How DeSantis 'could potentially transform American society'
Governor Ron DeSantis on Facebook.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has become well-known for his efforts to incite culture wars and influence the politics of education across Florida as he considers running in the 2024 presidential election.

In doing so, the potential GOP candidate has violated the First Amendment in numerous ways over the course of his gubernatorial reign, Vox Senior Correspondent Ian Millhiser reports. Millhiser offered an analysis of the ways DeSantis consistently violates the U.S. Constitution by enacting laws that blatantly challenge and disregard freedom of speech and expression.

During his reelection victory address in November, DeSantis promised Floridians that he would “fight the woke in the legislature,” “fight the woke in the schools,” and “fight the woke in the corporations,” which is what he’s already actively tried to achieve as governor.

With that, “DeSantis, in other words,” Millhiser wrote, “does not seem content to simply enact policies that hew to a right-wing economic or social vision. He wishes to use the sovereign powers of government to shape public discourse itself — punishing some ideas, rewarding others, and conscripting public schools and universities into his culture war.”

Millhiser also highlighted DeSantis’ goal of completely changing the trajectory of education across the state, as he recently chose anti-critical race theory leader Christopher Rufo to sit on the board of the liberal New College of Florida. Rufo plans to do all he can to transform the school into an institution that mirrors the conservative Michigan-based Hillsdale College, which boasts ties to Donald Trump. DeSantis also appointed conservative Republican and former Senator Ben Sasse as president at the University of Florida last week.

AlterNet previously reported that journalist Jonathan Chait likened DeSantis’ approach to education in Florida to Hungarian politician Viktor Orbán, who used several strategies to implement an authoritarian educational system.

After his “Stop WOKE Act,” which would ban race-related coursework from college classrooms, was temporarily blocked by a judge, DeSantis distributed a memo requesting course data from state colleges that teach “diversity, equity and inclusion.” And following the governor’s successful passing of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill last year, some Florida schools have already removed books with LGBTQ characters from their libraries.

However, when anyone speaks out against the governor’s authoritarian-like leadership decisions, he immediately retaliates.

After the Walt Disney Company denounced DeSantis’ “Don’t Say Gay” bill last April, he made claims that the company “tried to attack me to advance their woke agenda,” and he retaliated by signing a law that would ultimately disband the “Reedy Creek Improvement District,” a large area of land that houses Walt Disney World, and “where Disney has an unusual amount of control over local land use and taxation.”

Prior to signing the legislation, DeSantis gloated that the “Democrat machine Disney and other woke corporations won’t get away with peddling their unchecked pressure campaigns any longer.”

Millhiser argued that the law is unconstitutional because even though the state of Florida isn’t necessarily “required to maintain” the land, the state “cannot strip Disney of a legal benefit it already enjoys in order to punish Disney for expressing a political opinion.”

Millhiser provided a list of the legislative decisions a governor can make that are actually considered constitutional, such as “give speeches arguing that the United States is somehow miraculously immune from systemic injustice,” “sign legislation repealing programs intended to cure these injustices” or “appoint officials to public school boards that share his belief that the US is immune to these injustices.

"“He may even enact policies that help perpetuate these injustices, assuming that those policies violate neither the state nor federal constitution," Millhiser added

But, the correspondent asserted that DeSantis “goes much further than that” by “sanctioning speech” he simply doesn’t like.

Although Texas Governor Greg Abbott has enacted laws that are considered “even more aggressive than Florida’s," DeSantis’ rhetoric and unconstitutional actions appear much more alarming, Millhiser warns, as he could “take his speech war national if elected president” in 2024.

Millhiser argued that even though the Constitution acts as a shield, to some degree, to DeSantis’ efforts to violate the right to free speech, “it is a worthless shield if the judiciary is controlled by partisans and ideologues who will not enforce the First Amendment against men like DeSantis.”

In the same vein, what’s most alarming about the governor’s attack on freedom of speech is that, if elected president, DeSantis could appoint conservative judges who share his views to fill courts across the country — judges who will allow him to violate the First Amendment without consequence. If ultimately elected to national office, Millhiser wrote, “with the right judges in place, DeSantis could potentially transform American society and culture in ways that would be unrecognizable to everyone accustomed to how the First Amendment has been interpreted for the last 60 years.”

Lastly, in regards to the ongoing debacle between DeSantis and Disney, Millhiser noted that although a company as vast as Disney likely possesses the necessary resources to stand its ground against unconstitutional state government laws, the main disconcerting component here is “the fact that DeSantis targeted one of the largest and most popular producers of First Amendment-protected art in the world is also a warning about how far his agenda could reach if it is successful.”