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Thu, Sep

Ron DeSantis Has a Very Un-American Vision For America

GUEST WORDS

GUEST COMMENTARY - While the poet Amanda Gorman has provided a beautiful and promising song, the GOP presidential candidate—with hopes to do to the nation what he has done to Florida—offers up a dystopian nightmare.

Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) wants to be the 47th president of the United States. He’s running on his record as governor, which an overwhelming majority of Americans should find alarming. Armed with a Republican legislature that rubber stamps his every whim, DeSantis’s most celebrated accomplishments defied the will of most Americans:

  • He spearheaded a ban on abortions for women who are more than six weeks pregnant, even though many women don’t know by then that they’re pregnant and most Americans oppose such a draconian restriction.
  • Only days after the mass shooting in Nashville, he signed legislation allowing gun owners to carry concealed weapons without a permit or training. The vast majority of Americans want more gun restrictions, not fewer.
  • He defunded diversity, equality, and inclusion programs at all state universities, ignoring the contrary desires of most students.
  • His crusade against the LGBTQ+ community has compromised the freedom of an oppressed minority and morphed into a blood feud with Mickey Mouse. Popular opinion is running against him on those issues as well.

And most recently, a vivid illustration of his dangerous view of the First Amendment emerged – once again defying the wishes of most Americans.

DeSantis: Leading the Way to Illiteracy

On March 25, 2022, DeSantis signed the “K-12” bill – one of three state laws aimed, at least in part, at reading or instructional materials in schools. It’s an integral element of his ongoing attack on public education.

As a graduate of Yale University and Harvard Law School, DeSantis knows that he’s running a con. He’s exploiting and amplifying culture war issues to win Trump’s MAGA crowd.

The law bans the use of any instructional materials in classrooms, in school libraries, or on school reading lists that are “not suited to student needs and their ability to comprehend the material presented, or is inappropriate for the grade level and age group for which the material is used.”

A key provision allows any parent or resident to lodge a complaint for anything that violates the law's amorphous standard. So far, among the books removed from circulation in one of Florida’s school districts are Toni Morrison’s Beloved and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

Now another victim is focusing attention on DeSantis’s unpopular crusade.

DeSantis: Pandering to the Lowest Common Denominator

At President Joseph Biden’s inauguration, Amanda Gorman delivered The Hill We Climb – a 700-word poem – to great acclaim. Then she published it as a book, but a parental complaint under DeSantis’s new K-12 law led a Miami-Dade county school committee to limit student access to it.

The parent was Daily Salinas, who has attended Proud Boys rallies and posted anti-Semitic tropes on social media (deleted after the Miami Herald revealed her identity on May 22 and the group Miami Against Fascism highlighted them in an expose’ on Twitter the next day).

Salinas completed the complaint form in her own hand, and the form itself merits scrutiny as a marvel of ignorance and illiteracy:

TITLE OF THE MATERIAL IN QUESTION: “The Hill We Climb”
AUTHOR-PUBLISHER: “Oprah Winfrey”
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO DO ABOUT THIS MEDIA: Box checked: Remove the challenged material from the total environment
1. TO WHAT DO YOU OBJECT (please be specific, cite pages or sections): [Left blank]
2. WHY DO YOU OBJECT TO THIS MATERIAL? “Is not educational and have [sic] indirectly hate messages - page 12-13”
3. DID YOU REVIEW ALL THE MATERIAL? “Yes”
4. ARE YOU AWARE OF PROFESSIONAL REVIEWS OF THIS MATERIAL? “I don’t need it”
5. WHAT STRENGTHS DO YOU PERCEIVE IN THIS MATERIAL? [Left blank]
6. FOR WHAT AGE GROUP WOULD YOU RECOMMEND THIS MATERIAL? “Not for schools”
7. WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE IS THE FUNCTION OF THIS MATERIAL? “Cause confusion and indoctrinate students”
8. IN ITS PLACE, WHAT MATERIAL WOULD YOU RECOMMEND THAT WOULD RESULT IN THE SAME OUTCOME? [Left blank]

That’s the sum total of what it took to start the DeSantis process that culminated in removing Gorman’s acclaimed book from a public elementary school library. To summarize:

Salinas got the author’s name wrong.

She said that she didn’t need any awareness of the glowing professional reviews that Gorman’s poem received, but claimed that it was “not for schools.”

She said she had reviewed “ALL THE MATERIAL,” but concluded that it was not educational, has “hate messages,” and can cause “confusion and indoctrinate students,” referring only to these lines (page 12-13):

“We’ve braved the belly of the beast.
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace,
And the norms and notions of what ‘just is’
Isn’t always justice.

“And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it.
Somehow, we do it.
Somehow, we’ve weathered and witnessed
A nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.”

Salinas also complained about four other books. Only one—Countries in the News: Cuba—remained available for all students in the school. The others, including The Hill We Climb and The ABC’s of Black History (written for ages five and up), are now kept in the middle school section of the media center where elementary school students won’t see them.

Salinas, along with one of the many school committees that now live in fear of a governor known for political retaliation, accomplished all of that destruction in just a week.

How did she miss Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech?

Gorman said that she wrote the poem “so that all young people could see themselves in a historical moment. Ever since, I’ve received countless letters and videos from children inspired by The Hill We Climb to write their own poems.” She added, “A school book ban is any action taken against a book that leaves access to a book restricted or diminished."

DeSantis: Conning the Public

DeSantis asserts that criticisms of his assault on the First Amendment are a “book ban hoax.” “Hoax” has a familiar ring. I wonder where he heard it.

“Exposing the ‘book ban’ hoax is important because it reveals that some are attempting to use our schools for indoctrination,” he said, claiming that “inappropriate materials have been snuck into our classrooms and libraries….”

Snuck?

As a graduate of Yale University and Harvard Law School, DeSantis knows that he’s running a con. He’s exploiting and amplifying culture war issues to win Trump’s MAGA crowd. To borrow Amanda Gorman’s phrase, DeSantis has put Florida in another “historical moment.” Now he wants the entire country to join him there.

But Gorman’s poem is a message of hope, as its concluding lines demonstrate:

“The new dawn blooms as we free it,
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it,
If only we’re brave enough to be it.”

Watch the video of Gorman delivering her message on Inauguration Day. Then imagine a country where just one person of marginal literacy can fill out a form that will prevent your child from reading it.

That’s only one scene in Ron DeSantis’s vision for America.

(Steven Harper blogs at The Belly of the Beast, is an adjunct professor at Northwestern University, and contributes regularly to The American Lawyer. He is the author of several books, including The Lawyer Bubble -- A Profession in Crisis and Crossing Hoffa -- A Teamster's Story (a Chicago Tribune "Best Book of the Year"). Follow him on Twitter: @StevenJHarper1. This article was featured in CommonDreams.org.)