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Week of March 19, 2023

The Simpsons called it, again
Week of March 19, 2023
The Simpsons predicted Donald Trump’s presidency and a controversy in schools over an art masterpiece, years ago. Here they indicate how happy they were to have predicted Donald Trump’s presidency in 2016.

The Simpsons Called It, Again

Stories are starting to circulate that Florida governor Ron DeSantis may have flamed out or peaked too early. I want to state for the record, I hope this is true. However, I think it is flawed thinking for several reasons. While the White House is, in the end, a zero sum game, meaning, there is only one true winner, a year and a half before that election is way too early to call anyone finished if they haven’t conceded. DeSantis could crater today and still win the nomination handily in August of 2024 (for many reasons, not the least of which being Trump may not even be on the ballot in the primaries due to death or legal peril). But even that is missing the larger picture in a dangerous way. In 2008 and 2012 Florida voted for the Democratic nominee for President, Barak Obama. By 2022 the Democratic Party refused to properly support any Democrat candidate for fear that Florida was already lost.

What happened? First, Democrats are in fact in disarray in Florida where the party politics are incredibly complex and pulled on by forces outside the fifty states in perfectly legal and healthy ways, but ways that often are missed by people living in the lower 48 (Puerto Rico, a US territory where the citizens are US Citizens has a party system that does not cleanly map onto mainland politics, for example). I could go into more about the Democrat failings in Florida, but it gets pretty ugly and I am not  dissecting the Democrats at this point.

However, the more important factor in why Florida went from voting for Barack Obama twice to voting for DeSantis by nearly 20 points is crucial to understanding how imperiled democracy is, both in Florida and the nation. DeSantis, who was first elected in 2018 in a highly contested election by just over 30,000 votes (less than half a point, triggering an automatic recount), won in 2022 by a nearly 20 point margin by destroying democracy in Florida, following a road map executed by Hugo Chavez, an autocrat who showed, according to experts published in The Brookings Institute’s Dragon in the Tropics, that with enough rich industry barons at your back you can destroy a democracy and create a “competitive autocracy” in a matter of a few years. This is important and too often missed by the media. Venezuela pulls on Florida perhaps more than any other part of the United States. Miami is the banking capital of the Americas, not New York or London, therefore a lot of the money that influences Florida politics comes from places too many reporters and analysts simply aren’t trained to look at (to all of our loss). Other autocrats have used related paths to destroying democracy and it is without question that DeSantis is looking to Viktor Orbán and Vladimir Putin for inspiration. Then there is DeSantis’s own training and experiences in bucking and perhaps dismantling democratic norms at Guantanamo, Cuba and and Fallujah, Iraq, which is finally getting some of the attention it deserves.  Florida does NOT have free and fair elections.

The lack of free and fair elections in Florida and the path that DeSantis has taken to turn Florida into a competitive autocracy shows a clear and easy to follow blueprint for other would-be autocrats at the state level and, yes, at the national level. Dismissing DeSantis as a flame out—even if he does flame out and it is way too early to make such a declaration—ignores the fact that he has successfully destroyed a democracy that in terms of population and economy is one of the largest in the entire world. At the end of the day does it matter if DeSantis is the dictator in the White House or some other autocrat is? Democracy dies either way.

Florida’s legislative sessions are short and there is a lot of news this week to support the notion that democracy has perished in Florida. Take for example the law proposed this week in Florida that would ban the public from knowing the travel records of any elected officials, especially the governor. The law would be applied retroactively. So, while Ron DeSantis is gearing up for his presidential run—something that’s technically illegal in Florida without first resigning your existing post (there’s a bill under consideration to change that!)—Floridians may never know where he or his allies go to fundraise outside public events.

In another example of democracy dying in Florida, when the so-called “Don’t Say Gay,” law was passed last year Floridians were promised that it only applied to early elementary students, with DeSantis accusing critics claiming it would be applied to all students of lying and being “woke.” DeSantis expanded the law this week to include all students through high school. Meanwhile, the author of the original Don’t Say Gay law, Joe Harding, plead guilty this week to wire fraud, money laundering and lying on loans he got for COVID-19 relief and is facing a prison term of up to 20 years. A controversial law or ruling can be upended by malfeasance by the author of the bill or the ruling—in Florida today, it is ignored while the crusade to take rights away proceeds.

Unless of course you are an insurance company. Florida has some of the most expensive and least effective insurance premiums in the country and yet this week the Florida state legislature sent a bill to DeSantis that Democrats and even some Republicans are calling anti-democratic as it makes it harder to sue insurance companies. Sen. Lori Berman a Boynton Beach Democrat called it, “a gift from our governor to big businesses at the expense of our citizens and small businesses.” Republican Senator Erin Grall (Fort Pierce) told reporters “There are 22 million Floridians who will now be exposed to higher risk, less safety and fewer options to hold wrongdoers accountable. Our constitution says liberty and justice for all not the few — all. And this bill is not justice for all.”

With the war on woke, a term few Republicans can define but appears to be a catchall for things they don’t like (one person who wrote a book on the dangers of woke, couldn’t define it when asked in an interview promoting the book), progressing well in the schools, DeSantis’ allies continued their attacks on drag shows, despite a report dropping this week that showed an undercover sting operation against a drag show targeted by the governor, turned up no evidence of any crime or even lewd behavior.

And a week review of Florida politics wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging that Michelangelo’s famous statue, David, got a principal fired this week, after an image of the statue was shown in an art class (the school board’s president disputes the firing was over the statue, though he acknowledges it played a role) . Fittingly, this was predicted, along with Donald Trump winning the US Presidency, by The Simpsons years ago.