If you tune in to the news or social media, you would think there is a war for the essence of America — that its foundations are under attack. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has been harvesting this divisiveness for a potential 2024 presidential run.
To ensure a successful run, he has been racking up partisanship as much as he can in the state. A polarized base is a loyal base because it views the opposition as the enemy.
DeSantis is a favored contender for 2024 and the valedictorian of the Trump-style school of politics, which consists of sparking a controversy, watching the fire erupt and ruling over the ashes.
One GOP “bogeyman” that has been put under the microscope is Critical Race Theory. In June 2021, the Florida Board of Education, per DeSantis’s urging, adopted rules banning the teaching of CRT in public schools.
DeSantis claims CRT is “really toxic” and causes “a lot of divisions.” DeSantis proudly holds this ban up as stopping hate. In a tweet, DeSantis said CRT teaches students to “hate our country” and that it is “state-sanctioned racism.”
According to his definition, DeSantis does not understand CRT at all. CRT, as described by academics and journalists, is merely an approach to studying history: it teaches a way to think, not what to think.
It states that you cannot understand history without realizing that racism is systemic to our institutions, which are structured to maintain white dominance. What CRT teaches students is that racism has been ever-present; promoting state-sanctioned racism would be counterintuitive to the structure it seeks to break down.
In DeSantis’s mind, systemic racism is not real. The GOP manipulates the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to create a facade of progressiveness, implying that his work ended racism forever or that CRT is against his teachings.
It seems DeSantis hopes to harvest the overt racism of some of the former president’s supporters. Some of those who are not overtly racist still benefit from racist policies and do not want a critical deconstruction or analysis of that which benefits them.
Republicans like DeSantis love to talk about free speech; he lambasted social media platforms for “censoring” the former president, signing legislation to block the “censorship” of politicians on social media. If censoring controversial politicians is so unacceptable, what is better about censoring a legitimate academic theory?
A final note to mention is that few to no public educators specifically teach CRT in the first place. While they may not explicitly mention CRT, just by teaching history they teach how consistent racism is. In essence, one cannot study history without seeing racism across it. No one, including DeSantis’s anti-CRT legislation, can escape the fact the U.S. has racism deeply embedded in its history.
Despite that, DeSantis has chosen to censor academic approaches that might cause people to question our country. If someone questions the country, what comes next? They question what other misinformation they believed.
If they do that, DeSantis might have to step down as a general of the culture war and address real concerns.
DeSantis, and those sharing his approach to politics, must have an easily demonized enemy or a scapegoat to distract their base from real concerns. When his base thinks there is a culture war to be waged, they ignore rising COVID-19 cases spurned by government inaction.
Some GOP voters ignore the fact that many of these policies they hate benefit them. ObamaCare was an uphill fight, but now it is hardly spoken of. Many common folk who hated it benefited from it. However, once the public accepts something, there must be a new scapegoat.
An especially interesting approach is that DeSantis and his ilk find increasingly abstract or obscure concepts to demonize. Many do not understand it, including the politicians. The more non-corporeal the enemy, the easier to attack it and the easier to rack up the polarization.
The attack on CRT shows something dangerous: facts themselves are the enemy.
Former President Ronald Reagan campaigned against “welfare queens.” Former President George Bush, Sr. had Willie Horton and the fear of crime rising to campaign on. Trump launched his campaign with birtherism against former President Barack Obama in 2016.
These winning campaign strategies of either subtle or more overt racism allowed all of these men to ascend to the presidency. If enough people believe CRT is their enemy, then DeSantis might have a new home: the White House.
Check out other recent articles from Florida Political Review here.