Ron DeSantis is not a “mini-Trump” or some other diminutive. He is much more dangerous. Donald Trump has no “ideology” beyond megalomania and a deep desire to be an American god king. By comparison, DeSantis is far more intelligent and devious; he is an ideological fascist and racial authoritarian.
In a recent essay at Raw Story, Thom Hartmann summarized the danger to American democracy and society embodied by DeSantis:
Historians and political observers have been predicting that America would get our very own Mussolini ever since the days of Barry Goldwater. And there’s been no shortage of candidates: bribe-taking Nixon; Central American fascist-loving Reagan; Gitmo torturing and war-lying Bush; and, of course, Trump.
But with Ron DeSantis, we may finally be facing an all-American politician who has Mussolini’s guile, ruthlessness, and willingness to see people die to advance his political career, all while being smart and educated enough to avoid the easily satirized buffoonishness of Trump.
DeSantis and other Republican fascists have proclaimed Florida to be a bastion of “freedom” and “liberty.” In reality, Florida is now a laboratory for fascism. As part of his authoritarian project, DeSantis is enforcing thought crime laws that forbid the teaching of AP African-American studies in high school and other courses and programs across Florida’s school system (including at the college and university level) that examine questions of power, race and systemic inequality. DeSantis and his agents recently declared that the AP African-American studies course was inappropriate and will not be taught in Florida’s schools because it has “no educational value” and is “indoctrinating” (white) young people. DeSantis and his regime’s thought crime attacks on African-American studies are Orwell’s “1984” meets “Birth of a Nation.”
Racism and white supremacy are a choice.
The purpose of DeSantis’ thought crime laws is to intimidate and terrorize all teachers, educators, librarians, and others who are committed to education, critical thinking, and the truth in Florida (and beyond). In DeSantis’ Florida — and soon to be across “red state” America if he and the other fascist Republicans get their way — there will be censors who review books and other material for thought crimes and other “dangerous” ideas that are contrary to the interests of conservatives. These censors and party officials and their designated agents will also rewrite history – and reality itself – to fit the demands of the regime. The public will no longer be able to discern truth from lies and fantasies from facts and fiction. The subversion and destruction of reality, facts, and the truth are a precondition for, and one of the primary ways that fascist and other authoritarian regimes obtain and keep power.
DeSantis’ goal is to make America into a new Jim Crow Christofascist plutocracy. Donald Trump and Trumpism were just intermediate stops on that evil journey.
This is the power of censorship: people quickly learn to police their own behavior and that of their family, friends, neighbors, and yes, strangers. The public’s intellectual, creative, ethical, and moral lives quickly become impoverished. The result is the ideal fascist authoritarian subject: a compliant person who does not resist.
Here is a partial list of the dozens of scholars, authors, and other public thinkers whose work has now been declared “illegal” and a “thought crime” by DeSantis and his agents and subsequently marked for removal from the AP African-American Studies course:
Nell Irvin Painter
Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
These are not just names on a banned books list. These are real human beings who are committed to helping the public and their students be engaged and responsible members of a larger community and to develop critical thinking skills that they can use to challenge and interrogate Power with the goal of making a better, more just, and truly democratic society.
DeSantis and his regime’s thought crime attacks on African-American studies are Orwell’s “1984” meets “Birth of a Nation.”
I personally have interviewed, been in dialogue with, enjoyed the company of, had meals with, or otherwise interacted with a good many of these “banned” authors and scholars. I and many others have greatly benefitted from their scholarship, wisdom, time, and concern.
Why are DeSantis and his agents (in Florida and across the country) targeting African-American studies and other such programs?
There are many reasons.
The Black Freedom Struggle is one of the most successful pro-democracy resistance movements in American (and world) history. DeSantis and the other Republican-fascists and their forces do not want these lessons to be known, learned, or otherwise disseminated. DeSantis is working to create a type of “regime of knowledge” where Black, brown and other marginalized people’s triumphs and experiences are outright erased and/or grossly distorted as a way of literally removing their personhood and existence. History has repeatedly shown that “thought crimes,” banned books and other forms of intellectual violence are precursors to and do the work of interpersonal and intergroup violence on a large scale by the State, and those empowered to act in its name, against those deemed to be “the enemy.”
In all, Power intersects with and is an extension of knowledge production. And knowledge is not “neutral.” Philosopher Michel Foucault explained as much. “There is no power relation without the correlative constitution of a field of knowledge, nor any knowledge that does not presuppose and constitute at the same time power relations.” Foucault also explained that “Truth is linked in a circular relation with systems of power which produce and sustain it.”
DeSantis attended Yale for his undergraduate degree. In all likelihood, he encountered the work of Foucault during his studies there. Now DeSantis is putting Foucault’s powerful insights to work in ways contrary to their original intent.
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In a recent interview at The New Yorker, contributing writer Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor spoke with historian Robin D.G. Kelley about DeSantis’ thought crimes regime and the targeting of African-American studies. Both Professor Taylor’s and Professor Kelley’s work was purged from the Advanced Placement African-American studies course. Kelley’s comments merit being quoted at length:
There’s two levels. One is that it’s about Ron DeSantis possibly running for President. I think that’s the most important thing, because, no matter what we think about DeSantis and his policies, we know he went to Yale University, and majored in history and political science with a 3.7 G.P.A., which means that he was at one of the premier institutions for history. That’s why I get frustrated when people say he needs to take a class. He took the class. He knows better. He knows that the culture wars actually win votes. He’s trying to get the Trump constituency.
So I think this is about Ron DeSantis wanting to run for President. But I also think that the focus on Florida occludes a bigger story. As you know, this goes back to the Trump years—well before Trump, but let’s just talk about the Trump years—the attack on the 1619 Project, Chris Rufo’s strategy of turning critical race theory into an epithet by denying it any meaning whatsoever. And creating a buzzword. That’s actually a strategy that has nothing to do with the field of African American studies; it has everything to do with vilifying a field—attacking the whole concept of racial justice and equity. So, to me, if DeSantis never banned the class, we would still be in this situation. And although it is true that a number of states did accept the pilot program for the A.P. class, some of those same states have passed, or are about to pass, laws that are banning or limiting what they’re calling critical race theory. So there is a general assault on knowledge, but specifically knowledge that interrogates issues of race, sex, gender, and even class.
It’s an ongoing struggle to roll back anything that’s perceived as diminishing white power. They want to convince white working people—the same white working people who have very little access to good health care and housing, whose lives are actually really precarious, as they move from union jobs to part-time, concierge labor to make ends meet—that somehow, if they can get control of the narrative inside classrooms, their lives would be better. Racism actually damages all of our prospects and futures.
I don’t think it’s an accident that the people who are targeted are you, Angela Davis, myself, bell hooks. To say that we’re not radical would be a lie. What does radical actually mean? What it means, what Black studies is about, is trying to understand how the system works and recognizing that the way the system works now benefits a few at the expense of the many. It’s easy to allow someone to come in, in the name of Black studies, and say, “We’re going to talk about ancient Africa, and the great achievements of the Kush of ancient Egypt.” That’s not a threat—not as much as the idea of critical race theory saying that, no matter what policies and procedures and legislation are implemented, the structure of racism, embedded in a capitalist system, embedded in a system of patriarchy, continues to create wealth for some and make the rest of our lives precarious. Precarious in terms of money, precarious in terms of police violence, precarious in terms of environmental catastrophe, precarious in many, many ways. And I think people could agree with me that that’s why we do this scholarship: because we’re trying to figure out a way to make a better future. You know, that’s the whole point. And if that’s subversive, then say it, but it’s definitely not indoctrination, because indoctrination is a state that bans books…..
[T]he subject of African American studies, even before it was called that, has been not just the condition of Black people but the condition of the country. And not just narrating that oppression and understanding it, and not just trying to think about ways to move beyond it—to transcend it, to come up with strategies to try to live—but also understanding what’s wrong with this country, with the system.
We’re not just interrogating our lives, we’re interrogating knowledge production itself.
Dangerous thinking is a good thing and those with power want to socialize us into learned helplessness so that we will not see (and achieve) the radical possibilities of a true social democracy.
Years ago, when I was in high school and then college, I was lucky enough to have very generous teachers who took me on trips to conferences and other events at leading universities and institutions such as the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. In fact, I was very lucky to have attended several conferences where Yosef Ben-Jochannan (“Dr. Ben”), who was one of the founders of African Studies, was the featured speaker. Those years that saw the Million Man March(es), debates about the merits of multiculturalism, diversity and “affirmative action” at America’s colleges and universities, boiling ethnic, racial and class tensions in Los Angeles and New York’s Crown Heights and Howard Beach neighborhoods (among others), the golden age of Hip Hop Music and Culture, and so many other political and cultural formations and events. It would be an understatement to say that those years were quite an exhilarating time to be a young black politically engaged person in America.
In so many ways, I am very much a product of that time period.
I learned that I have no taste for racial chauvinism; such beliefs are the mind killer. I also came to the conclusion that American and Western society is profoundly sick with white supremacy and racism. Those forces will likely bring the ultimate destruction of American society and its so-called democracy.
A more humane and good society are possible if we want it badly enough on both sides of the color line. Racism and white supremacy are a choice. America is structured around such forces and too many white Americans and others are deeply invested in such an arrangement of things — even if it causes them great harm. DeSantis and the larger white right are using thought crimes and other tools of censorship and intimidation as weapons to limit how we conceptualize freedom, democracy, justice, and the boundaries of the possible. DeSantis and those of his ilk wouldn’t be trying to ban books and authors (and by implication whole groups of people) if they were not deeply afraid of them – and the possibilities of achieving a more democratic and free and humane society.
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