There is an enormously important story about xenophobia and coronavirus unfolding in Florida currently, but as has too often been the case in the Trump era, most national media have once again been so consumed by President Trump’s daily shiny-object-distractions to notice.
While most national media have spent countless hours dissecting each of the president’s attempts to rebrand the cornonavirus (the Chinese Virus narrative) and reporting on the more heroic gubernatorial figures, the story of Florida’s own xenophobic distraction has received precious little attention. While many have noted Trump & his enablers obviously intended to use the racist dog whistle to cause a national distraction for their base, opposition and the press itself to keep attention away from his administration’s systemic public health and management failures, Florida’s governor has been much more successful using an adapted version of the same playbook.
The Chinese Virus narrative is dumb, no doubt, and sickeningly petty given Trump’s otherwise frequent praise for the Chinese dictator. But, as we discussed on the most recent episode of The Florida History Podcast, national xenophobia has often been the reason pandemics such as the 1918 flu have been given racist regional names.
However, what may prove equally or much more dangerous even than the horrific backlash of Trump’s words on Asian Americans is the largely untold story about how Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ policies singling out the Damn Yankees north of the Mason Dixon line as the root of all the Sunshine State’s coronavirus woes have endangered his 21 million constituents. As Floridians have been preparing for life in one of the next outbreak hot spots, Governor DeSantis has offered only old confederacy scapegoats instead of leadership.
Florida’s Harvard educated Governor has attempted to play the ultimate populist echoing the rhetoric of the likes of Sidney Catts and Dempsey Barron by subtly attacking Yankees, people from other states, and city slickers to rally his science denying base and those whose cognitive dissonance is off the charts. In the process, he’s endangering lives in a far more brazen fashion than many accuse the President of doing.
In fact, on COVID-19 when compared to DeSantis, President Trump and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (who unwisely left his country wide open for almost week after the rest of Europe had shutdown even though his nation already had more confirmed cases of COVID-19 than any EU nation save Italy and Spain) look like proactive, progressive problem solvers.
A week ago, I half-heatedly defended DeSantis– I would have locked down the night the President first addressed the nation on this crisis (March 11), but I am a progressive and conceded I didn’t have the level of information available to me that the Governor does.
My defense of DeSantis was that Florida’s economy being less diverse than that of New York, California or Washington (the three states that at that time had taken the strongest counter-COVID-19 measures), the Governor was probably trying to balance considerations. We don’t have a state income tax nor the type of manufacturing or gig economy base to ramp right back up after a long-term shutdown.
But, in fact, we now know he wasn’t being balanced- he was being reckless and pushing the buck onward at the same time. DeSantis is schooled in the art of persuasion, so his press conferences are cheery and upbeat unlike those of so many Republicans today. But in fact, he’s being more myopic than anyone in a serious position of power right now. No other leader on the planet, with possible exception Jair Bolsanaro or Andrés Manuel López Obrador, are so distant from the mainstream on COVID-19.
I like the way our friend Peter Schorsch put it earlier in the week:
Governor DeSantis’ continued unwillingness to acknowledge the scale and scope of this crisis, and the statewide nature of it, hearkens backs to an era when Conservative Democrats governed the state and consistently underplayed threats or blamed outsiders (or Miami, which was like a northern city in those days). DeSantis’ rhetoric has sounded like the old time Dixiecrats as he’s tried to push any blame or conversation about COVID-19 toward non-Floridians, or punted to local governments.
Thankfully, Miami-Dade is a home rule county that took strong action on its own, but the rest of the state has been left at the Governor’s mercy.
DeSantis further echoed the past when he barred reporters from the two papers of record in this state, The Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times, from his press conference on Saturday. Attacking The Herald and The Times, previously vigorous competitors but now in this era of dwindling media resources collaborators on political coverage, scores points with DeSantis’ base. It is also the same sort of rhetoric employed by the likes of the Pork Chop Gang and Dempsey Barron toward those two papers specifically.
DeSantis’ has dug into his position. He’s now either going to prove us all wrong or try until the end of this crisis to push the blame off on other locales while using subtle code to fire up his base. He’s echoing the worst of Florida’s past to try and preserve his unwillingness to take proactive steps to not only save lives but to reboot Florida’s economy sooner rather than later.
His current posture is the most irresponsible possible given the circumstances – hence he is now Reckless Ronnie the Ridiculous until further notice.
Gayla Schaefer contributed to this article.
Originally published in The Florida Squeeze. Re-posted with permission.
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