Last week, Florida governor Ron DeSantis promised to rename Fort Liberty after Confederate general Braxton Bragg, a slave owner who fought against the United States whose name previously adorned the base.
On Thursday, DeSantis vetoed spending for a Black History Month celebration in Orlando and cut $200,000 for a festival celebrating Florida’s Black Music Legacy. Last year, DeSantis vetoed a $1 million appropriation for Valencia College to create a film about the 1920 Ocoee Election Day massacre, in which a white mob murdered dozens of Black Floridians.
There does seem to be a pattern here.
DeSantis likes to feature these issues. The message he prefers to emphasize is his fight with the radical left over critical race theory and other abstruse left-wing academic concepts. “We believe in teaching kids facts and how to think, but we don’t believe they should have an agenda imposed on them,” he said earlier this year. “When you try to use Black history to shoehorn in queer theory, you are clearly trying to use that for political purposes.”
His supporters like to pretend this is the whole of DeSantis’s agenda on racism and American history. “This fight isn’t about blocking history or erasing the country’s sins but drawing a line between hifalutin political advocacy and thorough, truthful instruction in the American past,” insisted National Review editor-in-chief Rich Lowry earlier this year.
Fighting left-wing academic fads is certainly a part of DeSantis’s agenda. But it is not the whole of it. The operational end of DeSantis’s approach to racism has always contained large doses of old-fashioned blunt-force attacks on Black political power. He signed a poll tax to disenfranchise ex-felons, whose voting rights had been restored by a state referendum. He pushed through a redistricting plan that reduced Black representation, in the face of opposition from not only all the state’s Democrats but even many Republicans, who deemed it far too aggressive.
DeSantis is assembling a coalition that contains all the right-wing elements that were drawn to Donald Trump. That means merely fighting the far left isn’t enough. He needs to court voters who believe in honoring the Confederacy and get offended by recognition for important milestones in Black history. The rise of the new left has given him a convenient foil, but beneath the surface, his racial agenda is an old-fashioned nostalgia for a time when open racism prevailed.