Commentary

‘Nothing matters to these Republicans but power — power and malice’

Lawmakers did nothing about high rents, collapsing condos

March 15, 2022 7:00 am

From the 5th floor of the Capitol building, you can see protesters below. They are waiting to discuss HB 1557 in the Senate. The bill has been called, “Don’t Say Gay.” March 7, 2022. Credit: Danielle J. Brown

The cruelty is the point.

Adam Serwer’s 2018 Atlantic essay on Donald Trump describes the first year and a half of his administration as a “whirlwind of cruelty,” a never-ending storm of insults, pettiness, and bullying.

He could have been writing about Ron DeSantis and Florida’s Republican “leadership.”

The 2022 session, an orgy of malice, bad faith, and lies, is finally over. And what did your elected representatives do, you ask?

Nothing to help the thousands of Floridians getting evicted and unable to find affordable housing.

Nothing to address the toxic algae befouling our waters.

Nothing to help the nearly 23,000 people with intellectual or developmental disabilities still on a waiting list to get Medicaid-funded state assistance at home.

Nothing to ensure that we won’t see another collapsing condo like Surfside: The bill to mandate serious inspections and necessary repairs died.

Nothing to move Florida toward sustainable energy sources. In fact, they approved a giveaway to Florida Power & Light — whose lobbyists essentially wrote the bill — by punishing consumers who use solar panels.

This state has a hell of a lot of problems. But the governor and Legislature are only interested in making scared angry white people feel good about being scared angry white people.

They’re betting their voters don’t notice or don’t care about the contempt they have for the environment, the elderly, and the poor, and the special hatred they have for public schools.

Ron DeSantis has just appointed a woman to the state Board of Education who loves the Proud Boys, supports Q-Anon, and calls the Jan. 6 insurrection a “peaceful protest.”

He was hardly going to choose someone rational.

Concerned your kid might learn that despite our admirable Constitution and inspirational Declaration of Independence, the majority of the United States’ founders had no problem with slavery? Worried your college student might come home for summer vacation toting a copy of “The 1619 Project”?

Never fear: The Legislature is cracking down on educators at all levels who dare tell the truth about the genocide of the continent’s indigenous peoples, the brutality of the plantations, the laws restricting the freedom of Asians and Native Americans, the crippling injustices of Jim Crow, and any suggestion that the nation continues to struggle with the inequities of our criminal justice system, our police, and our financial institutions.

According to its Republican sponsors, HB 7 merely stops “indoctrination,” because teachers are sinister subversives who “may be imposing their thoughts on students when they don’t know how a student may interpret the ideas of certain things.”

Those same teachers may be saying “gay” a little too often. Ron DeSantis has taken to railing against “injecting transgenderism” into our youth, something which can evidently be accomplished  merely by acknowledging that Trey has two daddies or Heather has two mommies.

Danny Burgess of Pasco County opined that children ought to be able to hang onto their “innocence” — and their parents’ sclerotic understanding of gender roles — so that “a little girl” can aspire to be a fairy tale princess and “a little boy” can imagine being Captain America.

Someone should tell Sen. Burgess: There’s now a gay Captain America.

Sen. Ileana Garcia of Miami paraded her gobsmacking ignorance insisting, “Gay is not a permanent thing, LGBT is not a permanent thing.”

Dennis Baxley, sponsor of the bill’s Senate companion SB 1834 (which is also approximately the year he last formed a coherent thought) said the quiet part out loud: “Why is everybody now all about coming out when you’re in school?”

He went on to explain that a lot of kids will want to be gay or transgender or some such because “all of a sudden overnight they’re a celebrity.”

Florida Republicans are now happy to say the quiet part out loud, because they no longer care about moderates, the socially tolerant, or people who believe in basic human decency. Those people are not their voters. Their voters applaud the racism, homophobia, and misogyny on full display during the 2022 session.

Women will no longer be allowed to terminate a pregnancy after 15 weeks. No exceptions for rape, incest, or trafficking.

Democratic Sen. Janet Cruz of Tampa said the new law “will absolutely result in women seeking unsafe abortions and dying as a result.”

Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel shrugged off that argument. Grown women be damned; it’s all about “protecting those babies.”

Other babies, now: The ones already born, the ones that come from other countries and maybe have brown skin, they don’t really matter. They might even be a menace to the American Way of Life.

To that end, Florida will now ban state agencies and local governments from doing business with airlines, bus companies, and anyone else transporting “unauthorized aliens” to Florida unless said “unauthorized aliens” are on their way to jail or deportation.

It doesn’t matter that a lot of asylum seeking children come to Florida to stay with relatives. Sen. Stargel clearly doesn’t care about protecting these babies.

It doesn’t matter that the federal government, not Ron DeSantis or the Florida Legislature, sets immigration policy.

It doesn’t matter that there’s no mechanism for determining exactly who is an “unauthorized alien.” What is Florida law enforcement going to do, sit around at the airport or the bus station guessing who’s undocumented? Round up anyone speaking Spanish? Arrest anyone who looks “different”?

Only a few years ago, Republicans tried to hide how much they loathe anyone who’s not like them. Now they’re loud and proud and figure they can suppress and delegitimize enough votes to win this year’s elections.

They’ve made sure it will be harder to vote in the first place, especially if you use a postal ballot.

The governor got his Elections Crimes cops, (though fewer than he originally demanded), who’ll get  millions to combat voter fraud — which pretty much does not exist, unless you unless you count the four Trumpers from The Villages arrested for voting more than once and the South Florida miscreants who changed voters’ registrations from Democrat to Republican.

This absurd law isn’t about election integrity. It’s about clamping down on vote-by-mail and drop boxes — used in record numbers by Democrats in 2020 — and ginning up the “Stop the Steal” Trumper base.

Nothing matters to these Republicans but power — power and malice. They stand for nothing except beating the other side, “owning the libs,” and watching their “enemies” suffer.

As Adam Serwer reminds us, cruelty “makes them feel good, it makes them feel proud, it makes them feel happy, it makes them feel united.”

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Diane Roberts
Diane Roberts

Diane Roberts is an 8th-generation Floridian, born and bred in Tallahassee, which probably explains her unhealthy fascination with Florida politics. 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, most recently Dream State, an historical memoir of her Florida family, and Tribal: College Football and the Secret Heart of America. She lives in Tallahassee, except for the times she runs off to Great Britain, desperate for a different government to satirize.

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