partisans remain supportive of the insurrection of Jan. 6, 2021 that tried to overthrow the US government and they repeat Trump’s big lie that the 2020 election was stolen.

The bottom line is that as long as MAGAism is devoted to Trump it is committed to unconstitutionality, untruth and autocracy.

Can MAGAism exist without Trump? It’s the dilemma faced by every political movement ever launched by a single, charismatic leader. So far, the answer seems to be “no.” Today, MAGAism is Trumpism.

From obscurity to autocracy

Ordinarily, elections to party executive committees are very obscure contests, the focus only of a handful of party activists and politicians.

But in light of the Jan. 6 insurrection and the ongoing overall threat to democracy, the public needs to pay attention to this year’s attempted takeover of the Florida Republican Party by MAGA forces.

After all, as history has shown, sometimes what starts with a handful of people in the back of a beer hall can metastasize into something much bigger, much badder and much, much more dangerous.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Stefanik stomps Donalds in contest for third slot in Republican congressional leadership

Rep. Elise Stefanik. (Illustration: Donkey Hotey/Wikimedia Commons)

Nov. 15, 2022 by David Silverberg

Today Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-21-NY), the sitting chair of the House Republican Conference, crushed a challenge by Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) to take her seat by a vote of 144 to 44.

The House Republican Conference is the primary caucus and forum for communicating the Party’s message among Republican representatives. It also hosts the caucus’ meetings and is the third highest position in the House Republican hierarchy.

Donalds was the candidate of the House Freedom Caucus, an extreme, conservative, invitation-only group of Republican members.

Today’s vote was taken by the Republican members of the House who are organizing their caucus for the 118th Congress that takes office in January. While some members recommended that the vote be postponed until all House races were decided, sitting members chose to proceed anyway.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-23-Calif.) was endorsed for the position of Speaker of the House by a vote of 188 to 31 against challenger Rep. Andy Biggs (R-5-Ariz.). However, since the Speaker is considered leader of the entire House, the Speaker’s election takes a vote of the entire 435-member chamber when the new Congress takes office in January. The winner will need 218 votes.

By a voice vote, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-1-La.) won election as House Majority Leader, the highest position in the Republican caucus.

Rep. Tom Emmer (R-6-Minn.), chief of the Republican campaign team was elected House majority whip, the second highest position in the leadership.

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, 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!

Early voting active in Collier, Lee and Charlotte counties

Activists show support for their candidates outside the Headquarters building of the Collier County Public Library in Naples. Jen Mitchell, incumbent candidate seeking re-election for District 3 of the Collier County school board, is to the left in the green shirt. (Photo: Author)

Oct. 28, 2022 by David Silverberg

Voting is active and robust throughout Southwest Florida, according to county supervisors of elections.

In its first day of early in-person voting in Collier County, 6,132 ballots were cast at polling stations yesterday, Oct. 27. Combined with 36,630 mail-in ballots, Collier’s turnout is at 16.85 percent of 253,830 eligible voters. So far, 56.15 percent of the ballots were cast by registered Republicans, 25.84 percent by registered Democrats and 16.92 percent by non-party affiliated voters.

Early in-person voting in Lee and Charlotte counties has been under way since Monday.

In Lee County, turnout is running at 19.65 percent, with 18,779 votes cast in person and 83,006 ballots mailed in. Lee County has 518,035 eligible voters. Of ballots cast, 52.28 percent were from registered Republicans, 27.37 percent from registered Democrats and 19.11 percent from non-party affiliated voters.

Charlotte County has the highest turnout of the three coastal counties with 20.75 percent of 152,778 eligible voters having cast ballots so far. Of these, 9,395 votes were cast in person and 22,309 votes were mailed. According to the Supervisor’s office, 50.36 percent of ballots were from registered Republicans, 29.58 percent from Democrats and 18.14 percent from non-party affiliated voters.

Because of the damage and disruption caused by Hurricane Ian, early in-person voting in Lee and Charlotte counties continues until Nov. 7. In Collier County, it concludes on Nov. 5.

Times and locations for early in-person voting are posted on the respective supervisors’ websites.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!