Ron DeSantis, Republican governor of his self-proclaimed “free state of Florida,” has banned books and taken over a formerly progressive and successful college and university system and turned it a deep crimson blood red. He has eliminated advanced placement courses on African American history and criminalized gender-affirming care and the use of public facilities that align with trans people’s gender identities.
He has banned people’s use of gender pronouns that may vary from their sex assigned at birth, eliminated discussions of race, sexuality, and gender in schools, revoked reproductive freedoms from Florida residents, shipped undocumented immigrants hundreds and even thousands miles away, and in his Goofy war with Mickey Mouse, has eliminated thousands of well-paying jobs and physical infrastructure for Florida residents.
He even called Jordan Neely – the man who has been charged with the unprovoked choking death of an unarmed homeless street artist with mental health issues on a Manhattan subway car – “a good Samaritan.”
In his campaign to turn Florida into the place “where WOKE goes to die,” he is killing his state’s economy and imposing fear and hatred of “the other,” of anyone who does not march to a patriarchal Christian white supremacist drum.
He certainly has disdain for the “Four Freedoms” outlined by President Franklin D. Roosevelt (ironically on January 6) in his 1941 State of the Union Address: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear.
However original DeSantis may think his platform is, he is merely following the authoritarian fascist playbook of earlier times.
On the right-wing side of the dictatorial strongman’s political spectrum, we find the political practice of “fascism.” While also deployed as an epithet by some, fascism developed as a form of radical authoritarian nationalism in early-20th-century Europe in response to liberalism and Marxism on the left.
Historian Umberto Eco, who grew up under the fascist Mussolini regime, enumerates the characteristics of what he calls “Ur-Fascism” or “Eternal Fascism” with 14 “typical” features.
He stressed, “These features cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.”
Here they are:
- The cult of tradition. “One has only to look at the syllabus of every fascist movement to find the major traditionalist thinkers. The Nazi gnosis was nourished by traditionalist, syncretistic, occult elements.”
- The rejection of modernism. “The Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, is seen as the beginning of modern depravity. In this sense Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism.”
- The cult of action for action’s sake. “Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, any previous reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation.”
- Disagreement is treason. “The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism. In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge.”
- Fear of difference. “The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders. Thus Ur-Fascism is racist by definition.”
- Appeal to social frustration. “One of the most typical features of the historical fascism was the appeal to a frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups.”
- The obsession with a plot. “Thus at the root of the Ur-Fascist psychology there is the obsession with a plot, possibly an international one. The followers must feel besieged.”
- The enemy is both strong and weak. “By a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak.”
- Pacifism is trafficking with the enemy. “For Ur-Fascism there is no struggle for life but, rather, life is lived for struggle.”
- Contempt for the weak. “Elitism is a typical aspect of any reactionary ideology.”
- Everybody is educated to become a hero. “In Ur-Fascist ideology, heroism is the norm. This cult of heroism is strictly linked with the cult of death.”
- Machismo and weaponry. “Machismo implies both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality.”
- Selective populism. “There is in our future a TV or Internet populism, in which the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the Voice of the People.”
- Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak. “All the Nazi or Fascist schoolbooks made use of an impoverished vocabulary, and an elementary syntax, in order to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning.”
DeSantis, in his words, actions, and policy declarations fully embraces most of Eco’s characteristics of fascism.
For example, “the cult of tradition” (his distorted interpretation of “family values,” sex, and gender); “the rejection of modernism” (globalism); “disagreement is treason” (hence his feud with Disney); “fear of difference” (people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ+ people, etc); “obsession with a plot” (“WOKEism,” “Democrat election fraud”); “machismo” and others.
I don’t believe it mere coincidence that as I’m writing these words, on my radio comes the sounds of Jean Sibelius’s Symphony #3, final movement subtitled: “The Crystallization of Chaos.”
In his run for the Oval Office, DeSantis promises to crystallize this chaos, this hatred and reversal of rights, to every village, town, and city across this nation.
While he may have found a limited degree of short-term success in the once-great state of Florida, he will ultimately fail – bigly. For in the inimitable wisdom of Caesar Chavez, civil rights advocate and co-founder of the National Farm Workers Association: “Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot un-educate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore.”