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by Rick Rouse


What is happening in Florida should be a wake-up call for the rest of the nation. Governor DeSantis has already hinted that should he run for President, his goal is to make America look like Florida where right-wing politicians are trying to undo decades of social justice progress.

Yascha Mounk writes in the March 7th issue of The Atlantic Magazine, “Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has been busy promoting a new book that sets out the case for his presidential run. His main message: Republicans need a new approach to combatting the cultural power of the left.  The Courage to Be Free: Florida’s Blueprint for America’s Revival begins by narrating DeSantis’s political rise and…it reaches a climax when he describes how he used the power of his state office to stand up to ‘wokeness.’ The implication is that he will do the same for the country if he becomes the next president of the United States.”[i]

Right Wing Censors and the War on Woke

What is frightening is that other red state lawmakers are following the lead of DeSantis and the Florida legislature even as educators and parents in that state raise the alarm. So what is it that they are so concerned about? Below is a partial list of recent restrictions to freedom that have been or are in the process of being implemented in Florida and elsewhere.

  1. HB1557 labeled as the “Don’t Say Gay” law bans lessons and discussion related to gender identity for any student from kindergarten thru the 3rd grade.
  2. HB7 known as the “Stop Woke Bill” restricts topics related to race and gender in
    all public schools including public universities and colleges. It prohibits instruction on race relations or diversity that imply that a person’s status is either privileged or oppressed
    because of his or her race or sex. The bill also bans both schools and workplaces
    from subjecting any student or employee to anti-racism or anti-discrimination
  3. HB1467 has resulted in the removal and banning of 566 books from classrooms and school
  4. Florida Medical Boards have voted to ban gender affirming care for transgender
    youth. Under Florida’s HB 1421 gender-affirming care will be outlawed for all minors.
  5. HB1423 defines drag shows as a serious danger to public health and safety for
    kids. Currently under consideration, it would ban drag show performances anywhere a child might see them.
  6. Last year Florida passed a law banning abortions after 15 weeks; currently there is
    a bill before the legislature to ban it after six weeks (before some women even know they are pregnant) and would prohibit physicians and other medical personnel from performing such an abortion.

It is ironic that DeSantis and other Republican leaders talk about freedom when they seem to be in the business of restricting it—whether it be one’s access to abortion or to the ballot box. Reflecting on the “Stop Woke Bill” Florida State Senator Bobby Powell said, “In his drive to squash basic freedom of thought and speech in Florida, the governor has twisted a course designed to enrich our understanding of American history and celebrate pioneering African-American accomplishments, into a tool for propaganda and political ambitions.”[ii]

Politicians and others are using the term “woke” to vilify others, claiming it is akin to socialism,
communism, or even fascism. They play on people’s fears. Their strategy is to stir folks up to the point where parents around the country want “woke” teachers fired or even jailed.

Kimberle Crenshaw, a law professor at Columbia University raises the alarm: “They started with CRT. They moved to ‘Don’t Say Gay.’ Now they’re moving to all of Black studies…That’s the New Right’s strategic plan: a relentless push to reestablish and strengthen the straight, cis, patriarchal,
white supremacist power structure…This is just one skirmish, in a wider, broader battle to make racism unspeakable, and basically to contain the power of Black folks, queer folks, women, and pretty much everybody else who doesn’t agree to the agenda of reclaiming this country that the MAGA group claims.[iii]

A Danger to Democracy

Back in 1956, Michael Sandel, a political philosopher at Harvard, penned the book Democracy’s Discontent in which he wrote that Americans feared they were losing control over their lives and their communities were disintegrating. He warned of an overreaction “from those who would banish ambiguity, shore up borders, harden the distinction between insiders and outsiders, and promise a politics to ‘take back our culture and take back our country.’”[iv]

The Reawaken America Rallies that started prior to the 2020 election and have continued are promoting the theme “take back America for God.” Creating an atmosphere of a religious revival with praise songs and baptisms, politicians and religious leaders are using elements of worship as a political strategy and even weaponizing religion. Michael Flynn, one of the organizers, is promoting the idea that Christianity should be the official religion of the United States. And lawmakers like Lauren Boebert of Colorado falsely suggest that according to America’s founders the church should be directing the government.

What is alarming about the above examples is that one can see how this lays the groundwork for authoritarianism. People become suspicious and mistrustful of government and begin to long for an autocratic leader who will make things right. That was part of the appeal of Donald Trump. Last year Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban, a self-proclaimed autocrat, was welcomed as a hero by Republican lawmakers. Furthermore, 14 Republican controlled legislatures have passed a total of 24 bills interfering with election administration. And a majority of Republicans say they would prefer a competent autocrat to a democratically elected leader. Columnist Jennifer Rubin reports that according to a Morning Consult Poll, 26% of the US population are considered highly right-wing authoritarian revealing the truth that many in the GOP base would prefer authoritarianism to democracy.[v]

What is a True Patriot to Do?

There are many images that the word patriot conjure up. For some it might be a person with guns and a pickup truck decorated with an American flag. Some thought it was patriotic to storm the nation’s capital on January 6, 2020 to contest the Presidential election. Wes Moore, Maryland’s new governor, has a different definition. He suggests a true patriot is someone who is concerned about supporting their neighbor even if they disagree with them. He wants to find a way to move beyond our political divides and reclaim a re-United States of America from our patchwork of red and blue. He calls on his fellow citizens to embrace a love of country that includes respect and love for all its people. “I walk through life with an understanding of this country’s inequities and its history,” he says. “But I also walk through life with a hope of the
promise that this country has offered to some, that we want to make sure it offers to all. That was the foundation that this country was built on. That was its promise. That was its hope. And I’m simply asking this country to live up to its ideals.”[vi]   

Let me suggest three things that might help turn the tide and return a sense of sanity and civility to our national dialogue:

First, we need to teach critical thinking to every student, helping them learn how to wrestle with competing perspectives and come to their own conclusions.

Second, we need to teach democracy as part of a robust course on civics. This would be a non-partisan course where the central ideas of American democracy are taught: individual rights and liberties, equality, justice, the rule of law, as well as checks and balances
in government.

Finally, we need to teach an American history that has not been white-washed. Students need to know the whole truth about our history—the good and the bad. To accomplish this we need brave educators, open-minded parents, and a free press that is willing to hold us all
accountable to ideals set forth by the Declaration of Independence. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”


[i]Yascha Mounk, “How to Save Academic Freedom from Ron DeSantis,” The Atlantic, March 7, 2023

[ii]Senator Powell, District 24 Press Release,January 21, 2023.

[iii]Charles M. Blow, “America, right-wing censors and the ‘battle for the next
century’,” New York Times, Feb. 22,2023.

[iv]Lexington, “Not Just Another Word,” TheEconomist, February 25, 2003, p. 34.

[v]Jennifer Rubin, “The Truth About Many in the GOP Base,” Washington Post, June 29, 2021.

[vi]Julia Zorthian, “Where Wes Moore Comes From,” Time Magazine, February 27/March 6, 2023, p49.