As we watch the many fronts of the culture wars play out, people ask why leaders like Ron DeSantis seem to be on an accelerated schedule to set every social institution in the US on fire. The answer to that question lies in the culture of opportunism that is dominant on the right of the Republican Party.
The liberal side of TikTok has been on fire. It has shared videos of folks showing or commentating on Florida’s Stop WOKE Act complaints being filed across the state. The law requires that school districts allow community members or school officials to submit complaints about school materials. This includes library books.
In one viral video, a school staff member showed very large cardboard crates full of books that the school was removing. She claimed they were “deemed inappropriate”. However, USA Today confirmed with an official that the books were removed for their age, not their content. Despite the narrator’s inaccuracy in describing the scene, its popularity highlights how chaotic the US’s political environment has become.
Florida’s SB 254 law is creating similar chaos for trans kids and their families. This law targets trans children and adults by banning (therefore, making it a crime) for parents or doctors to provide gender-affirming care to children. Social media is now full of families plotting their escape from Florida for fear that the state will put their children into its terrible foster care system for simply affirming their gender identity.
Republicans are selling similar laws in Texas and other states as a means to ‘restore stability’ to family and social life. However, in practice they simply set fire to everything. Much of the liberal media sphere has responded to this wave of political chaos by appealing to reason and critiquing the illogical ideas behind these laws. But one failed Twitter Space event hosted by Elon Musk highlights the true agenda animating these messy laws.
The Right rewards arsonists like DeSantis
On Wednesday 24 May, Florida governor DeSantis launched his 2024 presidential campaign via an audio interview hosted by Musk on Twitter Spaces. Unfortunately for DeSantis and Musk, Twitter lived up to its recent reputation of instability with the space crashing continuously. However, DeSantis was still able to announce his candidacy. Moreover, he showed all of us why he holds such a grudge against “wokeness”. As is the case for much of what happens in the US, it is all about profit.
CBS News recently published a poll that showed that a significant number of “likely” Republican voters want a candidate who “makes liberals angry”. This represents people classed as ‘likely’ to vote in the Republican presidential primaries. So, that poll very much contextualises why DeSantis is willing to cosign chaotic, badly written laws like SB 254 and the Stop WOKE Act. Like Donald Trump, DeSantis realizes that the modern Right just wants to see blood drawn from their enemies – and he’s clearly eager to serve.
The naked opportunism of DeSantis and his compatriots is illuminating. It explains why so many Republicans tolerate objectively terrible people like Matt Gaetz and Majorie Taylor Green. It also explains why those type of politicians are flourishing in this political environment. They all use the same playbook of fire-starting and effectively laughing with their base at the pain they cause.
A more efficient water hose
What do we do with this? I think we first remind ourselves that the Right is playing for keeps. In my view, it’s not about finding what it thinks are the best solutions to society’s problems. It’s about inflicting pain on those it and its proponents see as inferior. This means that the liberal propensity for trying to logic their way to the political middle ground is a liability. We saw this on display during the CNN town hall interview with Trump a few weeks ago,
A better solution would be to spend the political capital wasted on trying to get Republicans to turn against Trump, and on supporting grassroots efforts of communities trying to survive the Right. A full-throated defence of abortions funds, trans organizations, defunding police efforts, and similar campaigns would yield more voters and support than trying to pull a trickle of people from the orbit of the likes of Trump and DeSantis by running candidates like Biden.
Democrats continuing to pander to the centre will result in terrible outcomes for the people they claim to support. This is not a time to try and ‘bring America together’. It’s a time to push hard on supporting those on the frontline fighting opportunists whose only political principle is sadism.
The best way to stop people who derive power from showing how much pain they can inflict is to deny them that pleasure in the here and now.
Featured image via Gage Skidmore – Wikimedia, resized to 1900×1000 under licence CC BY-SA 2.0