'I struck a nerve': DC insider lays out case for calling Ron DeSantis a 'fascist'
Ron DeSantis. (Gage Skidmore)

On Tuesday, August 23, liberal economist Robert Reich expressed his disdain for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis when he visited Twitter and posted, “Just wondering if ‘DeSantis’ is now officially a synonym for ‘fascist.’” Many MAGA Republicans had an angry reaction, bombarding the University of California, Berkeley professor with familiar Republican insults like “coastal elitist.” But in an op-ed published by The Guardian on August 31, Reich doesn’t back down from his anti-DeSantis views.

In fact, Reich doubles down on them, laying out an abundance of reasons why DeSantis’ agenda is consistent with the elements of fascism.

“I was surprised at the outrage my little tweet provoked in right-wing media,” Reich notes. “The Washington Examiner, for example, called me an ‘ultra-left-wing elitist’ who wrote an ‘insulting slur,’ which is ‘what left-wing ideologues do when they discuss Republican politicians who pose any threat to the existence of their political ideology.… Anyone the Democrats don’t like or disagree with is a fascist.’ This was among the kindest responses…. The size of the blowback on my little tweet makes me think I struck a nerve.”

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Reich points out that DeSantis is “the most likely rival to Trump for the Republican nomination in 2024” and has been called “Donald Trump with a brain.”

“DeSantis is the nation’s consummate culture warrior,” Reich explains. “Lately, he has been campaigning on behalf of Republican election-deniers around the country, including gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania and US Senate candidate J.D. Vance in Ohio. In Florida, discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity are now barred in schools. Math textbooks have been rejected for what officials call ‘indoctrination.’ Claiming tenured professors in Florida’s public universities were ‘indoctrinating’ students, DeSantis spearheaded a law requiring them to be reviewed every five years. Teachers are limited in what they can teach about racism and other tragic aspects of American history.”

Reich continues, “DeSantis has got personally involved in local school board races, endorsing and campaigning for 30 board candidates who agree with him. So far, 20 have won outright, five are going to runoffs. Abortions are banned after 15 weeks. DeSantis recently suspended an elected prosecutor who said he would refuse to enforce the anti-abortion law. A new state office has been created to investigate ‘election crimes.’ Florida’s Medicaid regulator is considering denying state-subsidized treatments to transgender people. Its medical board may ban gender-affirming medical treatment for youths. Disney, Florida’s largest employer, has been stripped of the ability to govern itself in retaliation for the company’s opposition to the crackdown on LGBTQ+ conversations with schoolchildren.”

The words “fascist” and “authoritarian” have been used interchangeably by DeSantis’ critics, who aren’t strictly liberals and progressives. Many Never Trump conservatives have been scathing critics of DeSantis and slammed him as dangerously authoritarian, from The Bulwark’s Tim Miller to the Washington Post’s Max Boot to MSNBC host Joe Scarborough (a former GOP congressman). The debate among right-wing Never Trumpers, in fact, is whether Trump or DeSantis would be a more authoritarian Republican candidate in 2024.

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Reich argues that the word “fascist” captures DeSantis’ views even better than “authoritarian.”

“Authoritarianism implies the absence of democracy, a dictatorship,” Reich writes. “Fascism — from the Latin fasces, denoting a tightly bound bundle of wooden rods typically including a protruding axe blade, adopted by Benito Mussolini in the 1930s to symbolize his total power — is different. Fascism also includes hatred of ‘them’ — people considered different by race or religion, or outside the mainstream, or who were born abroad; control over what people learn and what books they are allowed to read, control over what had been independent government units…. control over women and the most intimate and difficult decisions they’ll ever make, and demands that the private sector support the regime. Perhaps my ‘just wondering’ tweet about DeSantis hit the nerve of the fascism now taking root in the Republican Party?”

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