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!

Southwest Florida and entire state likely to feel labor, economic woes from anti-immigration measures

Farm laborers load freshly picked produce. (Photo: Coalition of Immokalee Workers)

May 17, 2023 by David Silverberg

A pair of recently-passed anti-immigration and border restriction measures appear set to do significant economic and labor damage to Southwest Florida.

At the state level, on Wednesday, May 10 Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed Senate Bill 1718 into law, imposing new restrictions on immigration in Florida. At a Fort Myers news conference last Friday, May 12, he stated: “The border should be shut down. I mean, this is ridiculous what’s going on. You shut it down. You do need to construct a wall.”

At the national level, Southwest Florida Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-26-Fla.) led the Republican effort in the US House of Representatives to put new restrictions on immigration and revive the building of former President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall.

That measure, the Secure the Border Act of 2023 (House Resolution (HR) 2), passed in the House last Thursday, May 11, by a narrow vote of 219 to 213.

However, the bill is unlikely to make any headway in the Democratic-dominated Senate and President Joe Biden has promised to veto it.

(A note on terminology for this article: By definition, an “immigrant” is a person who has entered and/or settled in a country legally. All immigrants are, ipso facto, “legal” and technically there is no such thing as an “illegal immigrant” or “illegal immigration.” By contrast, a “migrant” is someone who is migrating from one place to another, whether or not over international borders. An “undocumented migrant” is someone who lacks proper documentation and permissions to travel or settle in a place. An “alien” is someone from another country, whether traveling or in residence, documented or not.)

State restrictions

According to its official summary, Florida’s new state law restricting immigration does the following (the tense has been altered to reflect its passage):

“Prohibits counties and municipalities, respectively, from providing funds to any person, entity, or organization to issue identification documents to an individual who does not provide proof of lawful presence in the United States; specifies that certain driver licenses and permits issued by other states exclusively to unauthorized immigrants are not valid in this state; requires certain hospitals to collect patient immigration status data information on admission or registration forms; requires the Department of Economic Opportunity to enter a certain order and require repayment of certain economic development incentives if the department finds or is notified that an employer has knowingly employed an unauthorized alien without verifying the employment eligibility of such person, etc.”

It appropriates $12 million to an Unauthorized Alien Transportation Program to transport migrants out of Florida.

The bill was introduced by state Sen. Blaise Ingoglia (R-11- Citrus, Hernando and Sumter counties) on March 7 and passed 27 to 10 on April 28. When considered in the state House, 17 amendments to alter it were all defeated and it passed on May 2 by a vote of 83 to 36.

Warning that there would be “huge, huge problems” when the pandemic-restrictive Title 42 lapsed, DeSantis said, “You are going to see a massive surge of illegal aliens, you have a duty to ensure that these borders are secure. This is a huge disaster on our hands,” when he signed the bill in Jacksonville on May 10. Ingoglia called it “the strongest state-led anti-illegal immigration bill ever brought forth.”

“Ron DeSantis’ legacy will forever be rooted in the fact that as the governor of the state of Florida, he signed into law the most brutal, inhumane, and anti-American immigration legislation that we’ve seen in the last 30 years of U.S. History,” Andrea Mercado, director of Florida Rising, a state voting rights organization, declared in a written statement. “It is a life-threatening, intimidating, and dangerous political stunt.”

The Hispanic Leadership Fund, a pro-business group based in Washington, DC, also slammed the new law, stating it “has a very serious potential to promote racial profiling and infringe on the rights of not just immigrants, but American citizens and their families,” according to Mario Lopez, the organization’s president.

The law takes effect on July 1.

The federal bill

On the national level, HR 2 does the following:

  • requires the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to resume activities to construct a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border;
  • provides statutory authorization for Operation Stonegarden, which provides grants to law enforcement agencies for certain border security operations;
  • prohibits DHS from processing the entry of non-U.S. nationals (aliens under federal law) arriving between ports of entry;
  • limits asylum eligibility to non-U.S. nationals who arrive in the United States at a port of entry;
  • authorizes the removal of a non-US national to a country other than that individual’s country of nationality or last lawful habitual residence, whereas currently this type of removal may only be to a country that has an agreement with the United States for such removal;
  • expands the types of crimes that may make an individual ineligible for asylum, such as a conviction for driving while intoxicated causing another person’s serious bodily injury or death;
  • authorizes DHS to suspend the introduction of certain non-US nationals at an international border if DHS determines that the suspension is necessary to achieve operational control of that border;
  • prohibits states from imposing licensing requirements on immigration detention facilities used to detain minors;
  • authorizes immigration officers to permit an unaccompanied alien child to withdraw their application for admission into the United States even if the child is unable to make an independent decision to withdraw the application;
  • imposes additional penalties for overstaying a visa; and
  • requires DHS to create an electronic employment eligibility confirmation system modeled after the E-Verify system and requires all employers to use the system.

“Border security is national security,” tweeted Diaz-Balart after its passage. “[House Republicans] passed my bill HR2 to take back control of the border while the Biden Admin keeps saying the border is secure. Biden admin needs to get its head out of the sand.”

On May 2, the National Migration Forum, a pro-immigration advocacy group, in an extensive analysis of the bill, called it “an expansive proposal [that] represents an enforcement-only approach to migration-related challenges at the United States-Mexico border and beyond.”

It continued: “In practice, the bill package would severely restrict the right to seek asylum in the US, curtail other existing lawful pathways, place unnecessary pressure on border communities, intensify labor shortages faced by small businesses and essential industries, establish new criminal penalties, and make other significant changes to U.S. immigration law.”  

A date for consideration of HR 2 by the Senate had not been set as of this writing.

Impacts on Southwest Florida

While much of the population of Southwest Florida resides on the coast, most of the region’s land is either protected from development or used for agriculture. The agricultural sector is heavily dependent on seasonal migrant labor. The new state restrictions will undoubtedly affect Southwest Florida’s economy, especially in agriculture, construction, hospitality, tourism and services.

When it comes to agriculture, major local crops include tomatoes, strawberries, melons and citrus. Ranching and livestock breeding are also part of the mix. An estimated 6,626 people were employed in Southwest Florida agriculture, according to the US Census as quoted by Florida Gulf Coast University’s 2022 Agriculture Southwest Florida Economic Almanac Series. Most field workers are migrants, whether documented or not, and work seasonally, depending on the crop.

 “Everybody is in a panic because nobody knows what’s going to happen,” immigration attorney Gina Fraga told WPTV in Palm Beach.

Denise Negron, the executive director of the Farmworker Coordinator Council of Palm Beach County, told the TV station: “I’ve been hearing that probably they will not be sending their kids to school, and they are afraid to go to work, and it’s sad,” she said.

The stresses on the agricultural labor force come on the heels of the devastation to crops and the agriculture industry in the area caused by Hurricane Ian. Directly in the storm’s path were roughly 375,000 acres of citrus; over 200,000 acres of vegetables; more than 180,000 acres of hay; as well as 95,000 acres of other field crops, like sugarcane, cotton, and peanuts, according to Growing Produce, an industry website.

One local voice calling for a balance between border security, immigration reform and agribusiness is the area’s former congressman, Francis Rooney, a Republican conservative.

“Congress must balance the need for border security with the need for workers. Secure the border, fix our visa and asylum systems, and finally solve the immigration issue instead of using it as a political football,” he tweeted on May 11.

In contrast, the sitting member of Congress representing coastal Lee and Collier counties, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), has been relentlessly on the attack about border security, hammering Republican talking points and raising money for his own reelection, without addressing the impact on the district.

“Democrats ALWAYS wanted this massive surge at the border with no checks or balances AT ALL,” he tweeted on Monday, May 15. “What’s going on now is due to Biden’s recklessness & desire to end all Trump policies that ACTUALLY secured our border. Now they’re scrambling to find fixes to the problem Biden created.”

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a local farm labor advocacy group, put out a statement on HB 1718 that goes into detail about its possible effects on both labor and the economy. It merits quotation in full:

“We stand firmly against SB 1718, and against the fear, division, and economic hardship it will bring to Florida.  The malicious provision requiring public hospitals to ask for immigration status will cruelly discourage people in need of medical attention, including young children, from seeking the care they need.  The transportation provision will criminalize everyday Floridians – including travel team coaches and commercial bus drivers, parent chaperones on field trips, and small businesses keeping the state’s fragile economy running – for innocently traveling in and out of our state.  The law is inhumane, impossible to fairly enforce, and leaves our communities less safe and more divided than ever.  

“When it comes to the law’s inevitable economic impact, lawmakers in Tallahassee have missed critical lessons from recent history.  One need only look to the agricultural fields in Georgia, Alabama, and Arizona in 2010 and 2011, full of rotting peaches, peppers, and watermelons, to see the disastrous impact of anti-immigrant legislation on labor supply and tourism. In addition to the contribution immigrants make to our state’s economy every single day, which is easily measurable in ever-rising labor productivity and millions of tax dollars, the authors of this bill also entirely neglect the immeasurable gifts of immigrant families in our schools, our sanctuaries of faith, and our communities everywhere across our state.”

There has been discussion of boycotts of Florida, especially by truckers, particularly in Hispanic social media, although no protests or boycotts have been formally announced by established organizations.

Commentary: Putting the border in perspective

Southwest Florida has a direct stake in the situation on the US southwestern border and US immigration policy but the situation has been overly hyped and politicized to the point where a clear picture is not being presented to the public.

The Republican mantra is that the border is “open,” meaning completely uncontrolled and unregulated. That is simply not true. The United States has considerable controls both at its ports of entry and between them and is adding to them by surging its own resources.

There are “open” borders around the world and one of the most open used to be in Mexico’s south, where there were virtually no controls between Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. People would simply cross the river marking the boundary with Mexico on rafts, while truckers on the bridge crossing the river would bribe guards to let unexamined loads go through. That border has now been tightened up, thanks to US-Mexican agreements.

Migrants from Latin America cross into Mexico on rafts during a migration surge in the mid-2010s. (Photo: Author’s collection)

The purpose of rational border control is to facilitate legitimate trade and travel and keep illegal goods and unauthorized people out. US trade with Mexico was worth $614.5 billion in 2019, a commercial flow that neither the United States or Mexico want to cut off, which is what would happen if DeSantis had his way and closed the border.

While tensions between the United States and Mexico date back to Mexico’s independence in 1821, they were deliberately ratcheted up by Donald Trump during his candidacy in 2015.

In his very first speech as a candidate he accused Mexicans of “sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” He painted a picture that has persisted to this day and has not changed for his followers or in the minds of millions of Americans.

Trump’s solution was a brick and mortar wall along the US-Mexican border, which he proved unable to build during his time as president, even with a Republican-controlled Congress. The sections that were erected are already crumbling and corroding.

However, the mirage of a completely sealed, impermeable, walled border through which not a molecule passes continues to mesmerize MAGAs, Republican lawmakers as well as Trump, DeSantis and Diaz-Balart (whose parents came to the United States as refugees from Castro’s Cuba and whose aunt was Fidel Castro’s first wife). This delusional vision is being promoted in HR2 and on the campaign trail as candidates jostle for the 2024 presidential nomination.

What is happening at the border with Mexico is a surge of migrants seeking asylum that has overwhelmed many existing border resources. It needs to be pointed out, though, that asylum seekers are not migrants attempting to cross the border illegally or covertly. They are applying for asylum through procedures the United States has established. When Title 42 ended, contrary to the apocalypse that was feared, the number of applicants dropped by half and applicants were required to apply through an online application or face stiff penalties.

Asylum-seekers are now being processed and sent around the country for adjudication. Illegal border crossers are facing five-year penalties if caught.

Ultimately, the issues of border security and immigration are inextricably intertwined. Until there is comprehensive immigration reform, including a rational guest worker program that works for both labor and business, the crisis will continue. The US Congress came very close to bipartisan agreement on reforms in 2007 and 2013 but both failed in the face of intransigent opposition. The day may come when another effort is made.

The current surge needs to be put into context because the United States is not unique. About 2.3 percent of the world’s population—184 million people, including 37 million refugees—live outside their country of nationality, according to the World Bank.

There is a global south-to-north movement of people seeking better lives, simple refuge, or fleeing climate change and life-threatening situations. In an effort to enter Europe, waves of African migrants have attempted to overwhelm the border controls of the two remaining Spanish possessions in North Africa, the cities of Ceuta and Melilla. In the Mediterranean Sea, migrants from the Middle East and northern Africa have set out on rickety, overcrowded boats to reach Spain, Italy, Greece, Cyprus and Malta. In Asia, poverty in Bangladesh and oppression in Myanmar have led people to flee those countries. Wars in Ukraine, Syria, and Sudan have led to massive refugee flows that directly impact neighboring countries, which try to cope as best they can while providing humanitarian aid.

Around the world, people are on the move toward better lives, greater freedom and simple safety. The United States is no exception.

What is complicating the American situation is the continuing MAGA view of migrants as criminals and rapists threatening the white population physically, politically and demographically.

It also reflects a deliberate attack on American confidence in the power of rationality and the strength of American values. In the past, Americans had confidence that their democracy, their values and their freedoms were so compelling that they could absorb and convert immigrants into loyal, productive Americans. Now, they want to exclude them on the basis of race and national origin. They no longer believe that America is an idea all can embrace; to them it’s a club that should exclude everyone but themselves.

In the short term, Florida’s attempted exclusion of immigrants will work to its detriment and at a cost to its economy and businesses. It is only with time that it will learn just how deep, painful and costly it will prove—and soon, Southwest Florida will be among the first regions to feel those effects.


Editor’s note: From 2004 to 2012 the author served as editor of the magazine Homeland Security Today, which extensively covered border security and policy. A three-part series on Mexico’s drug cartel wars, their history and causes that he conceived, organized and edited, “Savage Struggle on the Border,” won the 2010 National Gold Award for Best Feature Series from the American Society of Business Publication Editors. In 2014 he was also founding editor of the, an online effort to cover news of all the world’s borders.

A US Border Patrol agent examines a shipment of jalapeno peppers destined for the United States for contraband and contamination. (Photo: CBP)

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!

Fascism in Florida? ‘Blood and Power’ provides perspective

The visage of Benito Mussolini glowers down from Fascist Party headquarters in Rome in 1934 against a backdrop urging a ‘si’ or yes vote in a referendum. (Photo: Scientific American)

April 17, 2023 by David Silverberg

“Fascism” is a term thrown around a lot these days, especially in Florida.

However, are the kinds of repressive, extreme and anti-democratic measures being proposed and imposed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and the Florida legislature actual Fascism, as their critics charge? Is the rise of the Make America Great Again (MAGA) right in America actually fascism as the ideology and movement have historically been defined?

To answer those questions, one has to reach back into history to Fascism’s origins and evolution.

In America, Nazi Germany has always defined the image of fascism in the popular imagination. However, it was in Italy immediately after World War I that the name “fascism” was used for the first time, Fascism first developed as a political movement, and fascists seized government power.

Fortunately, there’s a recently published book on exactly that subject: Blood and Power: The Rise and Fall of Italian Fascism.

(A note on style: This article follows both the Associated Press and the Chicago Manual of Style, which hold that nouns and adjectives designating political and economic systems of thought are lowercased, like fascism and socialism, as opposed to the names of political parties like the National Fascist Party, or formally titled movements like Nazi or Fascist.)

Published in September 2022 by Bloomsbury Publishing in London, Blood and Power is by English historian John Foot, a professor of modern Italian history at the University of Bristol. Foot has written extensively on topics of Italian history and knows this subject thoroughly.

Violence from the start

“Italy invented fascism,” Foot writes in his prologue, and from its beginning at two little-noticed meetings in Milan in March 1919, fascism was violent.

“Fascists embraced violence, both in their language and on the streets. At first, they were overshadowed by a socialist uprising where revolution seemed inevitable during the ‘two red years’—biennio rosso—of 1919-20. But soon, groups of fascists, known as squads, dressed in black, were on the march in the countryside and cities of Italy, destroying a powerful union movement, crushing democracy and spreading fear through the country; 1921-22 were the ‘two black years’—the biennio nero.”

In 1922 the fascist squadristi marched on Rome. Their leader, former socialist Benito Mussolini, was named prime minister when the king of Italy and the government caved in to their demands.

“Having taken power through murderous violence, Italian fascism held onto it through further bloodshed and occupation of the state. In power, fascism eliminated all vestiges of free speech,” Foot writes. Further, fascism “eliminated its opponents with gusto or reduced them to a state of fear. It also rewrote its own history, painting the fascist movement as a glorious defender of the fatherland as a revolutionary and modernizing force, but also as a return to order. Fascism was built on a mound of dead bodies, cracked heads, traumatized victims of violence, burnt books and smashed up cooperatives and union headquarters. Most of those who ended up governing Italy had committed crimes for which they were rarely investigated, let alone tried.”

Foot acknowledges that “There has been considerable historical debate about the meaning of Italian fascism.” He asks: was it forward-looking or backward-looking? (Or put in a modern American context, did it aim to “make Italy great again?”)

Foot’s answer: “Italian fascism looked forwards and backwards.” It built both radically modernist structures and neo-classical throwbacks, both daring art and unimaginative tributes to Il Duce, Mussolini’s title. “It understood the power of the media and advertising, but it also glanced back longingly to a rural Italy that was fast disappearing. It was at times radical, but also radically reactionary, and often simply pragmatic. It claimed to be anti-system and anti-political, but most of its leading proponents were corrupt, and enriched themselves. These contradictions were also its strengths.”

In this history Foot emphasizes the ground-level violence that fascists employed against their opponents and competitors—and against democracy and its mechanisms. American histories of the era often overlook the street brawls, maulings and fights that accompanied fascism’s rise. They’re summarized in a word or paragraph, whether they took place in Italy or Germany.

Foot, however, is at pains to show that violence was integral to fascism. “Without violence, both before and during the regime, fascism would never have come close to power. It was fundamental, visceral, epochal and life-changing: both for those who experienced it, and those who practiced it.”

The same reliance on street-level violence in the onset of German fascism has been referenced in numerous accounts of the rise of Nazism.

What Foot documents very well was the relentless, violent hammering at all the institutions and aspects of democracy by Italian fascists. Whether in town or provincial councils or the national parliament, fascists attacked the mechanics of parliamentary process and procedure, as well as those who were trying to maintain it. Time after time they stopped government at all levels from functioning, whether by disrupting parliamentary proceedings or beating or killing those who administered it.

This reliance on violence was partially driven by the fact that Fascists were in the electoral minority. Socialism was very popular in Italy after the First World War and socialists were often democratically voted into office. Fascists had to smash democracy to impose their will on the population.

In Bologna in 1920 fascists succeeded in forcing the dissolution of an elected city government through terrorism in the streets and an assassination in the city council chamber. To this day it’s unclear whether they deliberately killed one of their own councilors. Regardless, they used Bologna as a model and went on to destroy local democratic governments throughout Italy, culminating in their march on Rome two years later and takeover of the nation.

There was strong, often equally violent resistance to this effort. But the decisive change came when the instruments of the state, the police, the Carabinieri and Royal Guards either stood by or joined the fascists. Fascists gradually grew confident that they wouldn’t be prosecuted or jailed for their crimes or else they could intimidate or dominate the forces of law enforcement and the judicial system.

With both the cudgels and daggers of the squadristi and the authorities of the state arrayed against it, democracy was gradually ground into dust. It simply couldn’t function in such an atmosphere and those who believed in it failed or were unable to take the kind of action necessary to preserve it.

John Foot (Photo: University of Bristol)

Recognizing fascism

It would be much easier to oppose fascism if there was a single, definitive expression of its meaning and beliefs, the way there is with the Communist Manifesto.

Mussolini had been a journalist and an editor but perhaps because he didn’t serve a jail term as fascist leader he never collected and organized his beliefs into a single document. Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf was so peculiar to Germany that it couldn’t really serve as a template elsewhere, although it succeeded in conveying his racism and anti-Semitism to the world and layed out a blueprint for German conquest.

As a result, today in America it’s difficult to recognize Fascism as a formal movement. Its adherents don’t march waving little black books the way Chinese communists waved red-colored copies of Mao Zedong’s sayings. Even the neo-Nazis and racists who demonstrated and rioted in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017 did not formally call themselves Fascists.

Nonetheless, Americans will clearly recognize themes, beliefs and practices that hearken back to the classic fascism of Mussolini and Hitler.

Foot is well aware of these patterns and points them out in his epilogue.

“More recently, Donald Trump has often been compared to Mussolini,” he writes. “His speaking style…his policies (nationalism, racism, autarchy, a corporate state, a distaste for democracy itself)—have led to associations with Il Duce.”

He continues: “Democracy does not last forever. Indeed, it is often extremely fragile. Italian fascism showed how democracy, and its institutions, can quickly crumble in the face of violence, disaffection and rage. Some of this was seen in the USA after 2016, and not just in the armed attack on the Capitol in January 2021. When the ‘forces of law and order’ are also on board, things can quickly disintegrate. Collusion between parts of the state and the fascists was a key factor in Mussolini’s victory.”

Lastly, he warns: “Fascism’s historic attempt to ‘deliberately…transform its lies into reality’ certainly chimes with much of what is happening today on the far right, and more widely on social media. Fascism will not return in the same form yet may still make a comeback in some way. It could be argued that this might have already happened in different times and various places.”

Fascism and Florida

Today Florida is the laboratory for an American anti-democratic experiment. A former president in residence, a radical right governor and an extremist legislature are following unmistakable paths that were plowed almost exactly a century ago in tumultuous Italy.

One of these is the attack on the autonomy of local governments. (“In push to the right, Florida cities and counties become focus for DeSantis and lawmakers,” Tallahassee Democrat, Feb. 17, 2023.)

Another is the effort to muzzle the press. (“DeSantis, GOP lawmakers pursue bill to gut press freedom,” Miami Herald, Feb. 25, 2023.)

A third is the effort to constrict and restrict the vote. (“DeSantis signs additional voting restrictions into law before cheering crowd,” Florida Phoenix, April 25, 2022.)

A fourth is the assault on freedom of thought in schools and universities. (“FL Governor DeSantis’ proposals on higher education pose a grave threat to academic freedom and free speech at public colleges and universities,” PEN America, Feb. 2, 2023.)

A fifth is the attempt by the governor to create his own military force answerable only to himself. (“DeSantis seeks $98 million to fund Florida’s own military,” Click Orlando, March 9, 2023.)

In the legislature, state Sen. Blaize Ingoglia (R-11-Citrus, Hernando and Sumter counties) is attempting to outlaw the Democratic Party in Florida through “The Ultimate Cancel Act” (SB 1248). This is clearly an effort to create a one-party state of the kind that Mussolini and Hitler established in Italy and Germany.

Ingoglia may want Florida to be a one-party state but in fact his own party is facing its own two distinct anti-democratic movements built around their leaders.

Trumpism, which centers on former President Donald Trump, is not only threatening for its fascistic tendencies, but more closely resembles classic fascism in its propensity for violence. After all, Trump encouraged violence throughout his 2016 presidential campaign, during his term in office and then incited the insurrection and assault on the US Capitol and Congress on Jan. 6, 2021. Trump directly attempted to overthrow the duly elected national government and negate a free and fair election. It was a leaf not only out of the fascist playbook, it mirrored what Mussolini and the fascists did in Italy.

What might be called DeSantism (or Florida+Fascism=”Flascism”?) has not expressed itself in violence—yet. Nonetheless, DeSantis’ war on what he calls “woke” clearly follows classic fascist strategies. As mentioned above, these include: reducing local autonomy, muzzling or intimidating the press, restricting the vote, and assaulting freedom of speech and thought. Add to this mix his anti-competitive gerrymandering of election districts, his dominance of a wide variety of boards and panels and his bullying of private enterprises like the Disney Corp., for their ideological dissent.

It’s worth remembering that both Italian and German fascist movements represented themselves as revolutionary resistance efforts against what they saw as looming threats. They focused on specific causes for their countries’ plights and they targeted scapegoats on which all blame could be heaped. In the early 1920s in Italy the threat was Bolshevism, the plight was Italy’s “mutilated peace” and the scapegoats were Socialists. In Germany, the threat was Communism, the plight was the Versailles Treaty, and the scapegoats were Jews.

For Donald Trump the threat is “radical, leftist Democrats,” the plight is a supposedly stolen election and among his many scapegoats is billionaire George Soros. For DeSantis the threat is a “woke mob,” the plight is liberal “woke” ideology and the scapegoat is the media—and also, George Soros.

The specifics may be different but the patterns are the same. Only a century separates them.

But it would be remiss not to note the differences.

American carnage

When Fascism arose in Europe it was at the end of a world war. Both Italians and Germans felt defeated, dissatisfied and humiliated. Russia had fallen to Bolshevism and a militant communist movement appeared ready to dominate the world through revolutionary violence. Both countries had millions of demobilized men with military training, accustomed to military regimentation and were looking for causes transcending themselves. Fascism provided an outlet for their energies and experience and a focus for their rage.

America in 2016 presented a very different picture. It was wealthy and confident. It was the dominant power in the world. Its culture and the rules it had established with its allies ever since World War II governed global trade and diplomacy. Its chief opponents, the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact, were gone and their successors sought Western acceptance. Communism was dead as an active force. American forces had captured and killed Osama bin Laden and largely destroyed the terrorist jihadist threat from abroad. America was stable politically, economically and socially. Its population was largely united on the fundamentals of its Constitution, laws and believed in its mission in the world. And it was the world’s oldest, continuously functioning democracy, the value of which was unchallenged.

Running against this reality, Donald Trump had no chance of winning the presidency. To pose as America’s savior, he had to create American carnage first. He had to create a situation of dissatisfaction and disorder and so he conjured up phantom dangers, conspiracies, plights, grievances and scapegoats. He exaggerated the threat from his political opponents, painting them as treasonous, dangerous and monstrous. He worked to destroy a moderate, middle political ground, dividing Americans into absolute loyalists or absolute enemies. He and his allies, who included Russian President Vladimir Putin and Fox News, spun an unreality that was the polar opposite of the true state of affairs and then tried to impose it on an otherwise moderate populace.

In 2016 the majority of Americans rejected Trump and Trumpism, delivering 48 percent of their votes to Hillary Clinton compared to Trump’s 46 percent, a difference of 2.9 million ballots. However, with razor-thin margins in key Electoral College states and Russian help, Trump gained the presidency and America has been crippled ever since.

For DeSantis, the chosen path to power was to conjure a “woke” threat that made simple open-mindedness, free thought, an obscure academic theory and social tolerance into an apocalyptic phantasmal “woke” peril of grooming, racism and coercion.

Now this battle is continuing in Florida as Trump and DeSantis compete for the Republican Party presidential nomination, the White House and ultimately, control of the nation. The state of Florida has the misfortune to be their initial battleground. Trump is using his national platform to spread Trumpism throughout Florida and beyond; DeSantis is promoting DeSantism and imposing its precepts on the state through his power as governor, while openly hoping to propagate it nationwide.

Analysis: The verdict

So is Florida a fascist state?

Perhaps at this point it might be most accurate to label it as “fascistic” rather than overtly Fascist.

Florida cannot simply be labeled Fascist because it does not have a registered Fascist Party by that name. It is not seeing the kind of pervasive political violence that accompanied the rise of European fascism. While Trump is still advocating violence (warning of “potential death & destruction” if he was arrested), DeSantis is not, nor is political violence evident in everyday life. There are still multiple legal political parties, although this is threatened in the legislature. Laws still govern, although their authority is becoming shaky as is the application of national laws and the Constitution. (e.g., “DeSantis: Florida won’t cooperate with Trump extradition.”).

That said, there are strong currents propelling the state in a fascistic direction, as detailed above.

But the triumph of fascism in Florida is no more assured than it was at its outset in Italy or Germany.

The strongest defense against fascism is simply the US Constitution and Bill of Rights, which when actively applied prevents the kind of oppression imposed by fascism.

One potential countervailing force is an active and vigorous effort to preserve democracy at the grassroots. This means protecting parliamentary democracy at the city and county level and even in local school boards. Key to this is defending the voting franchise for all eligible citizens and encouraging active participation. It is especially important that the public preserve its right to petition government for a redress of grievances and to freely express opinions to lawmakers, a right already threatened in Florida at the state and local levels. (“Just 30 seconds? Despite complex bills, Floridians are limited on public testimony in Legislature,” Florida Phoenix, March 14, 2023.)

Simply ensuring that elections are free, fair and their results counted accurately and without impediment or interference by impartial, non-partisan, professional election supervisors, is another defense. This is threatened by DeSantis’ special “election police” who have the potential to negate election results he doesn’t like and by MAGA attempts to dominate election of supervisors at the local level.

Another defense is ensuring that candidates commit in advance of their elections to accepting the tabulated results and a willingness to concede if they lose. At every debate and in every press conference, candidates should be pressed to state that they will accept the official results. Trump’s fantasies of a stolen election and his refusal to accept defeat has been incredibly damaging to the United States and it spawned imitators like Arizona’s Kari Lake. Candidates need to be clear and unambiguous that they will accept election results without qualifications or caveats, otherwise they should be condemned and disqualified.

But asking firm questions and holding candidates to the results requires a free and independent press. That is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution. The danger of an independent and inquiring press to fascism was fully recognized by Mussolini and Hitler and they did all they could to suppress it. Russian President Vladimir Putin also recognizes the threat that truth and real information pose—as does Trump and DeSantis and extremist Florida legislators as they hammer away at press freedoms.

But perhaps the single most important defense of democracy against fascist encroachment lies in a neutral, impartial police and the equal and vigorous application of law to all citizens regardless of status or stature.

As Foot shows in Blood and Power, once the state authorities entrusted with the tools of coercion and force stood by or joined the fascists, the game was over. This was also true in Germany. When the forces of the state stood firm against Hitler and his Nazis in 1923 when they attempted a putsch, the Nazis were stopped in their tracks and law prevailed. When the Nazis took state power in 1933 and directed Germany’s civil authorities to enforce Nazi doctrine with criminal penalties, Germany became a completely tyrannical state.

This is why exceptions cannot be made in charging a political figure like Trump for any criminal acts he may have committed, whether in office or not. He cannot be granted immunity just because he wants it and those who argue that he deserves it are aiding and abetting fascism, whether they know it or not. There is a large contingent in Florida making exactly that case—but would these people have argued that Mussolini shouldn’t have been held accountable for his crimes? Or Hitler? The case is the same.

But apolitical law enforcement is also essential at the local level, perhaps even more so. When Sheriff Grady Judd of Polk County, Florida tells potential Floridians: “So we only want to share one thing as you move in hundreds a day. Welcome to Florida. But don’t register to vote and vote the stupid way you did up north, or you’ll get what they got,” that is a fascistic threat. When Sheriff Kevin Rambosk of Collier County endorses a “Bill of Rights Sanctuary” ordinance that seeks to nullify federal law in his jurisdiction, that erodes democracy at the grassroots.

There is no doubt that fascism had its attractions a century ago and still has them today. But America, like no other country, committed to democracy at its founding and defended it repeatedly over the past two centuries.

As Foot notes in Blood and Power, “Democracy does not last forever. Indeed, it is often extremely fragile. Italian fascism showed how democracy, and its institutions, can quickly crumble in the face of violence, disaffection and rage.”

But one might also respond that democracy and its institutions can stand firm, strong and resilient when its defenders are aware, united and determined.

And in Florida, even if its government is trending fascistic today, that does not mean it has to be Fascist tomorrow.

Liberty lives in light

© 2023 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

The rise of new anti-Semitism: How threatened are Florida’s Jews?

Gov. Ron DeSantis enters Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust museum during a 2019 visit to Israel. (Photo: State of Florida)

April 6, 2023 by David Silverberg

For Jews, Passover is a holiday commemorating danger but also liberation.

It memorializes the night that death came for Egypt’s first-born but spared the Jews, who fled slavery the next day for freedom and, ultimately, the Promised Land.

Passover this year was particularly poignant but also especially relevant for the Jews of Florida.

Florida may not be the Jewish promised land but, as for all Americans, it has been an attractive place to retire, to prosper, raise families and pursue happiness.

But in the past few weeks there has been a new and increasingly dangerous trend. As political turmoil and tensions roil the state, its two most prominent political figures are using ancient anti-Semitic tropes for political purposes.

It is one thing when anti-Semitism is expressed in isolated incidents of vandalism, leafletting and demonstrations at the grassroots. But it is far more threatening and orders of magnitude worse when scapegoating and ancient smears come from a top official using the power of his bully pulpit—and that’s what’s happening in Florida.

Causes for concern

The political drama consuming the United States right now is the prosecution of former President Donald Trump for numerous alleged crimes. However justified, this prosecution has raised the country’s emotional temperature and inflamed political passions.

It has also resurrected the classic anti-Semitic technique of scapegoating a whole people based on a stereotype of a single, supposedly cunning and manipulative individual.

Of the many villains and demons in his universe, Trump is aiming his increasingly desperate ire at George Soros, a Jewish billionaire and contributor to democratic and Democratic Party causes. (More about Soros in the sidebar below.)

Because a Soros-funded political action committee contributed to the campaign of New York District Attorney (DA) Alvin Bragg, Soros’ name has become an epithet that is always linked to Bragg in the Trumpist and Make America Great Again (MAGA) mythos.

Typical was the Monday, April 3, Trump fundraising message to his followers.

“What liberal billionaires like George Soros and the globalist cabal fear most is YOU,” his message stated. “…YOU – alongside more than 74 million of your fellow patriots – PROVED that even a corrupt billionaire like Soros and his puppet D.A. are no match for the sheer will and collective might of our MAGA movement.”

As Kurt Braddock, a public communication professor at American University, told USA Today of the messages: “They’re loaded with anti-Semitic language, some of which has been used in the past to validate violence against Jews. There’s no other way to describe it — he’s using anti-Jewish stereotypes and historical hatred to raise money.”

Trump’s hatred, prejudice and rage is inclusive and diverse in the sense that it encompasses all his perceived enemies, regardless of their race, religion or color. Most thinking people are unlikely to take his attacks on Soros any more seriously than they take his attacks on anything else.

However, when Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), a shadow candidate for president, decided to defend his rival for the nomination, he chose to scapegoat Soros and use the same tropes as well.

“The weaponization of the legal system to advance a political agenda turns the rule of law on its head. It is un-American,” DeSantis stated in a March 30 tweet. “The Soros-backed Manhattan District Attorney has consistently bent the law to downgrade felonies and to excuse criminal misconduct. Yet, now he is stretching the law to target a political opponent.”

He continued: “Florida will not assist in an extradition request given the questionable circumstances at issue with this Soros-backed Manhattan prosecutor and his political agenda.”

DeSantis continued his scapegoating at a speech last Saturday, April 1, in Harrisburg, Pa., in which he stated “And I can tell you this: these Soros DAs are a menace to society, a menace to the rule of law.”

These accusations are in a different category altogether because they come from the lips of the highest elected official in Florida.

An ugly rising tide

A swastika and cross are projected onto a building in Jacksonville, Fla., in January of this year. (Photo: Jim Urquhart for NPR)

For some time now anti-Semitism has been a rising problem in Florida as well as throughout the United States.

On March 23, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a New York City-based Jewish organization that tracks and fights anti-Semitism, released its Audit of Antisemitic Incidents 2022, a comprehensive look at anti-Semitism nationwide.

It found that last year saw a 36 percent rise in anti-Semitic incidents.

The Audit stated: “In 2022, ADL tabulated 3,697 antisemitic incidents throughout the United States. This is a 36% increase from the 2,717 incidents tabulated in 2021 and the highest number on record since ADL began tracking antisemitic incidents in 1979. This is the third time in the past five years that the year-end total has been the highest number ever recorded.

“Incidents increased in each of the major Audit categories: antisemitic harassment increased 29% to 2,298; antisemitic vandalism increased 51% to 1,288 and antisemitic assaults increased 26% to 111. The vast majority of antisemitic assaults (107 out of 111) were perpetrated without the use of a deadly weapon. There was one fatality. Notably, visibly Orthodox Jews were targeted in 53% of the assault incidents nationally. This year, no assaults perpetrated against the Jewish community resulted in mass causalities.”

In Florida, there was a rise in propaganda-based incidents like leafletting and banner displays. As the Audit put it:

“The activities of several newly formed white supremacist groups in 2022 also contributed to the rise in propaganda incidents. These new groups – the Texas-based Aryan Freedom Network, Florida-based NatSoc Florida, the Iowa-based Crew 319, the Southern California-based Clockwork Crew (aka Crew 562), Florida Nationalists and the short-lived, New York-based Aryan National Army – were responsible for seven percent (or 62 incidents) of the antisemitic propaganda distributions in 2022.

“As in previous years, extremists used fliers, posters, stickers, banners and graffiti to share their antisemitic views. In Florida, NatSoc Florida and GDL [Goyim Defense League] used laser projectors to cast antisemitic messages on buildings on at least seven occasions. Individuals associated with GDL, Crew 562 and Crew 319 drove around in moving vans draped with antisemitic propaganda.”

In Florida, Jacksonville has been the particular focus of anti-Semitic activity, with laser images of swastikas projected on buildings.

In Southwest Florida anti-Semitic activities included defamatory leafletting related to COVID prevention mandates in Fort Myers and online posting of an anti-Semitic video by Katie Paige Richardson, at the time the campaign manager for Collier County School Board candidate Tim Moshier.

However, some of the incidents involved vandalism and destruction of property.

On Jan. 31, 2022 Rabbi Mendel Greenberg’s mailbox in Bonita Springs was destroyed, his car window smashed, and his sidewalk defaced with the word “Jew’s” in big red letters. The vandalism was committed by two teenagers, Tucker Bachman, 17, and a 14-year old accomplice who were swiftly caught by the Lee County Sheriff’s Office. The vandals were charged with hate-crime felonies and in March they were sentenced to probation.

On March 11 of this year a man threw bricks at the glass entrance doors at the Chabad Jewish Center of Cape Coral while worshippers were inside. The vandal also toppled an image of a menorah and smashed a car window.

(The individual was described as a man in his 50s wearing a white shirt and tan pants. Police said he was about 6 feet tall, 200 pounds, with glasses and thinning gray hair. He remains at large and anyone with information on his identity or whereabouts is encouraged to contact Cape Coral police at (239)-574-3223 or email at Anonymous phone tips can be submitted by calling Crime stoppers at (800) 780-TIPS. Please reference Case Number 23-006123).

Both these attacks were directed at Chabad houses. These are centers of worship and community activity for the very orthodox Lubavitcher Chasidic sect and movement. The buildings prominently displayed Jewish symbols. In keeping with biblical commandments and Jewish tradition the rabbis in both centers were very traditional in appearance. They had full beards, always wore yarmulkes (skullcaps) and generally dressed conservatively in black and white clothes, with the tassels of prayer shawls showing from beneath their shirts.

In other words, they fit traditional Jewish stereotypes and so were targeted.

The incidents above and those detailed in the Audit show the kind of low-level, fragmented anti-Semitic activity now taking place at street level.

But when the sentiments being expressed in vandalism and leafletting are given high government sanction and encouragement, the threat goes to a whole new tier.

The consequences of calumny

The monument, menorah and eagle sculpture at the entrance to Ramat Trump on the Golan Heights in Israel. (Photo: Jerry Jude, Wikimedia Commons)

Both Trump and DeSantis would likely deny any anti-Semitism given their past extravagant shows of support for the State of Israel.

While he was president, Trump made a great display of supporting Israel, among other things ordering the movement of the US embassy to Jerusalem, a move Israelis had been urging practically since the founding of the state in 1948.

For his part, Israel’s prime minister at the time, Benjamin Netanyahu, played up to Trump while he was in office and even founded a city with his name, Ramat Trump, in the Golan Heights.

 (In 2020 their friendship ended when Netanyahu officially congratulated President Joe Biden 12 hours after he was declared the winner of the election. Trump reportedly responded: “He [Netanyahu] was very early — like, earlier than most. I haven’t spoken to him since. F–k him.”)

Netanyahu was also happy to welcome DeSantis, who took an entourage of Jewish Floridian donors to Israel in May 2019 on a business mission to build trade ties. At the time he vowed to be “the most pro-Israel governor in America.” In Israel, among his other activities, he visited Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust memorial.

Both men’s pro-Israel gestures no doubt played well with Jewish political contributors. But for Floridians at the grassroots, their rhetoric has very different consequences.

That’s because it’s the scapegoating, stereotyping and anti-Semitic dog whistles that are filtering down to their grassroots supporters.

So far, there has not been any anti-Semitic violence against Jews in Florida like the Oct. 27, 2018 shooting of 11 Jewish worshippers in the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pa.—the same state where DeSantis made his most recent attack on George Soros.

But the lies, smears and conspiracy theories are circulating and the more these politicians play to them, encourage them and repeat them, the more likely that physical violence will follow.

Trump in particular more than offset whatever pro-Israel sentiment he expressed and whatever Jewish family ties he possessed (his daughter Ivanka converted to Judaism and his son-in-law Jared Kushner is Jewish) by the whole aura of “hatred, prejudice and rage”—and violence—that he projected both as a presidential candidate and then as president. His statement in 2017 that there were “very fine people on both sides” of the clashes in Charlottesville, Va., opened the door to social acceptance of neo-Nazism and far right prejudice.

Trump probably did not realize the full implications of what he was saying at that time. Even after four years in the presidency he remains an astonishingly ignorant man, virtually oblivious to history. In 2017 he didn’t have a clue—but he doesn’t seem to have learned much since.

DeSantis, however, is a different case. Not only did he have an Ivy League education (Yale, Harvard) and serve in a military that cannot and does not tolerate racism and prejudice in its ranks, he is at least passingly familiar with the Holocaust thanks to that visit to Yad Vashem.

He is also renewing his Israeli ties. On March 28 The Jerusalem Post newspaper and a new Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem announced that DeSantis will again visit Israel to deliver the keynote address on April 27 for an event titled “Celebrate the Faces of Israel.”

The Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem in particular, is a new institution whose mission is to “encourage democracy, combat the roots of anti-Semitism and extremism, and promote regional stability, global harmony, human dignity and a love of Israel.”

So given his knowledge of history and his familiarity with the Holocaust and the events and factors leading to it as well as his association with an institution devoted to preventing their recurrence, DeSantis’ Soros scapegoating and use of anti-Semitic tropes has no excuse. In fact they express forethought and conscious intent—and DeSantis should know better.

Moreover, given his repetition of his Soros scapegoating at his campaign-style appearances outside the state, it looks like he’s taking this anti-Semitic show on the road and will be repeating these smears throughout the country in the months ahead as he campaigns for president.

Analysis: A fraying consensus

The American consensus against overt expression of anti-Semitism and Nazism had its origins in World War II and the revelation of Nazi death camps and genocidal extermination efforts. It’s worth remembering that prior to America’s entry into the war, anti-Semitism was a widely accepted sentiment and actively promoted by prominent Americans like Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh and Father Charles Coughlin, a radio-broadcasting priest.

However, the Holocaust was so horrific, so inhuman and so extreme that since the liberation of the camps it has been viewed as the nadir of human behavior. Even in popular entertainment, Nazism became synonymous with evil.

To prevent a recurrence, the Holocaust has been commemorated, taught in schools, academically examined and been the focus of institutions like museums. Nazi exterminators have been hunted down, prosecuted and deported even when they were in their 90s.

But now it is 78 years since Nazi Germany surrendered. That’s nearly four generations and the memory is fading. A generation of people like Katie Paige Richardson is coming of age, with no knowledge of the past and a susceptibility to outlandish conspiracy theories and fantasies. Even in education, Holocaust studies are eroding. In Florida’s Martin County, the Holocaust-themed novel The Storyteller was banned from the local school district’s library due to a parent complaint.

Throughout America and especially in Florida, the consensus against anti-Semitism is being treated as one more “politically correct” taboo, one more “woke” prohibition among many that are being dismantled and discarded.

The crumbling of this consensus can be traced to that one particular moment on Aug. 15, 2017 when Donald Trump said that there were “very fine people on both sides” of the conflict in Charlottesville, Va.

Coming from the mouth of a President of the United States, Trump appeared to be saying not only that neo-Nazis could be “very fine people” but that Nazism and anti-Semitism could be “very fine” too—whatever other caveats he might have expressed at that moment,.

Even if the sensible world recoiled in horror, even if it inspired a former Vice President to run for president at the age of 74 and fight for the “soul of America,” as Joe Biden has said it did, Trump’s words nonetheless opened a box of demons that had been kept tightly sealed for the previous 72 years.

In Florida the governor, who aspires to be President of the United States, is crusading against “wokeness,” hoping to ride a segment of the population’s resentment of public prohibitions against racism, misogyny, discrimination—and anti-Semitism—to the White House. But the unacceptability of anti-Semitism was perhaps the first “woke” taboo of the modern era and he’s determined to smash them all.

His rival, Trump, who is struggling in the grip of the law like a feral pig in the coils of a Burmese python, is similarly using every trope, stereotype and bias to escape justice.

Jews have known situations like this before. They’ve seen the outcomes of this kind of turmoil. They’ve faced this kind of “hatred, prejudice and rage” many times, even at the dawn of their history. Now, presumably, they know better than to just paint their doorposts with blood and hope the Angel of Death will pass over them.

In the past they’ve been victims. They’ve also been victors—but they’ve only been victorious when they’ve actively defended their inalienable right to exist.


Sidebar: Who is George Soros and why is he so hated?

George Soros at an academic award ceremony in 2019. (Wikimedia Commons)

George Soros, 92, was born Aug. 12, 1930 in Hungary to a secular Jewish family.

Hungary had a tradition of anti-Semitism and during the 1930s that was expressed in its native fascist movement. The country joined the Axis powers in 1940 and was occupied by Nazi Germany in March 1944. Hungary’s Jews were rounded up and deported but because this occurred so late in the war, more survived than in other occupied countries.

His name was changed from Schwartz to Soros, which in Hungarian means “next in line” or “successor.” He survived the Nazi occupation by disguising himself as a Christian with forged papers and left Hungary at the age of 17, first for Paris, then for Britain. There, he worked as a waiter and railway porter but also put himself through the London School of Economics, where he earned bachelor and master degrees.

He chose merchant banking as a career and began work at the bottom rung, as a clerk. In 1956 he moved to New York and while working in arbitrage developed a theory of investing that he called “reflexivity,” which argued that markets were more driven by often-false ideas rather than rational economic principles.

He worked in a variety of banks and funds before founding his own Soros Fund Management in 1970. It was subsequently renamed the Quantum Fund and was an early hedge fund.

Soros burst into prominence on Sept. 16, 1992 when his fund shorted $10 billion worth of British pound sterling, a day also known as Black Wednesday. In a complex currency transaction the Quantum Fund made $1 billion in an afternoon and Soros became known as “the man who broke the Bank of England.” It’s a feat that hedge fund managers have aspired to ever since. However, it also brought him a reputation as a currency manipulator.

Soros confined himself to business activities until 2004 when he donated over $23 million to various Democratic Party groups to defeat incumbent US President George Bush. He also began donating to charities, in 2009 providing New York State with $35 million to feed poor, hungry children.

Ever since then, Soros has significantly donated to promote democracy and inclusiveness through the Center for American Progress and his Open Society Foundations. He contributed to the election campaigns of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and a wide variety of Democratic Party efforts.

Forbes magazine estimates Soros’ current net worth at $6.7 billion.

Given his political contributions and humanitarian largesse, Soros has been turned into a right-wing bogeyman. He’s portrayed as a crafty, manipulative Jewish Globalist engineering every conservative setback, as Donald Trump’s and Gov. Ron DeSantis’ attacks attest. (A very good account of the rise of Soros as a threatening phantom is the 2019 article “The George Soros Conspiracy Theory at the Heart of the Ukraine Scandal,” from the website of the magazine Mother Jones. More about Soros can be found in his Wikipedia entry.)

On July 31, 2022 Soros explained his support for reformist prosecutors in a Wall Street Journal op-ed titled “Why I Support Reform Prosecutors: Justice or safety? It’s a false choice. They reinforce each other.”

“The funds I provide enable sensible reform-minded candidates to receive a hearing from the public. Judging by the results, the public likes what it’s hearing,” he wrote. “I have done it transparently, and I have no intention of stopping.”

Liberty lives in light

© 2023 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

No state for young people: Florida after DeSantisication

Watching the Florida legislature in session.

March 22, 2023 by David Silverberg

The Florida being shaped by the proto-presidential campaign of Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and a state legislature whose members are competing with each other every day to be more radical, more extreme, and more totalitarian is shaping up as no place for young people—meaning anyone under the age of 65.

Nor is it going to attract young families in the future. This is going to have serious long-term consequences.

Perhaps the new state motto should be: “Unless you’re gray, stay away.”

Why? Let us count the ways.

No state for women

Women of child-bearing age will not have legal access to abortion after six weeks of pregnancy under anti-abortion bills (House Bill (HB) 7 and Senate Bill (SB) 300) now making their ways through the legislature.

The prohibition looks likely to pass and be signed into law.

Currently, Florida prohibits abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. In the immediate wake of the Republicans’ resounding election in 2022, there was considerable agitation for a complete abortion ban. DeSantis, although ostensibly “pro-life,” never endorsed that more extreme option.

Asked about the abortion bills at a Feb. 1 press conference, he replied: “I urge the Legislature to work, produce good stuff, and we will sign.”

As the anti-abortion bills demonstrate, though, the legislature has been far less restrained.

Unmentioned in anti-abortion propaganda is that access to sanctioned, legal abortions is a safe option for all pregnancies in the event of medical complications. Removing that option is a blow against women of an age to be planning families.

No state for education

The governor and legislature are waging an all-out assault on public education, which is being equated with “woke” indoctrination. They are creating a state whose public schooling option is completely unattractive—even repulsive—to parents and families who seek to put school-age children in quality public schools.

Instead they are advancing expensive private schooling to as great an extent as possible. Even with tax vouchers being promoted by Florida House Speaker Rep. Paul Renner (R-19-Flagler County), private and charter schools are expensive and out of reach for many parents. HB 1 and SB 202 would provide all parents—regardless of income—tax vouchers worth an estimated $8,000 per student to go to non-public schools.

While the state estimated that the overall cost of the program would be $210 million in the first year, the Florida Policy Institute, a state-focused think tank, argued the real cost would be $4 billion.

“If the state does not increase revenue to cover the costs of students already in private education, then the reallocation of state aid to vouchers will leave school districts with significantly less revenue to fund their remaining public school students,” it argued in a paper on the program’s impact.

Sadaf Knight, the Institute’s head, put the consequences starkly: “Florida public schools cannot afford to have their budgets decimated after years of under-investment.”

In addition to the financial blows to public schools, legislators are attempting to control the content of public education in Florida. Bills HB 999 and SB 266 require schools to eliminate majors or minors in critical race theory and gender studies. They also prohibit schools from using diversity, equity or inclusion criteria in spending or hiring decisions.

Legislators are even trying to regulate speech among students. HB 1069 will prohibit “instruction in acquired immune deficiency syndrome, sexually transmitted diseases, or health education” before the sixth grade—and would even prohibit students younger than the sixth grade from discussing their menstrual periods.

To emphasize: this bill not only regulates curricula, it prohibits girls from discussing menstrual cycles in conversations among themselves.

These restrictions come on top of legislation already passed and signed into law. The 2022 Stop WOKE (Wrong to Our Kids and Employees) Act, places limits on the way race is taught, and the Parental Rights in Education Act, nicknamed the “Don’t say gay” law, prohibits discussion of sexuality in the earliest grades.

“Following woke indoctrination in our schools, that is a road to ruin for this country,” DeSantis said in a press conference last year. “And we’re not going to let it happen in Florida.” (Enforcement of The Stop WOKE Act has been stopped by court injunction based on arguments against its free speech infringements.)

The suspicion and hostility toward teachers among Florida legislators found expression last year when Rep. Bob Rommel (R-81-Naples and Collier County) argued that teachers were so dangerous to children that they should be monitored in the classroom by video at all times and introduced a bill to that effect. (The bill never went anywhere and died in the last session.)

Additionally, there is a proposal in the legislature to politicize school board races by making them partisan. In the past, education was considered above party politics and candidates were always unaffiliated. However, under House Joint Resolution 31 by Rep. Spencer Roach (R-79-Ft. Myers) and its companion Senate Joint Resolution 94, candidates would have to be party affiliated. A likely impact of this is that education will be politicized as well, so students would receive partisan, one-sided instruction, particularly in history.

On top of this are local book bans, where DeSantified school boards and MAGA activists attempt to banish discomforting ideas.

These measures are not going unnoticed in the rest of the country’s higher education institutions. As a result of them, administrators and admissions officers may view Florida’s secondary school graduates as inadequately educated and not ready for real universities. The graduates may face steep admission obstacles when they apply to college.

Of course, they can remain within the Florida university system, which will be shackled by political restrictions, ideological constraints and muzzled professors. That, in turn, raises the question whether graduates will be prepared for a diverse, competitive, technologically advanced world and whether a Florida education will be an employment asset outside the state.

As a result of all this political intrusion, Florida is emerging as a warped educational wasteland for primary school students and state university graduates—not an attractive prospect for young parents trying to raise school-age children.

No state for health

Florida’s surgeon general, Dr. Joseph Ladapo, continues to stubbornly defend his anti-COVID vaccination stance in the face of an overwhelming scientific consensus but in keeping with DeSantis’ political priorities.

Ladapo, who is up for Florida Senate confirmation this year, has urged men between the ages of 18 and 39 not to get vaccinated.

On March 10, Drs. Robert Califf, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, and Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sent what amounted to a public cease-and-desist letter to Ladapo.

“The claim that the increase of VAERS [Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System] reports of life-threatening conditions reported from Florida and elsewhere represents an increase of risk caused by the COVID-19 vaccines is incorrect, misleading and could be harmful to the American public,” they wrote.

Ladapo fired back from Florida at a press conference called to mark the third year of the COVID pandemic. “The media, they work overtime to rewrite reality, to make people believe that what is happening isn’t actually happening. These vaccines have a terrible safety profile. At this point in the pandemic, I’m not sure anyone should be taking them, and that is the honest truth,” he said.

In keeping with his anti-vaxx efforts, in November 2021 DeSantis signed legislation prohibiting private employer mask mandates, or proofs of vaccination by private companies, government agencies, school districts and educational institutions, under penalty of fines.

In January, DeSantis called for legislation to make the bans permanent. In Lee County his initiative was endorsed by a resolution of the local Republican Party.

In DeSantis’ Florida public health practices are being built on wishful thinking and political convenience. People just starting families and parents and men in general between the ages of 18 and 39 must be aware than any efforts by institutions like schools or employers to protect the health and wellbeing of themselves or their children will be punished by the state.

No state for tolerance

DeSantis’ cultural crusade in Florida is ostensibly driven by his battle against a “woke mob,” evoking a counter-image of the MAGA mob that attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

However, what is really emerging in Florida is an intolerant, discriminatory regime that will not accept anything other than its legislated norms, which go beyond traditional, legally-sanctioned behavior.

When it comes to LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and questioning) individuals the governor and legislature are clearly out to put as many restrictions as possible on them and their community.

HB 1423 would allow the state to fine or suspend the licenses of businesses that admit children to “adult live performances” depicting or simulating “nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, specific sexual activities,” and more.

SB 1320 is an amendment to the Stop WOKE Act that forbids teachers from asking children their preferred pronouns and forbids teaching about sexual orientation or gender identity before the eighth grade.

SB 254 allows courts to stop gender-reassigning care for patients under 18 years of age.

HB 1421 restricts gender-reassigning therapies and surgeries and prohibits birth gender from being changed on a birth certificate.

No state for safety

Florida has suffered from repeated mass shootings. In June 2016 there was the massacre at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando when 50 people were killed, including the shooter. In February 2018, 17 students and teachers were killed and 17 injured at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

That mass shooting gave rise to bipartisan efforts to control gun purchases, which passed in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Act.

Since then Florida politicians have been attempting to roll back those protections and make gun ownership easier and more ubiquitous. In the current legislative session SB 150 and HB 543 would allow permitless concealed carrying of weapons, or “constitutional carry” as its advocates prefer to call it.

DeSantis endorsed permitless carrying last year, saying in December: “Basically, this was something that I’ve always supported. The last two years, it was not necessarily a priority for the legislative leadership… and it’ll be something that will be done in the regular session. That puts us in line with the majority of states that have done that… so we’ll get that done.”

Permitless carrying has legislative support and the endorsement of the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action, although it doesn’t go as far as open carrying—being allowed to openly display weapons in public—as some advocates prefer.

But regardless of the terms of any gun displays, any young parent will have to worry that in Florida they and their children will be in an environment saturated in guns, whether openly brandished or legally concealed.

No state for innovation

DeSantis’ war with the Disney Corp., is well known and has been extensively covered. When Disney management formally took issue with the Anti-WOKE Act, DeSantis retaliated by stripping Disney World in Orlando of its special tax and governance status and leading a public crusade against the corporation.

DeSantis and the current legislature are also pursuing a variety of measures against corporations that make efforts to adhere to responsible environmental, social and governance (ESG) practices.

“By applying arbitrary ESG financial metrics that serve no one except the companies that created them, elites are circumventing the ballot box to implement a radical ideological agenda,” DeSantis announced in January in an effort to “protect” companies and consumers from these practices.

Accordingly, on Feb. 23, Rep. Bob Rommel (R-81-Naples and Collier County) introduced HB 3 to prohibit ESG-based investing. Its Senate counterpart is SB 302.

Companies seeking to promote a culture of social and environmental responsibility in Florida will face penalties and state retaliation. Given that these are some of the most innovative, entrepreneurial and forward-thinking companies in the country, with predominantly young workforces, these restrictions and penalties will likely keep them from entering Florida, which is otherwise billing itself as a business-friendly state.

No state for immigrants

Florida was once one of the most welcoming states in the country for immigrants, whether seeking opportunity and prosperity or refugees fleeing oppression in Cuba, Haiti or elsewhere. Indeed, Florida has historically actively sought new residents to build its population and economy.

Florida’s openness made Miami in particular a cosmopolitan, internationally-oriented city and America’s gateway to South America.

Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant racism and rhetoric represented the backlash against traditional American openness and acceptance and it spread it throughout the state. He brought that prejudice with him when he retired to Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach. DeSantis apparently shares Trump’s hatred of immigrants and foreigners and made his own attitude explicit with his September 2022 stunt of deliberately flying 50 Venezuelan asylum-seekers from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts.

To continue the practice of migrant transport, this year SB 6-B appropriated $10 million to continue state-sponsored transportation of migrants, known as the Unauthorized Alien Transport Program. The bill was passed by the House and Senate and signed into law by DeSantis on Feb. 15.

To prevent unsanctioned transportation of undocumented migrants, the legislature is considering SB 1718 (and HB 1617), which makes it a criminal offense to “knowingly and willingly” transport them.

Immigrants and migrants, both documented and undocumented, were instrumental in building the Florida economy, agriculture and industry. Many of Florida’s newcomers, whatever their national origins, are young, vigorous and entrepreneurial. The current anti-immigrant legislative wave in the legislature—even if directed only against undocumented migrants and asylum-seekers—will serve to dry up that youthful wellspring of talent and energy.

Analysis: The new-old Florida

The bills discussed here are precisely that—bills, not laws. They are proposals amidst the avalanche of ideas that are offered in a legislative session. Few, in fact, will make it all the way to the governor’s desk and be signed into law.

Nonetheless, the state emerging from these proposals and ideas is one that is extremely reactionary, oppressive and sclerotic. It is hostile to new ideas, innovation, science, creativity and enterprise. If all the legislation is enacted it will result in an intellectual and entrepreneurial wasteland repulsive to anyone not of retirement age—and many seniors as well.

All this is the result of the governor and legislature playing to the biases of an aging, white, MAGA base and overlooking—indeed, seeking to repress—the qualities and values and people that once made Florida great.

Politically, in Florida there are currently no checks or balances on this course of governing and legislating. The supermajority Republican legislature is completely subservient to DeSantis—when its legislative politicians are not pursuing their own extreme agendas. Now, in the judicial branch, Florida Supreme Court Justice Ricky Polston announced his retirement on Monday, March 20, which will give DeSantis another justice to appoint, the fifth of the seven that sit on the court.

The DeSantis lock on power is so complete that one politician, Sen. Blaise Ingoglia (R-11-Citrus, Hernando and Sumter counties) is seeking to effectively outlaw the Democratic Party (SB 1248) and make Florida a one-party state along the lines of North Korea.

None of this bodes well for young people considering migrating to, launching careers in or starting families in Florida. In addition to the factors above there they also face the extremely high price of insurance and the lack of decent housing in the low-to-middle “affordable” starting range that favors young families. Less-than-affluent families cannot expect to put their children in a public school system that will give them an effective, modern education all the way up to college. And every Floridian is at physical risk from a delusional public health establishment and a surfeit of guns in the hands of all kinds of people in all kinds of mental states.

Culturally, DeSantis’ Florida is proving hostile to any norms and mores that have evolved since 1900—indeed, since the discovery of vaccines—lumping them together as “woke.” And, as DeSantis accurately said, he is making his state the place “where woke goes to die.” He is waging a cultural war whose victory will leave Florida boundless and bare, where the lone and level sands stretch far away.

This is the model that DeSantis hopes to ride to the presidency in 2024. Fortunately, while it may play well with an elderly MAGA core in The Villages, it is not likely to be the kind of regime the rest of the country will accept in 2024. And it is certainly out of touch with everyone from millennials to Generation Y, to Generation Z.

There is a comfort, however: old generations die off and imposition of the most extreme biases of Florida’s MAGA baby boomers cannot last. After all, as DeSantis himself has said, “Florida is God’s waiting room.”

But waiting for that to happen will take 40 years of wandering in a sun-scorched, dystopian, DeSantian desert—unless Floridians decide to make a change themselves and do it sooner rather than later.

Liberty lives in light

© 2023 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Calling all bloggers: Time to stop a Florida assault on free speech

Florida Sen. Jason Brodeur’s bill would require bloggers to register with the state

State Sen. Jason Brodeur explains his blogging registration bill. (Image: Twitter)

March 8, 2023 by David Silverberg

Updated, Sunday March 12 with new contact information for Sen. Jason Brodeur.

A Florida bill requiring bloggers to register with the state if they cover or comment on the governor, Cabinet officers or state legislators is sparking alarm and outrage.

It needs to be stopped and bloggers in Florida and around the world should immediately raise their voices against it.

The bill was introduced by state Sen. Jason Brodeur (R-10-Seminole and Orange counties).

Titled “An Act Relating to Information Dissemination” (Senate Bill (SB) 1316), the bill was filed on Feb. 28 in advance of the state legislature’s general session. It was referred to three committees for consideration: the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Appropriations Committee on Criminal and Civil Justice, and the Committee on Fiscal Policy.

The Florida legislature convened yesterday, March 7, for a 60-day session during which the bill may be considered.

(Editor’s Note: The Paradise Progressive and this author have a clear and obvious interest in this bill and its consideration. Nonetheless, that interest does not preclude factual coverage, analysis or commentary of the bill, its sponsor or its progress. The Paradise Progressive, which is supported by its author and reader donations, will continue to provide coverage, analysis and commentary on politics, especially related to the governance, representation and elections of Southwest Florida and the state as a whole as long as the United States Constitution and its Bill of Rights continue in force in Florida and the United States generally.)

The bill

The bill has two parts. (The full bill as introduced is available for download at the conclusion of this article.)

The first part has nothing to do with blogging. It amends an existing law for court sales of property (“judicial sales”), usually to pay debts in bankruptcy cases, so that the sale is posted on the Web for a specified time period. The second non-blogging clause establishes conditions and procedures for government publication of legally required notices.

It is in its third, entirely new, section that it tackles blogging.

As with all legislation, it first defines its terms.

A “blog” “means a website or webpage that hosts any blogger and is frequently updated with opinion, commentary, or business content. The term does not include the website of a newspaper or other similar publication.” A “blogger” is anyone submitting “a blog post to a blog.” A “blog post” is defined as “an individual webpage on a blog which contains an article, a story, or a series of stories.”

(Just for historical context, the word “blog” is a contraction of “Web log” that took hold in the early 1990s as the Internet gained popularity.)

It defines “Elected state officer” as the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Cabinet officer, or any member of the Legislature.

The key provision of the bill is in its second section: “If a blogger posts to a blog about an elected state officer and receives, or will receive, compensation for that post, the blogger must register with the appropriate office, as identified in paragraph (1)(f), within 5 days after the first post by the blogger which mentions an elected state officer.”

The two offices mentioned in the paragraph are the Office of Legislative Services and the Commission on Ethics. If a blogger mentions a member of the legislature, the blogger reports to the first office; if the blogger mentions an executive branch official the report is to the second.

Under the legislation, once registered, the blogger must file a monthly report within 10 days of the end of the month, with exceptions for weekends and holidays.

The reports have to include the person or entity that paid for the blog post and how much the blogger was paid (rounded to the nearest $10) as well as the website and website address where it was posted.

If the reports are not filed on time the blogger is subject to a fine of $25 per day that has to be paid within 30 days of being assessed. If the blog post was about a member of the legislature, the money goes into the Legislative Lobbyist Registration Trust Fund; if about an executive branch official, the Executive Branch Lobby Registration Trust Fund. If about both, then the payment goes to both. Bloggers can get a one-time waiver of the first fine but must report within 30 days of the first infraction.

Bloggers can appeal their fines and the bill sets out the procedures for such appeals through the courts. However, if the blogger doesn’t pay a fine within 100 days, he or she is subject to court action.

This law takes effect upon passage.

Brodeur’s defense

“Do you want to know the truth about the so-called ‘blogger’ bill?” a defensive-sounding Brodeur wrote in a March 5 tweet. “It brings the current pay-to-play scheme to light and gives voters clarity as to who is influencing their elected officials, JUST LIKE how we treat lobbyists. It’s an electioneering issue, not a free speech issue.”

He elaborated in a 1-minute, 48-second video interview with the Florida’s Conservative Voice blog posted to Twitter.

The clip posted by Brodeur started in response to a question. It bears quoting in full.

“The biggest thing that you pointed out is, it is for—only for—bloggers who are paid, compensated to influence or advocate on state elections. And this is really to get an electioneering thing and perhaps, I’m even open to it, even in the wrong place in the statute, because what we have out there today is a system by which someone can pay someone to write a story, publish it online and then use that in a mail piece as a site source when they’re making claims about an opponent. So what we want, is we want voters to be able to know—you can still do it, that is a mechanism by which candidates advertise. You can still do it, we just believe that voters have a right to know when somebody is being paid to advocate, like lobbyists. And so, if you believe, that we should have a state registry of lobbyists, so everybody knows who is trying to influence who, what is the difference between a paid blogger who writes about state government or a paid lobbyist who advocates for state government? One talks and one writes. And so my position on it would really be: ‘So look, listen, we’ll just get rid of the lobbying registration, then?’ Either way, I want to be consistent because if you’re being paid to advocate a position the public should be able to know who’s being paid and make a decision for themselves. So that’s all we’re trying to clean up, is really an electioneering issue.

“Now, what I think the media is getting wrong about it is—you know, I’ve gotten phone calls all day long about it, from Seattle to New York, literally—where people are going: ‘I hate you and you’re trying to ruin free speech, this is how Germany got everything wrong’—no, no, no, this is not a free speech issue, it’s a transparency issue and electioneering. It’s—so all I’m trying to do is say, ‘Treat paid bloggers just like you treat lobbyists.’ That’s it.” 

Brodeur may be particularly sensitive to hostile blogging and media coverage and especially hidden funding because his initial, razor-thin 2020 election was clouded by the presence of a “ghost candidate,” a non-party-affiliated candidate whose campaign was secretly funded by the Republican Party in an effort to siphon votes from the Democrat.

As detailed in the Nov. 4, 2022 article “Ghost of 2020 hangs over Jason Brodeur, Joy Goff-Marcil contest in SD 10,” by Jacob Ogles on the website Florida Politics, the ghost candidate, Jestine Iannotti, sent misleading mailers to voters bearing a stock photo of a black woman and succeeded in gaining 5,787 votes.

That was enough for Brodeur to win a squeaker of a victory over his opponent, Democrat Patricia Sigman, by a hairsbreadth 7,644 votes.

As Ogles wrote: “This year, prosecutors brought charges against Iannotti, consultant Eric Foglesong and Seminole County Republican Party Chair Ben Paris, who notably works for Brodeur at his day job running the Seminole Chamber of Commerce.

“Paris was found guilty of a misdemeanor charge in September, and both Iannotti and former Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg both told investigators Brodeur knew about or was expected to support her candidacy. Brodeur has denied any knowledge of the scheme,” the article stated.

So apparently, when Brodeur discusses pay-to-play schemes and hidden funding, he knows whereof he speaks.

Reception and denunciation

The instant Brodeur’s bill came to light it attracted national media attention—and denunciation.

One of the first and most prominent people to react was former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is currently a retired resident of Naples, Fla.

“The idea that bloggers criticizing a politician should register with the government is insane,” Gingrich tweeted on Sunday, March 5. “It is an embarrassment that it is a Republican state legislator in Florida who introduced a bill to that effect. He should withdraw it immediately.”

Brodeur’s bill didn’t get any love from the governor it might ostensibly protect, either.

Asked about the bill in a press conference following his State of the State address yesterday, March 7, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) distanced himself from the proposal.

“That’s not anything that I’ve ever supported. I don’t support it, I’ve been very clear about what we are doing,” DeSantis said. 

He noted that “every person in the legislature can file bills” and “the Florida legislature, 120 of them in the House and however many, the 40 in the Senate, they have independent agency to be able to do things,” he said. “Like, I don’t control every single bill that has been filed or amendment, so just as we go through this session, please understand that.”

Uncounted and likely uncountable were the denunciations of the bill in online comments, tweets, postings and phone calls “from Seattle to New York” as Brodeur himself put it.

The National Review magazine, the venerable voice of conservative political reasoning, weighed in with a stinging headline that needed no elaboration: “Senator Jason Brodeur Is a Moron, but He’s a Solo Moron.”

“The bill is an unconstitutional, moronic disgrace, and the guy who wrote it, Senator Jason Brodeur of Seminole County, is an embarrassment to the GOP,” wrote Charles Cooke on March 2.

Other than Brodeur himself, defense of the bill was hard to come by, either online or as covered in the media.

Commentary: Putin would be proud

There are so many arguments to be made against SB 1316 that it’s hard to know where to begin.

SB 1316 is a clear and obvious attempt to suppress free speech in the state of Florida. It doesn’t just violate the First Amendment, it violates both its free speech and free press clauses.

In fact, Brodeur’s bill most closely resembles Russia’s “blogger’s law,” passed in 2014 and signed into law by President Vladimir Putin. That law requires any blogger with 3,000 or more followers to register with Roskomnadzor, Russia’s media oversight agency.

In American history it also harks back to the Sedition Act of 1798, which made it a crime for American citizens to “print, utter, or publish…any false, scandalous, and malicious writing” about the government. That law, along with Alien Acts aimed against immigrants, was largely directed against the new Democratic-Republican Party and Democratic-Republican newspapers were prosecuted under it. When Thomas Jefferson won the election of 1800 the acts were repealed or allowed to lapse and those prosecuted were pardoned. The whole period is considered a dark stain in American history and is often overlooked (and no doubt will never be taught in Florida schools).

SB 1316 walks in these notorious footsteps. Not only would it have a chilling effect on free speech, if it were to pass it would immediately be challenged in court where even a legal layman can see that it would lose.

But aside from railing against the bill itself, let’s take Brodeur at his own words that “It’s an electioneering issue, not a free speech issue.”

What Brodeur clearly doesn’t understand is that in a democracy every citizen has a right to electioneer and influence government, whether in person, in print or online. Brodeur apparently doesn’t see it this way. He thinks that advocacy occurs only among a paid lobbying class and that citizens expressing their opinions online are part of that class and need to be registered and regulated, regardless of the source of their funding.

He also doesn’t seem to understand the broader implications of his bill. At its most basic level it would give the state government a mechanism to suppress blogs—and all opinions—it didn’t like. This would apply to blogs and bloggers whether liberal or conservative, Democratic or Republican.

It would be nearly impossible to police and enforcement would be intrusive, unconstitutional and expensive. Even if intended only for paid bloggers, the bill’s restrictions would ineluctably affect all blogs on all topics. It would affect blogs used for commercial, non-profit or simply informative purposes, stuntng legitimate commerce and obstructing myriad blog-based enterprises.

Brodeur seems not to understand that he introduced his bill at a moment when people fear that civil liberties and democracy in his state are under unprecedented assault. In Florida a Republican super-majority state house has begun a session in which each legislator is scrambling to prove him or herself more ideologically extreme than the competition. A former president who incited an anti-government insurrection is fighting for a comeback. The governor, effectively running for president on an extreme right platform, is at war with the national media and explicitly wants to overturn the landmark 1964 New York Times versus Sullivan case. Bills are being introduced to make defamation suits against the media easier and the state is emerging as a laboratory for repression, reaction and regression.

Into this state house full of flammable fumes Brodeur casually tossed the match of SB 1316. Did he or any other carbon-based life form imagine that there wouldn’t be an explosion of fear, outrage and alarm? Apparently not.

Beyond its political implications, SB 1316 reveals Brodeur as a singularly inept politician, someone unable to think through the full consequences of a proposal on a policy, political or constitutional level. He clearly thought through the procedural and punitive aspects of his legislation but beyond that narrow vista he had no perspective. Moreover, he appears to lack an understanding of democracy, freedom and advocacy—as well as a simple ability to read the room.

He shouldn’t be surprised that people are calling “from Seattle to New York” to oppose his bill.

Editorial: To the keyboards, bloggers!

It’s worth pointing out that this isn’t just an obscure proposal in what appears to be the increasingly insane state of Florida. If passed, it would set up a government mechanism to suppress online independent thought and the expression of opinion, which could then be applied nationally, especially if DeSantis wins the presidency in 2024. That, in turn could become a global template for Internet censorship and repression.

If Brodeur doesn’t have the good sense to withdraw his bill, it should be defeated. Every blogger who loves freedom can play a role—not just in Florida but everywhere from Singapore to San Francisco, Seattle to Saint Petersburg.

At the very least, people should make their opinions known to the key Florida legislators on the referred committees who have received this bill.

This is one case when the flap of a butterfly’s wings really could bring on a hurricane.

Sen. Jason Brodeur himself can be reached by e-mail through his offcial website, and clicking the e-mail button in the left column. He can also be reached by phone at his Tallahassee office at (850) 487-5010, at his district office at (407) 333-1802 and at his campaign office by phone or text at 1-407-752-0258.

Other senators can be reached by going to the Florida websites and clicking on the “Email this senator” button in the left-hand column:

Senate Judiciary Committee

Appropriations Committee on Criminal and Civil Justice

Committee on Fiscal Policy

A 9-page PDF of the submitted bill can be downloaded here.

Liberty lives in light

© 2023 by David Silverberg

Resign-to-run or rewrite the rule? DeSantis, the legislature and the law

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (Illustration: Donkey Hotey)

Feb. 23, 2022 by David Silverberg

When the Florida state legislature convenes on March 7, it will have a busy two months.

Dominated by Republican supermajorities, the Florida House and Senate are likely to implement the agenda of Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) to prepare the way for his now-obvious run for the presidency in 2024.

But no matter what the legislature’s other priorities—restricting abortion, encouraging gunplay, politicizing school boards, reducing local autonomy, narrowing academic freedom, restricting voting, bullying corporations, banning books, and waging war against a supposedly “woke” culture—there is one obstacle above all that may stand in the way of DeSantis’ presidential run.

Does Florida law allow DeSantis to actually formally declare himself a candidate and run while serving as governor or must he “resign-to-run?”

If the law does prohibit his run, will the legislature change the law to accommodate him?

Although there was considerable discussion of this in November following his strong re-election showing, the talk died down shortly thereafter.

Still, resign-to-run (which The Paradise Progressive will henceforth abbreviate as “R2R” for convenience’s sake—you read it here first) could be a big impediment.

The state of the law

Florida is one of four other states (Arizona, Georgia, Hawaii and Texas) that has an R2R law: an officeholder must resign his or her current office to seek another office.

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

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

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

(b) The resignation is irrevocable.

At first glance, this would seem to put a crimp in DeSantis’ plans; he wouldn’t be allowed to declare his presidential candidacy and mount a campaign without irrevocably resigning the office of governor.

However, as in all law, that’s open to interpretation.

One view: He doesn’t have to resign

Lilian Rodriguez-Baz, interviewed on the Wilkow! talk show. (Image: Wilkow!)

One view is that DeSantis doesn’t have to resign at all.

That was put forward by Lilian Rodríguez-Baz, a founder and legal counsel for Ready for Ron Political Action Committee (PAC).

“Armchair lawyers proven wrong again — DeSantis does not have to resign to run for POTUS,” was the headline of an article by her that appeared on Nov. 29 on the website Florida Politics (but which was subsequently removed).

While one cannot help but note that lawyers do almost all their work from armchairs, her argument deserves to be examined at length.

The notion that DeSantis would have to resign to run is an “idea as misleading as it is dangerous, and if left unchecked, it could cost Republicans the next election,” she wrote.

“As a lawyer, I look to the law, and on this point, the law is crystal-clear on its face: State officeholders do not need to quit their jobs in order to run for federal office — whether it’s the House, Senate, or presidency. Florida Statute Section 99.012, which governs this issue, has two relevant parts: Sub-sections (2) and (3). Those wrongly claiming DeSantis needs to resign are playing legal gymnastics by improperly conflating the two sub-sections.

“Sub-section (2) is straightforward. It provides, in plain English, that a person cannot qualify as a ‘candidate’ (e.g., be on the ballot) for two offices at the same time, including local, state, and federal offices.

“This is why Sen. Marco Rubio was unable to run for both President and U.S. Senate in 2016. Instead, he had to wait until the end of his presidential campaign to restart his Senate run. Unlike Rubio, however, this scenario is totally inapplicable to DeSantis given that he is the sitting Governor of Florida and would, therefore, not be a ‘candidate’ for two offices if he runs for President.

“Meanwhile, sub-section (3), which applies to DeSantis, makes it clear that an ‘officer’ (as defined by the Statute) cannot be the holder of a state-level or lower office while running for another state or lower position without resigning.

“However, the Florida Legislature specifically and intentionally removed the word ‘federal’ from the list of offices implicated in this section.

“In other words, there is no law that prevents DeSantis from holding the office of Governor of Florida while running for president at the same time.”

As an example of this, Rodriguez-Baz cites the instance of Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.). In 2018 Scott, still serving as governor of Florida, did not have to resign to run for the US Senate.

“Anti-DeSantis partisans, with their short memories, are so desperate to undermine the man poised to win the White House in 2024 (see: every poll) that they will resort to shoddy lawyering,” complained Rodriguez-Baz. “Unsurprisingly, those accusing DeSantis of attempting to change the law in his favor, are the very ones re-writing clear legislative directives in order to mislead the public.”

The bottom line, according to Rodriguez-Baz: “…The reality is this: DeSantis can run in 2024 (without resigning),” and her organization was working to convince him to do so (as though he needed that push).

Arguments and precedents

Whether Rodriguez-Baz’s argument is correct is something that may be determined in court if DeSantis simply declares his candidacy while governor.

The law has been challenged before: in 1970 a US District Court in northern Florida ruled that it didn’t apply to candidates for the US Congress, since federal congressional qualifications are governed by the Constitution.

In the Florida legislature, the most prominent advocate for changing the law is State Senate President Sen. Kathleen Passidomo (R-28-Naples). “If an individual who is Florida governor is running for president, I think he should be allowed to do it,” she told reporters on Nov. 22, 2022 after the election. “I really do. That’s a big honor and a privilege, so it is a good idea.”

State Sen. Kathleen Passidomo says a law change is “a good idea.” (Image: The Florida Channel)

Unsurprisingly, at least one Democrat disagrees. In November, State Rep. Anna Eskamani (D-47-Orlando) argued that if the law is in effect, DeSantis must be held to it.

During a November 23 interview with Dave Elias, the NBC 2 News political reporter in Fort Myers, Eskamani called the notion of changing the law “another example of how Florida Republicans will bend over backwards to please Governor DeSantis.”

She continued: “If we’re going to hold ourselves to standards that we must resign in order to run, that standard must be held to Governor DeSantis as well.”

State Rep. Anna Eskamani is interviewed by Dave Elias. (Image: NBC2)

Someone who has a lot of experience with the resign-to-run law is Charlie Crist. While Republican governor in 2008, he was considered for then-Sen. John McCain’s running mate. The legislature changed the law to allow him to do that but then changed it back again in 2018.

The 2008 change included a “carve out” that allowed an official whose term of office was about to end to seek another position and that allowed then-Gov. Rick Scott to run for the US Senate. He was allowed to stay in the governor’s office until the day his successor, DeSantis, was inaugurated.

In 2022, though, Crist, then a Democrat, resigned from the US House of Representatives to run for governor. Also resigning was Democratic Agriculture Commissioner Nicole “Nikki” Fried who sought the gubernatorial nomination but lost to Crist in the primary.

Analysis: Hanging over his head

Florida’s R2R law, could prove a stumbling block if not addressed by DeSantis.

Even if, technically, DeSantis can ignore it, as Rodriguez-Baz argues, it will haunt him when he formally declares his candidacy. If not clarified, it will always hang over his head, threatening the legitimacy of his candidacy, even if it ultimately proves little more than a distraction.

If he were the sole candidate running for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, that would not matter. But, of course, that’s not the case. Even if DeSantis isn’t yet formally running, other candidates are already in the race.

Chief among these is former President Donald Trump, whose anti-DeSantis campaign to date has mainly consisted of schoolyard insults: “Ron DeSanctimonious,” “GLOBALIST RINO” (capitalization, of course, his) and the not-yet formally unveiled “Meatball Ron.”

Trump was supposedly also considering “Shutdown Ron,” in reference to COVID. “No, you dummy!” protested comedian Stephen Colbert. “Quit while you’re ahead! You’re never going to do better than the crystallized genius that is Meatball Ron!”

Then, on Feb. 14, Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor, declared her candidacy. She and Trump are likely only the first stones in what is sure to be an avalanche of Republican hopefuls and if DeSantis’ legal status isn’t clarified, all will be citing R2R to disqualify him.

There is always the possibility that DeSantis will suddenly be incapacitated or will choose not to run—but while nothing is totally impossible, those odds are extremely low given every move and decision he has made to date.

One way or another, DeSantis’ status as a governor-candidate will need to be determined finally and decisively. It can be done by a formal gubernatorial announcement, it can be done in court, or it can be done in the legislature. But even in Florida, where the concept of law itself is squishy, where constitutional amendments are routinely evaded and where even drivers ignore traffic rules, the law must ultimately be addressed.

Liberty lives in light

© 2023 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Fake history? Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Rep. Byron Donalds, and the war on wokeness in Florida

The cover illustration for the first edition of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Feb. 1, 2023 by David Silverberg

When my son was in middle school in Virginia he was assigned to read the book Uncle Tom’s Cabin or Life Among the Lowly by Harriet Beecher Stowe.

I had never read the book. I knew of “Uncle Tom” as a derogatory insult but not the novel behind the epithet.

It was in our house. So I read it.

Now I know: Uncle Tom’s Cabin is the most powerful work of American fiction ever written.

It is searing, it is enlightening, it is deeply disturbing and even 170 years after it was published it is as controversial as it was on June 5, 1851, the day its first chapter appeared as a serial in the abolitionist newspaper The National Era.

Just how controversial it is could be seen on Jan. 19 of this year, when a copy arrived in the office of Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.).

Donalds was outraged. He took it as an insult and a challenge.

“Whoever sent this book did so w/ hate in their heart & the desire to depict me as a sellout,” he raged in a tweet.

Four days later he elaborated in a mass e-mail: “When my colleagues nominated me to be Speaker of the House earlier this month, the radical Left and the Fake New [sic] Media put a target on my back. They’ve already called me a white supremacist, a diversity statement, and a prop. Now, someone just mailed a copy of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s renowned book Uncle Tom’s Cabin to my congressional office. The hateful individual who sent it was trying to depict me as a sellout because I’m a black conservative who REFUSES to tow the Democrat party line.”

Then Donalds immediately sought to exploit the incident for fundraising purposes: “Let’s show them that their racist attack BACKFIRED with a surge of grassroots contributions to support my fight against the destructive far-Left agenda. Please make a contribution to help me defend myself from the Left’s racist attacks and fight back against the ruinous Biden-Harris agenda in the new Congress.”

(For the record and under oath: That copy was NOT sent by this author or The Paradise Progressive.)

Beyond its aspects as an insult, Uncle Tom’s Cabin raises a serious question for Florida given Gov. Ron DeSantis’ anti-woke crusade as well as state legislative efforts to craft a version of American history that doesn’t disturb or offend anyone—and Donalds’ own crusade against the teaching of critical race theory.

The question is: Can a 170-year old novel that is arguably an important part of American history even be taught in Florida schools now?


When President Abraham Lincoln met author Harriett Beecher Stowe in 1862 he’s reported to have said, “So this is the little lady who started this great war.”

While Stowe didn’t actually start the war (after all, she didn’t fire the first shot at Fort Sumter), the impact of her novel was indisputable.

Given the size of the audience at the time, Uncle Tom’s Cabin may have been the best-selling book in American history. By the end of the nineteenth century it was second in sales only to the Bible.

Its impact at the time of its publication was explosive. It put the issue of slavery on the front burner of American politics and discussion. It brought home to Americans slavery’s cruelty and inhumanity. It boosted abolitionism and discredited the pro-slavery intellectual arguments.  It did this from its opening scene in which a young black child is about to be sold away from his mother so his master can pay off a debt.

The novel’s power comes from its vivid depiction of the impact of slavery on individuals and their responses to it. It portrayed slavery’s cruel twisting of the most fundamental human relationships, between parents and children, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, not just among blacks but among whites as well.

In a moving, compelling way, it revealed slaves as human beings with emotions and characters, with whom readers could identify. But its greater point was that slaves were Christians with Christian souls and were facing persecution for it.

Central to doing this is the character of Uncle Tom, an older slave who embodies fundamental Christian values of love, piety, forbearance, patience, self-sacrifice and humility—as well as conscience, empathy and ultimately, deep principle. It’s his commitment to Christian principles and faith that leads to his death at the hands of a brutal master, Simon Legree, a transplanted Yankee whose worst instincts are sharpened and encouraged by his embrace of slavery.

After serialization, the story was published as a book on March 20, 1852. It was an instant bestseller, so much so that the publisher had difficulty running the presses to keep up with demand. In the South it caused outrage and was denounced as false, or as it might be put contemporarily, “fake news.” One bookseller was hounded out of town for selling it and the book was banned in southern communities, the first such ban in the United States.

Long-suffering Uncle Tom was a controversial character from the time the work was published. Even at the outset he was criticized for his submissiveness and forbearance. In the 1960s as the civil rights movement gained momentum and sought to mobilize blacks to actively assert their rights, “Uncle Tom” became an epithet, shorthand for inactivism, indifference and passivity.


Uncle Tom’s Cabin can be said to have been the first “woke” novel—and “woke” in the literal sense that it woke Americans up to the nature of slavery.

Of course, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has declared Florida “the place where woke goes to die” and he is doing his best to kill whatever he considers to be “woke.”

On April 22, 2022  DeSantis signed House Bill 7, the Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees (WOKE) Act.

Promoted and pushed by DeSantis, the Stop WOKE Act, among other things, prohibits advocacy of any kind of discrimination in teaching. But it also prohibits teaching in which “An individual, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin, bears personal responsibility for and must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress because of actions, in which the individual played no part, committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex, or national origin.”

Part of the anti-woke effort, and the Anti-WOKE Act, is an attempt to banish the teaching of critical race theory (CRT). This is an academic theory that racial discrimination has pervasively shaped legal and social institutions. Largely confined to academia, CRT became a favored target of conservatives in the aftermath of the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests.

Locally, Donalds has been an outspoken critic of CRT, denouncing it in the media and targeting the Collier County school system, warning educators at a press conference on Aug. 3, 2021 that they were being watched for any signs of it in classrooms.

Donalds’ fullest attack on critical race theory was expressed in a July 5, 2021 op-ed titled “Divisive critical race theory spits on the Civil Rights Movement” that appeared in the conservative Washington Times newspaper.

“Those proposing this wicked curriculum would like to live in an America where every American is judged based on the color of their skin and not the content of their character, which, if I remember my history correctly, is the complete opposite of the teachings of Dr. King and decades of civil rights progress and commitment to creating a more perfect union,” he wrote. “Today, radical leftists are upending this longstanding American virtue to push this un-American and divisive agenda.”

He also cosponsored a bill in the last Congress, House Resolution 397, which declared CRT prejudicial. The bill never advanced past the introductory stage.

The Anti-WOKE Act has been blocked in court. On Nov. 10, 2022, Chief US District Judge Mark Walker halted its implementation in a 138-page opinion that denounced it for supposedly allowing academic freedom—but only for opinions of which the state government approved. “This is positively dystopian,” he wrote. The state is appealing the ruling.

On Jan. 18, the presidents of Florida’s college system issued a statement rejecting “the progressivist higher education indoctrination agenda,” and committing to “removing all woke positions and ideologies by February 1, 2023”—the beginning of Black History Month, according to the Florida Department of Education.

DeSantis and the state Department of Education took another step toward imposing their view of history when on Jan. 22 they disapproved of an advanced placement course in black history for Florida students.

“We wanted to give a comprehensive view of the culture, literature, historical development, political movements, social movements,” Christopher Tinson, the chair of the African American Studies department at Saint Louis University, who helped formulate the course, told National Public Radio.

DeSantis denounced the course and defended Florida’s decision to ban it. “We believe in teaching kids facts and how to think, but we don’t believe they should have an agenda imposed on them,” he said in a press conference on Jan. 23. He denounced the course for allegedly attempting to “indoctrinate” students and pursue a political agenda.

A place for Uncle Tom?

Between the Anti-WOKE Act and the effort to stamp out CRT, can Uncle Tom’s Cabin be taught in Florida schools? Can it even be mentioned in the state as part of American history?

After all, there is no book that is more likely to induce “guilt, anguish or other forms of psychological distress” than Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Indeed, that was what Harriet Beecher Stowe set out to do.

This particular topic hasn’t been high on anyone’s agenda to date, so there hasn’t been any real debate so far.

But how Uncle Tom’s Cabin is taught in Florida, or if it can even be mentioned, is an interesting litmus test of the state-imposed view of history. How far will DeSantis and his allies go to impose their own indoctrination on the state and its teachers and students? Will they even allow teaching the Civil War at all? That event made many people uncomfortable.

The fight in Florida is a complex one that involves principles of academic freedom and the propriety of legislating culture. It is also a question of whether the state will teach history that accords with facts or a version that might be called “fake history,” supporting a politician’s presidential ambitions and the prejudices of his followers. In all of this, producing students who can be considered educated and prepared for the world seems a secondary consideration.

In another great novel, 1984, the Party had as one of its central tenets: “He who controls the past controls the future: he who controls the present controls the past.”

As this year’s Black History Month dawns, the educational battle in Florida is over who will control the past and future. And Uncle Tom’s Cabin speaks to the core of that debate every bit as much today as it did 170 years ago.

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!