Photo: Intelligencer. Photo: Giorgio Viera/AFP via Getty Images
the national interest

DeSantis’s Thuggish Threats Against Disney

The principle is that businesses criticize him at their peril.

Photo: Intelligencer. Photo: Giorgio Viera/AFP via Getty Images

Last year, Florida governor Ron DeSantis retaliated against the Walt Disney Company for criticizing his ban on gender instruction in the state (a law DeSantis has advertised as merely restricting sexualized instruction but in fact is driving the state’s schools to target depictions of gay relationships). Disney boldly refused to knuckle under. Two weeks ago, CEO Bob Iger denounced DeSantis for retaliating against the company, and Disney announced it was neutering the powers of the board DeSantis planned to use to bring the firm to heel.

On Monday, DeSantis lashed out again. He announced a series of new, even more thuggish legislative threats against Disney. He’s doing this to send a message to both every private business and his party that his performative domination of Disney is a model for how he plans to campaign and, if successful, govern. He is establishing the norm that criticizing Ron DeSantis is dangerous for business.

The threats the governor floated were almost cartoonishly disconnected from one another or any coherent principle of good governance. DeSantis warned that he may crack down on the inspection of Disney theme-park rides, require pay increases for first responders, require its resorts to post notices warning about human trafficking, build more affordable housing, and perhaps use land adjacent to Disney World to build either another amusement park or a state prison.

When a reporter asked DeSantis if he planned safety inspections of rides at other Florida theme parks, he replied that only Disney would be subject to such treatment. This isn’t about ride safety or cracking down on human trafficking or finding more land for prisons, and it isn’t even intended to be seen as such. Literally, none of this would be happening if Disney hadn’t issued a statement criticizing a DeSantis-backed law.

Perhaps to give himself legal cover — or provide political cover for the handful of Republican defenders who claim to care about the rule of law — DeSantis punctuated his threats with periodic claims that he was merely eliminating any special treatment for Disney. But he and his allies repeatedly gave the game away.

“You are in the business of entertaining children and families. You are not in the business of social reengineering or promoting radical political ideologies,” scolded State Representative Carolina Amesty standing by the governor’s side. “There’s a larger principle at stake: It’s that we are a government of laws, not a government of individual men or even a government of woke corporations based in California,” said DeSantis.

The principle, in other words, is that corporations are free to promote any ideology they want as long as it’s congenial to DeSantis and his party. That is the relationship between business and the state that prevails in places like Hungary, Russia, and China. DeSantis is demonstrating that his bullying of Disney is not an error, nor is it a one-off. It is his blueprint.

Ron DeSantis’s Thuggish New Threats Against Disney