Oakland, Ca. (Special to Informed Comment; Feature) – The concept of “woke” culture is an existential threat to Republican office holders and party officials. Led by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and other Donald Trump wannabes, Republicans have embarked on a campaign to bury information, books and literature; illustrating their agenda to promote racism as acceptable, while also marginalizing LGBTQ people. Florida is ground zero the American Culture Wars. If DeSantis is successful in dictating public school academic curriculum in Florida, that will open the floodgates for other states to do the same. Moreover, “anti-Wokeism” (i.e. anti-minority hatred) will become the template at the Federal level if DeSantis or Trump prevails in the 2024 Election. DeSantis’ embrace of Culture Wars has encroached into the legal realm. It is happening here.
DeSantis signed the Stop Woke (Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees) Act in December 2021 allegedly to take a “stand against state-sanctioned racism,” which was readily passed. That’s his legal basis for banishing Advanced Placement Black History from the curriculum last January. There already is a precedent for overturning this campaign stunt in Arizona, when the legislature there similarly tried to ban teaching of Mexican-American history. AP Black History is an elective course, which requires parental permission to enroll. It is not a mandatory requirement, though DeSantis positions this as some form of indoctrinating thought control. He said, “We believe in teaching kids facts and how to think, but we don’t believe they should have an agenda imposed on them. When you try to use Black History to shoehorn in Queer theory, you are clearly trying to use that for political purposes.”
Let’s parse that: Black History and LGBTQ are two separate concepts, though four of the 100 curriculum topics in the AP program address LGBTQ issues. DeSantis is trying to bundle grievances to manufacture more white rage. Republicans don’t want young people learning the truth about how racism forged, built and defined the US for most of its history. This has nothing to do with gay issues, but “bundling” grievances is part of the Republican manual.
What is this “wokeness” they find so threatening? Is it the values many learned in church-synagogue-mosque teachings, or source of family spiritual-ethical teachings? The stuff about equality among the races, all men are created equal, do unto others . . . , and similarly quaint notions? Trump made all that more unpopular again, when he co-opted and escalated Ronald Reagan’s 1980 proclamation that, “This doesn’t matter anymore; and it’s OK to be greedy again.” That was Reagan’s message when he began his Presidential campaign near the gravesites of the murdered Civil Rights workers, Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner. Trump took that agenda and shot it full of steroids. DeSantis is trying to elevate the madness for his own vainglorious ambition.
Banning AP Black History would set a dangerous precedent, according to Attorney Ben Crump. He argues that if they can suppress Black History in Florida, they can do it anywhere. “The strategy behind this Republican battle is to fight off the federal state until they have recaptured federal power themselves.” The stakes go beyond Florida, to the “anti-woke” politicians in Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Arizona. “It is solely about DeSantis making himself more popular with the GOP base in order to win the 2024 presidential nomination.” In a gross Orwellian twist, DeSantis argued that, “In Florida we are taking a stand against the state-sanctioned racism that is critical race theory.” So teaching about the history of racism is declared to be a form of “state-sanctioned racism.”
In a related strike for American Fascism, and his effort to inherit Donald Trump’s political base, DeSantis has also recently made unilateral moves to overturn the popular vote and will of Florida residents, by removing Hillsborough County Prosecutor Andrew Warren, who was re-elected twice. Further, he acted against his Black 2018 gubernatorial rival, former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who’s been subjected to malicious prosecution over manufactured campaign violations, in what appears to be a brazen abuse of process.
DeSantis mirrored the Tennessee Republican Legislature’s attempt to overturn the popular vote with the Tennessee 2 by firing Hillsborough County Andrew Warren, which resulted in a Federal lawsuit to reinstate him. DeSantis unlawfully removed Warren from his position last August, claiming he’d refused to enforce laws, after Warren resolved to not use his office to prosecute complaints about abortion or transgender health care; and to discourage prosecution of nonviolent misdemeanors often linked to racial disparities, such as police stopping bicyclists. DeSantis retaliated by unlawfully removing him. U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle ruled in January that the governor violated both the Florida Constitution and the First Amendment in suspending Warren. But Judge Hinkle also concluded that he lacked the power to put Warren back in office, which led to the pending appeal. Warren’s jurisdiction of Hillsborough County (Tampa) is a diverse urban area, in contrast to neighboring Pinellas County (St. Petersburg), which is overwhelmingly Republican and white.
DeSantis’ malicious prosecution of Gillum, drew public objections issued by eight jurors in Gillum’s case. They called out how two jurors remained on the panel despite their violations of juror protocol and legal prejudice. Those eight people made themselves vulnerable to legal consequences, in an act of courage, calling out the illegality of Gillum’s prosecution and trial dynamics. One objector refused to consider the evidence, and the other was not disqualified despite his public statements that showed uncceptable bias.
Gillum and his PR associate, Sharon Lettman-Hicks were prosecuted by US Attorney for Northern Florida Andrew Grogan, for allegedly diverting campaign funds for personal use, in his unsuccessful bid to unseat DeSantis in 2018. Despite the acquittal, the witch hunt of Gillum for challenging DeSantis has not abated. Prosecutors still intend to go forward with charges of criminal conspiracy and fraud. Defense Attorney David Markus characterized the trial saying, “From the opening statement, our theme was that the prosecution put a target on Andrew’s back and played gotcha’ with him during an early-morning interview where they lied to and secretly recorded him.” An ironic twist of fate is that Trump acolyte Alan Dershowitz has recommended against continuing the prosecution.
Dershowitz illuminated the weakness of the prosecution’s case saying, “The prosecution should not retry Andrew Gillum where the jury was deadlocked 10-2 in favor of acquittal. Gillum had the courage to proceed to trial. The prosecution took its best shot to convict him and lost. Not only did he beat back the false statement count, but it appears that the jury — a cross section of Northern Florida — overwhelmingly rejected the rest of the government’s case. The government should not get a do-over in this situation and should accept the jury’s clear message. Gillum should be allowed to resume his life, having essentially disproved the prosecution’s case.”
When local and state level politicians double down on the anti-Black, anti-Gay, anti-Jewish, anti-Education, anti-Union agenda; then all of the “others” become the majority. Then the politicians maliciously prosecuting these grievances don’t even represent a plurality of voters, but hold sway for now because of the dramatic gerrymandering and voter suppression of the past 20 years, which makes a white, Christian heteronormative minority into a functional majority.