Ron DeSantis Will Protect Our Precious Bodily Fluids
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Broadly speaking, the rise of Donald Trump split the Republican Party elite (meaning its intellectuals as well as its officeholders) into three groups. The left wing, represented politically by figures like Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger and intellectually by organs like The Bulwark, treated him as a threat to democracy and therefore unsupportable. The right-wing faction, represented intellectually by Newsmax, OAN, The Federalist, etc. and politically by the likes of Madison Cawthorn and J. D. Vance, enthusiastically supported Trump and have fought to cement his control of the party. The party’s middle faction has expressed discomfort with Trump’s style — and openly wishes to ease him out — but has supported him over the Democratic Party. That faction is represented intellectually by organs like the Murdoch media empire and politically by actors like Mitch McConnell, Kevin McCarthy, and the bulk of the elected party.
I’ve been focused on Ron DeSantis because I believe he represents the party’s future, which involves unifying its right and center wings while discarding the left. The candidate who ultimately leads the party might not be DeSantis himself, but he is the leading figure of the moment, and I believe whoever emerges, if it isn’t him, will copy his approach. DeSantis addresses the fundamental concerns the middle faction has with Trump — namely, his lack of discipline and governing competence. Importantly, the terms of internal rapprochement include continuing the party’s embrace of the far right and growing disdain for democracy.
That last fact has been on bright display in DeSantis’s attack on Disney. After the company came out against his anti-gay law, which DeSantis’s spokespeople have described absurdly as an “anti-grooming” law, DeSantis retaliated by pushing through a law to strip Disney of a self-governing arrangement it has enjoyed since the 1960s.
The episode’s significance lies in the merits of neither the anti-gay law nor Disney’s municipal relations. What matters is DeSantis establishing the principle that the state can credibly threaten to punish private firms for taking adverse public stands.
DeSantis has taken several steps before to threaten democratic norms. He signed into law the first poll tax since Jim Crow. He has never acknowledged that Joe Biden legitimately won the 2020 election. But these anti-democratic measures have already been normalized within the Republican party. DeSantis is now plowing new ground.
Crucially, he demonstrated that he can wield this crude strongman weapon while still enjoying the support of the GOP’s middle faction. Two indicative examples of that support can be seen in columns today by Rich Lowry, editor-in-chief of National Review, and on The Wall Street Journal’seditorial page.
Both columns express enthusiasm for DeSantis using the powers of the state to discipline wayward firms. Both also follow DeSantis’s slippery tactic of pretending his attack on Disney is based on the merits of its self-governing arrangement — a system DeSantis never questioned before Disney opposed his bill and which he has left in place for more than 1,000 other Florida companies — while also glorying in his ability to dangle the benefits as a reward for political compliance.
This requires a comical level of doublethink. Lowry calls Disney’s status “outlandish.” The Journal outsources its position to DeSantis: “‘As a matter of first principle,’ Mr. DeSantis said last month, ‘I don’t support special privileges in law just because a company is powerful.’ Live by the corporate carve-out, die by the corporate carve-out.”
At the same time, they both argue that Disney should be allowed to win back its status if it placates DeSantis on his social agenda. “Ideally, Disney and the Florida legislature work out a renewal of the company’s special district before it is set to expire, and the house of mouse — and other corporations seduced into making themselves de facto left-wing pressure groups — resolves to stick to its core competency and mission,” writes Lowry. Florida “dissolves the Reedy Creek district on June 1, 2023 — time for Disney and Mr. DeSantis to make up,” hints the Journal.
If Disney’s status is an outlandish carve-out that should be abolished on these merits, why do they want it to be restored?
More revealingly, neither Lowry nor the Journal bother to engage on these merits with the question of whether the government has the right to reward or punish companies based on their political orientation. Their reasoning merely extends to the level of insisting Disney’s position was bad and, therefore, deserving of punishment.
Lowry glides past the accusation with sarcasm:
Just like that, tyranny has descended on Florida. The state legislature, with the support of Governor Ron DeSantis, voted to repeal the “special independent district” enjoyed by Disney for half a century.
This is a sign, we are told, of the advent of an American authoritarianism that brooks no dissent — Disney criticizes a measure supported by the Florida GOP, the so-called Don’t Say Gay bill, and immediately gets targeted.
There’s a reason this fight escalated to this point, though. Disney was the aggressor in the battle over the education bill, lied about it, and pledged to work to repeal it.
The sarcasm is meant to mock the idea that DeSantis’s maneuver signifies authoritarianism. Without even addressing it, Lowry transitions immediately to blaming Disney for having the gall to oppose a bill that is actually good.
Of course, authoritarianism is rarely a black-and-white matter. Healthy democracies do not usually turn into North Korea overnight. The demise of democracy is generally a matter of iterative decay — norms and rules deteriorating one by one with a single moment when democracy perishes all at once. Defenders of this democratic backsliding always have the easy option of mocking opponents by pretending the absence of a wholesale fascist coup is absence of grounds for serious concern.
DeSantis is discovering that his party’s appetite for further attacks on democratic norms has only been whetted.
DeSantis’s fight with Disney has overshadowed another culture war he is simultaneously waging. This week, his state’s Department of Education rejected dozens of math textbooks on political grounds.
The New York Times examined some of the offending passages. They consist of “social-emotional learning” — which is basically a way to encourage children to keep at it and find ways to solve math problems rather than giving up in frustration. This is not a political concept.
Nonetheless, Chris Rufo, a Manhattan Institute staffer who has supplied much of the grist for (and relentlessly propagandized on behalf of) Desantis’s crusades, explains to the Times why DeSantis has decided to ban these methods:
In a March interview conducted over email, Mr. Rufo stated that while social-emotional learning sounds “positive and uncontroversial” in theory, “in practice, SEL serves as a delivery mechanism for radical pedagogies such as critical race theory and gender deconstructionism.”
“The intention of SEL,” he continued, “is to soften children at an emotional level, reinterpret their normative behavior as an expression of ‘repression,’ ‘whiteness,’ or ‘internalized racism,’ and then rewire their behavior according to the dictates of left-wing ideology.”
There is literally nothing in these texts dealing with race at all, but Rufo believes they are a “delivery mechanism” designed to “soften” the children’s minds, via mathematics instruction, for indoctrination into a totally unrelated ideology. The fact that these methods appear “positive and uncontroversial” — his words! — is what makes it so nefarious. Ron DeSantis will not allow the international communist conspiracy to sap and impurify our precious bodily fluids.
Branko Marcetic is one of those leftists who hates liberalism so much that he will side with anybody who is against it — even if that somebody is an imperialist dictator obsessed with revanchism. Marcetic’s latest polemic inJacobin questions why the U.S. is arming Ukraine.
Here is Marcetic’s summary of the alleged problem: “Ukrainian troops pick up trucks loaded with weapons mostly in Poland … before driving them across the border, at which point it’s entirely up to Ukrainians how and where they’re given out.”
My God! The Ukrainian government is distributing the weapons! Apparently Marcetic would be more reassured if NATO was on the ground in Ukraine distributing the weapons itself.
Marcetic claims that arming Ukraine’s government will somehow lead to the Ukrainian government being toppled from within:
Ukraine’s ultranationalists have been key drivers of instability within the country over the last decade, toppling one government through violence, attacking marginalized groups and political opponents, and threatening and carrying out anti-government violence across multiple administrations, including Zelensky’s, often to derail peace efforts.
The “toppling” he refers to is the series of peaceful protests that broke out against a Russian puppet regime that was trying to violate its promise to join the European Union and instead make Ukraine a permanent Russian vassal. The rest of the passage is given over to concerns that, somehow, arming Zelenskyy’s government will lead to military threats against it. I suppose anything is possible, but it seems like if you’re concerned about the longevity of a government that is fighting off an imperialist invasion, giving it weapons is a sensible course of action.
Note how, on the one hand, Marcetic objects to NATO letting Zelenskyy’s government decide how to distribute its arms and, on the other, professes to fear that arms will be used against it. Sadly, the hypothetical threat of some future internal coup means the West’s best option is to let Vladimir Putin murder as many Ukrainians as he wants and take their land. But in an anti-imperialist way!
I wrote several columns last year on the “lab-leak hypothesis,” which posits that COVID-19 may have escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan rather than starting through animal-to-human transmission in a wet market.
As you may have noticed, I don’t cover science regularly. What interests me about the topic is that it exposed a strain of liberal groupthink. Public-health authorities and mainstream-media reporters decided in 2020 that the lab-leak hypothesis would have political overtones of hostility to China — which would aid Donald Trump and lead to racism against Asian Americans. (Why blaming COVID on a Chinese bat vendor was less amenable to xenophobia than blaming it on a Chinese government lab they did not explain.) They accordingly overstated the evidence against a lab leak and described it as a racist conspiracy theory.
The hypothesis remains unproven and, given China’s refusal to submit to a transparent investigation, probably always will be. Last summer, the Biden administration released its intelligence assessment — which is inconclusive.
In March, Katherine Eban wrote a lengthy story advancing the case for the lab-leak hypothesis and showing how nonprofit organizations circled the wagons around a spin campaign to deny it.
What’s disturbing is that public-health officials seem not to recognize that this behavior threatens their credibility. Instead, they are either ignoring it or, in some cases, doubling down.
Dr. Angela Rasmussen, an influential virologist who has more than 300,000 Twitter followers, recently labeled the lab-leak hypothesis “disinformation.” Rasmussen is deep in the weeds in this debate. I don’t deny her expertise nor that she has serious reasons to doubt the hypothesis. What I do blame her for is that she is attempting to use her authority to declare the debate completely settled when it plainly isn’t. (If it were, why, for instance, hasn’t the Biden administration updated its assessment?) Instead, by labeling the opposing analysis “disinformation,” Rasmussen is robbing a term of its value.
The pandemic has made people far more skeptical of claims coming from public-health authorities, which often combine political and scientific judgments while advertising themselves as composed entirely of the latter. If they start calling any position they disagree with “disinformation,” they are going to erode whatever power the term has left.
Liberals have correctly bemoaned the loss of trust in institutions, especially on the right. The right’s paranoia may be the main source of that decline, but liberal elites cannot ignore their own responsibility in earning the public’s trust — rather than treating it as an entitlement.
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