This piece was originally published on May 24, 2023 on my Substack publication.
I’m sure you have heard of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Today he will publicly announce his campaign bid for U.S. President. This means DeSantis will run alongside fellow presidential candidates Donald Trump and Joe Biden but with an agenda against modern “wokeness.”
Why should we avoid a DeSantis presidency at all costs? At the moment, DeSantis and his administration in Florida are enacting some of the most toxic legislation we’ve seen against diversity, inclusion, and LGBT+ rights. And in any other country, of course, these would be human rights violations.
This toxic legislation limits what educators can teach and removes books, movies, and discussions on racism, sexual orientation, and gender identity from public schools. These restrictions have also reached the public university level, where DeSantis has gutted public funding for diversity and inclusion programs.
Controlling measures like this have consequences. Again, they are human rights violations.
Take, for instance, the defunding of diversity and inclusion programs at Florida public universities. According to Representative Anna Eskamani (D-Orlando), this initiative substantially affects people of color who depend on these programs for community and safety as students. Eskamani told Politico, “This is a destructive law that targets diverse students like me and our ability to thrive in higher education institutions…It also suppresses academic freedom and inserts conservative political orthodoxy into the classroom.”
These critical programs include gender studies, ethnic studies, and women’s studies.
I was once a college student, too. Diversity and inclusion programs like these helped me better understand myself and how to have empathy and compassion for others. Coming from a conservative community and household, this was necessary for my growth as a human being, and I do not regret experiencing any of it.
These measures will also erase campus organizations for marginalized students, like the Black Student Union, LGBTQ+ organizations, clubs for students of color, Black Greek Letter organizations, and the Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion (DEI) program altogether. (DEI programs educate employees and groups on issues of inclusion with the goal of promoting safety and equality in workplaces for individuals who aren’t male, straight, and white.)
Black writer Caroline J. Sumlin wrote on Instagram, “The backlash we are seeing right now toward our modern fight for civil and human rights is reminiscent of the backlash that occurred right after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed and then-President Lyndon B. Johnson created the Great Society to aid in the reversal of the harm of Jim Crow.
White folks were so against anything that aided in the success of Black and marginalized communities that they incited rhetoric that created a racist firestorm that ended any initiative that would have leveled the racial playing field.
This backlash is happening BECAUSE we are fighting for our liberation.”
The NAACP has issued a Florida travel advisory, a formal document stating that Florida is not safe for people of color based on DeSantis’s “aggressive attempts to erase Black history and to restrict diversity, equity, and inclusion programs in Florida schools.” Other Florida travel advisories have also come from the League of United Latin American Citizens and Equality Florida, an LGBTQ advocacy group.
Unfortunately, history and psychology shows that GOP political operatives and white Christian nationalists like Ron DeSantis seek to insert conservative political orthodoxy into the minds of young children. For White Christian Nationalists, conservative political orthodoxy is inherent to their supposedly “religious” message.
Children’s education is where they start indoctrinating political warriors for their Christ — a Christ who thrives on a trinity of law, order, and violence, not the Christ of radical love and care for the most vulnerable people as the Christian Gospels describe.
In her book, The Psychology of Christian Nationalism: Why People Are Drawn in, and How to Talk Across the Divide, Pamela Cooper-White, Pastoral Psychotherapist and Historian of Psychoanalysis and Religion, writes:
“Conservative Christian leaders have long understood that to infuse Christian values into American society, those values must be inculcated in children. Accordingly, many of the most contested issues converge around the education of children and what should or should not be taught (or prayed) in public schools. For many, this has meant fighting for each of these agenda items, and more, all the way from local government to state and federal courts on up to the Supreme Court.
Beginning in the late 1980s, activists who were brought together under the banner of the Christian Coalition also began to run for public office—including local school boards. For some others, the desire to integrate conservative Christian values and beliefs with primary and secondary education has meant removing their children from public school altogether and enrolling them in evangelical-run schools or homeschooling them…‘To conquer corrupt culture’ and ‘restore American values.’ Generation Joshua’s director, Ned Ryun, predicted, ‘Homeschoolers will be inordinately represented in the highest levels of leadership and power in the next generation…You’re starting to see them all around the hill, as staffers on Capitol Hill.’
In all these ways, Christian nationalist church leaders are highly skilled in a range of programmatic initiatives from evangelism to education, using sophisticated methods of recruitment and retention to win souls for (their) Jesus and win psyches for the political right wing.”
Based on Cooper-White’s research and her above statement, it’s clear that DeSantis’s feverish control over public education and wokeness isn’t about the “greater good” or what’s healthy for a child’s broadening mind. Instead, his actions suggest an authoritarian American government that uses the Christian cross and American flag as its hammer and sickle for white dominance and political and social persuasion among GOP constituents, most of whom already support White Christian Nationalist ideology.
“Authoritarian” — well, this is a strong word, Meghan. Of all places, that could never happen in America…
Let me remind you: As the state of Florida continues to purge public school libraries and censor its educators, Joseph Goebbels, the German Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda for the Third Reich of Nazi Germany, also cleansed Germany's history and “supposed wokeness” or “Jewish intellectualism” during the 1933 book burnings against un-German expression (this purging also included books by Helen Keller):
“The era of extreme Jewish intellectualism is now at an end. ... The future German man will not just be a man of books, but a man of character. It is to this end that we want to educate you. ... And thus you do well in this midnight hour to commit to the flames the evil spirit of the past."
Also, I’d like to reminisce on this quote from writer George Orwell in his seminal novel, 1984, a fictional book based on the history of authoritarian regimes:
“Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped."
These quotes and this history are reminders of what could happen under a DeSantis presidency. Our job now is to show up at the polls and stop this nonsense while also having hard conversations with friends and family who support White Christian Nationalism.
DeSantis’s actions are erasure at its finest, initiatives to hide the original sins of America. These original sins demand a reckoning or “repentance,” as Jemar Tisby, Historian and author of The Color of Compromise, says.
To hide away or invalidate the fact that African slaves built our country and economy and that slimy, dishonest treaties with our indigenous partners powered America’s place — this is dishonest and sinful behavior, not being gay, supporting Black Lives Matter, or believing in a “pluralistic Babylon” that supports the separation of Church and State.
“Indifference to oppression perpetuates oppression. History and Scripture teach us that there can be no reconciliation without repentance. There can be no repentance without confession. And there can be no confession without truth… Christians need to pay attention to how their educational choices for their own children reinforce racial and economic segregation in schools.”
-Jemar Tisby from his book, The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism