By Diane Roberts
And just like that, it’s 1861.
Gov. Ron DeSantis likes to call this the “Free State of Florida.” If he hasn’t yet wrapped himself in the Tenth Amendment or threatened secession, it’s only because he’s been too busy playing soldiers, organizing his private battalion, rewriting the past, and trying to destroy democracy.
Give him time. You have to lay some groundwork if you want to be the next Jefferson Davis.
Step one: that little militia. Yes, other states also have them. Other states, however, do not have a governor who acts like Victor Orban with a bad case of acid reflux.
DeSantis announced his new Praetorians flanked by sofa-sized gents in camo in front of a sign that read “Let Us Alone.”
(Note: that “Let Us Alone” thing does not apply to the $9 billion from the feds now plumping up Florida’s budget).
The governor probably likes the historical precedent of gubernatorial troopers. Three days before Florida officially left the Union, and three months before Fort Sumter kicked off the party in earnest, a local militia took St. Augustine’s Castillo de San Marcos from the feds.
Those boys answered to Gov. Madison Perry, not Washington, and certainly not that dangerous radical Abraham Lincoln who’d been elected in 1860.
Wonder what the Brigata DeSantis uniform will look like? Brown shirts? Helmets with kevlar Mickey Mouse ears?
Maybe the Brigata DeSantis will help enforce the governor’s determination to silence public school teachers who might sully the ears of precious white children with the dreaded Critical Race Theory.
Not that DeSantis would recognize Critical Race Theory if it knocked him upside the head.
Not that any public K-12 school in Florida teaches Critical Race Theory: It’s law school-level stuff, a means of exploring how race has shaped our legal, governmental, and social systems beginning with enslaving Africans and continuing through Jim Crow, criminal justice, school funding, redlining, and a whole slew of other demonstrably discriminatory practices feeding white supremacy throughout American history.
But why let reality get in the way of demagoguery? DeSantis’ gauchely named new Fox-bait proposal, Stop WOKE (“Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees”) Act, will allow parents to sue schools if “pernicious ideologies” show up in the classroom.
He seems to think that examining the reality of historical racism will “scapegoat someone based on their race” and make people see themselves as “inherently racist, to say that they are an oppressor, or oppressed, or any of that, and that’s good and that’s important.”
His point, if you can pick though the word salad, is that you can’t go hurting white people’s feelings talking about racism, never mind that people of color experience racism every day.
DeSantis must long for those good old antebellum days when Southern states banned expressing disapproval of slavery and made disseminating abolitionist literature a felony.
White folks knew how to run a white folks’ country back then: A piece in the Richmond Enquirer from 1856 exhorts schools to make sure children learn that slavery “is the common, natural, rightful, and normal state of society.”
DeSantis’ updated version insists children learn that America is an exceptional nation founded on “universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence” — “universal principles” that included slavery.
According to this spurious understanding of history, only individuals can be racist, not systems, not institutions.
The white men who have run the country since 1619 learned one really important thing during Reconstruction: Certain people have no business voting. They don’t do it right.
To that end, the governor’s new elections-crime office will help curb excessive democracy.
The plan is to hire 45 investigators to look into all those elections infractions that are not actually happening, unless you count the Republican woman in Lake County who falsified voter registration forms changing party affiliations from Democrats to Republicans, or those three Trumpers in the Villages who voted twice.
And how about those Republican-funded “ghost candidates” who stole elections from Democratic candidates?
But that’s not what DeSantis means by election crimes; he means “ballot harvesting,” taking your grandmama’s ballot along with the ballots of several of her friends and depositing them at the supervisor’s office.
He’d like the Legislature to make that a felony. He’s already signed the law that restricts the use of drop boxes and absentee voting.
We breathlessly await literacy tests and poll taxes.
Here, in the “Free State of Florida,” DeSantis is happy to take federal money while preaching distrust of the federal government, rather like the way South Carolina’s Sen. John C. Calhoun declared that states could ignore any federal law they deemed “unconstitutional” in 1832.
No doubt the Great Nullifier would agree that 62,000 Florida dead of COVID is a small price to pay for DeSantis’s heroic defiance of Washington on vaccines and masking.
DeSantis seems to think Florida should only tangentially belong to the United States.
The “Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union” says a state can choose to be “separate and independent” with “full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent States may of right do.”
That was Dec. 20, 1860. We all know what happened next.
Diane Roberts is an 8th-generation Floridian, born and bred in Tallahassee. Educated at Florida State University and Oxford University in England, she has been writing for newspapers since 1983, when she began producing columns on the legislature for the Florida Flambeau. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Times of London, the Guardian, the Washington Post, the Oxford American, and Flamingo. She has been a member of the Editorial Board of the St. Petersburg Times–back when that was the Tampa Bay Times’s name–and a long-time columnist for the paper in both its iterations. She was a commentator on NPR for 22 years and continues to contribute radio essays and opinion pieces to the BBC. Roberts is also the author of four books.