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The Pursuit of Ignorance
Ron DeSantis proudly defunds diversity, equity and inclusion programs in Florida, part of his ongoing attacks on education and democracy as his official run for the presidency approaches
It’s not subtle. His intentions are not mysterious. It’s not like he’s advocating for the value of education and slipping in his ideological wishes while the majority is not paying attention. No, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, with the backing of the Florida legislature, is engaged in a frontal attack on education that tells us everything about his hostility to democracy and what kind of kind of citizenry DeSantis wants in his America. I’d call it his pursuit of ignorance.
Knowledgeable of American history, including the study of slavery and institutional racism? Nope. Knowledgeable and respectful of the rich diversity that defines and distinguishes America? Nope, not that either. Seeking academic freedom and the right of students and teachers alike to pursue a full buffet of ideas that can motivate and nourish their hunger for knowledge? You must be kidding.
In his latest initiative to undermine higher education in Florida and cause harm to students, teachers, staff and other Floridians, DeSantis signed into law this week the defunding of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs in the state—claiming that such programs intensify racial conflict. As if the only perspectives that should be included in higher education are white-defined ones. As if it’s a danger to enable people of color and people from diverse backgrounds to be considered, and to feel and actually be safe and supported.
“If you look at the way this has actually been implemented across the country, DEI is better viewed as standing for discrimination, exclusion and indoctrination,” DeSantis said at a news conference at New College of Florida in Sarasota. “And that has no place in our public institutions. This bill says the whole experiment with DEI is coming to an end in the state of Florida.”
DeSantis made clear what he thinks of “niche subjects,” such as so-called critical race theory and gender studies. “Florida’s getting out of that game,” he said, his words brimming with culture war fervor. “If you want to do things like gender ideology, go to Berkeley.”
What is the forward-looking vision that DeSantis offers? He said he wants to “reorient our universities back to their traditional mission and part of that traditional mission is to treat people as individuals, not to try to divvy them up based on any type of superficial characteristics.” Superficial, as in not white or straight or committed to the colonial model for studying Western Civilization. The law he signed specifically rejects “theories that systemic racism, sexism, oppression and privilege are inherent in the institutions of the United States and were created to maintain social, political and economic inequities.”
None of this comes as a surprise. Over the last two years, I’ve written about his “grim cynicism” in opposing the use of masks amid a surging coronavirus, his bullying of high school students who wanted to wear their masks and (as he saw it) mess up his photo-op, his sadistic indifference in shipping ill-dressed asylum seekers to Martha’s Vineyard, his cowardice and fear of others in banning AP courses focused on African American studies, his aggressive efforts to suppress voting rights and his virulent “anti-woke” policies and authoritarian positioning that have spurred an ongoing and costly battle with Disney and which he ludicrously claims are necessary to confront a danger that “ravages every institution of our society.”
All this from a man who knows exactly what he’s doing in spreading an anti-democratic politics of hate, who studied history at Yale and law at Harvard, who yearns to be an authoritarian leader on a national stage, who is now bent on the pursuit of ignorance and the undermining of a pluralistic democracy that would be strengthened by an educated and informed citizenry. (Remember the words of his former hero, Donald Trump: “I love the poorly educated.”)
All this as a precursor to the expected announcement next week that he’s officially running for president—first reported yesterday by The Wall Street Journal—opening the spigot for him to officially begin soliciting donations for his campaign. And while a variety of polls have him some 30 points or more behind Trump, do note he has $80 million in a state account that would likely be transferred to his super PAC, which already has attracted $30 million.
As much as the future is ultimately unknowable, don’t dismiss the possibility that Trump indictments and prosecutions can shift his trajectory or that DeSantis’ pursuits lack any substance. While he may be low on the charisma scale, this plodding yet driven 44-year-old represents the only candidate currently on the horizon who can legitimately insist he has a real shot at the nomination. And for anyone who yearns for a progressive, inclusive America, where the pursuit of equality and the respect for diversity are reasons for hope, the tagline adorning DeSantis 2024 hats and shirts is a genuine source for alarm: “Make America Florida.”
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