Ron DeSantis is turning Florida into a fascist state

This was originally published in my Cup of Coffee Newsletter on February 2, 2023

In our current political age it’s easy to let the nearly daily outrages wash over us, but no matter how desensitized we may become, some things manage to stand out as truly odious, truly dangerous, and truly appalling. Such as what Governor Ron DeSantis is doing to Florida’s educational system and to the state as a whole.

From just the past couple of weeks:

  • Teachers in Manatee County, Florida, were ordered to make classroom libraries inaccessible to students until the books can be reviewed for content by “media specialists” who have been retrained by DeSantis’ Department of Education to identify books it deems unacceptable, “harmful,” “pornographic” or the stuff of left-wing ideologies which DeSantis believes “contain “unsolicited theories that may lead to student indoctrination.” If teachers fail to comply, they risk a felony charge. Note: books the DeSantis administration has previously deemed “pornographic” or otherwise unacceptable include any and all books with LGBTQ+ themes or prominent LGBTQ+ characters, books with Black protagonists or prominent secondary characters who are Black, and covers everything from award-winning authors and educational staples like Toni Morrison to rite-of-passage reading like books by Judy Blume;
  • Because teachers are super busy as it is and because they are under a deadline to hide or remove books, Manatee County has solicited volunteers to assist teachers with this process. This has led to right-wing activist groups such as “The Manatee Patriots” to solicit the help of what they call “Woke Busters” to “SAVE the CHILDREN and OUR Society.” Basically, it’s an untrained vigilante book-banning mob which is urging its members to “get into the school libraries” and determine whether teachers are “following the laws.” Volunteers are urged to “be on watch for anything that looks inappropriate,” including “activism” and “globalism,” the latter of which is, as everyone knows, a well-worn antisemitic euphemism. Worth noting that the chair of the Manatee County School Board who ordered the hiding and/or removal of books, and who was appointed by DeSantis, was recently a featured speaker at a Manatee Patriots meeting;
  • Last week DeSantis announced that he is banning an Advanced Placement African-American Studies course that teaches teenagers about the Civil Rights movement, Black culture and contemporary issues that impact Black people;
  • Also last week The Florida High School Athletics Association’s sports medicine advisory committee, in a move blatantly aimed at banning and stigmatizing trans athletes, moved to require high school athletes to submit information about their periods in order to participate in sports. Among the questions it intends to ask students is if they have had a period, when they first got their period, the date of their most recent period, and the regularity of their cycle during the previous 12 months. All of that is, quite obviously, is aimed at going after trans people ;
  • On Tuesday DeSantis’ plan to destroy New College of Florida, a prestigious, nationally-regarded liberal arts university in Sarasota, took a massive step forward. Specifically, a slate of radically conservative new board members with no previous connection to New College — including one Chris Rufo, an odious figure who is almost single-handedly responsible for the Critical Race Theory panic currently roiling America’s education systems — were installed by DeSantis fired its beloved president and replaced her with a former GOP House speaker/DeSantis operative, installed another DeSantis appointee as the new board chair, moved to hire a former Republican lawmaker as the school’s new general counsel, and began the process of abolishing programs aimed at increasing diversity, equity and inclusion on campus. All of this, by the way, was prefaced by months of DeSantis attacks on higher education which parroted conservative culture war talking points about race and gender.

Of course, if you only read some papers, you’d think this was simply a matter of bold politics and “brand-building” as opposed to blatant fascism and state-sponsored bigotry:

I absolutely love the fact that the governor of the third largest state in the country is threatening teachers with felonies if they don’t empty classroom bookshelves, has essentially banned the teaching of Black history, seeks to terrorize and stigmatize students in furtherance of a hateful campaign against trans people, and is destroying an entire college for ideological reasons and The New York Fucking Times thinks that the key takeaway here is what it means for the 2024 horse race. Apparently, if it doesn’t happen in Manhattan it’s just theater.

My angst at the media aside, what is going on in Florida right now is profoundly reprehensible and downright dangerous.

There is this notion out there among the mainstream media and no small number of Democrats that it’s a mistake to take on people like DeSantis and the deplorable lackeys he is elevating to power because to do so is to take the low road or to get down on their level or to give them the culture war they so desperately want. This, however, is painfully naive. Ron DeSantis has long since moved past doing shocking things to get attention or to elevate his profile. He is, in every way that matters, ushering in a fascist regime in the State of Florida, complete with book-banning, persecuting minorities and intellectuals, subjecting children to invasive and exploitative medical examinations, and installing racists, bigots, and authoritarians into positions of power. His political motives for doing these things are irrelevant because he’s fucking doing them and he’s harming people — especially children — and institutions in the process.

There was a time, not terribly long ago, where what DeSantis is doing would make him a pariah. Where his name could not be mentioned without talking about how illiberal, toxic, and destructive he and his agenda are. Where mass boycotts of his state would be undertaken and where people would fill the streets in protest. It’s well past time that that’s how DeSantis be treated now, because what he is doing right now is not “provocative.” It is not “brand-building.” It is not “controversial.” It is simply wrong. It is simply evil. It is simply un-American. Saying anything less about it is to enable it further.

Craig Calcaterra

Craig is the author of the daily baseball (and other things) newsletter, Cup of Coffee. He writes about other things at He lives in New Albany, Ohio with his wife, two kids, and many cats.