[Editor’s note: Steve Burgess is an accredited spin doctor with a PhD in Centrifugal Rhetoric from the University of SASE, situated on the lovely campus of PO Box 7650, Cayman Islands. In this space he dispenses PR advice to politicians, the rich and famous, the troubled and well-heeled, the wealthy and gullible.]
Dear Dr. Steve,
Last week Florida's Gov. Ron DeSantis organized an airlift of 48 Venezuelan migrants from San Antonio, Texas, to Florida and then, under the guise of ridding his own state of illegal immigrants, sent them without advance notice to Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts. There is evidence the migrants were misled with false promises of jobs and assistance, and provided with erroneous information that might lead them into legal trouble.
A San Antonio sheriff has launched an investigation into possible criminal charges against those responsible for the cruel stunt and lawyers for the immigrants have filed a lawsuit. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott did something similar the next day, sending two busloads of migrants to the home of vice-president Kamala Harris.
Is this the new politics in America?
Except for the “new” part, it is indeed. All this has been done before — and not only in America.
Saskatchewan pulled a similar stunt in 2016 when it gave two homeless First Nations men one-way bus tickets from North Battleford to Vancouver and Victoria.
In the early ‘90s Alberta premier Ralph Klein made a show of offering bus tickets to B.C. for Alberta welfare recipients. Gosh, that Ralph was a loveable scamp.
And the JFK Presidential Library recently tweeted out a February 1963 news story of a “Reverse Freedom Ride” organized by the White Citizens Council of Louisiana, which put a Black family on a bus and sent them to the home of the deputy U.S. attorney general in Trenton, New Jersey. This heartless variation of the NIMBY routine goes back a long way.
DeSantis though has elevated this vicious piece of political theatre to a new level. He's a guy who probably ran for student council president on a platform of more wedgies. The Florida governor has divined the true essence of the Republican party — a search engine for the worst of humanity. Those who would succeed in today's GOP must combine the charm of Marjorie Taylor Greene, the intelligence of Lauren Boebert, the principles of Ted Cruz, and the empathy of a wood chipper. Be the worst you can be. For the modern Republican, the ideal campaign launch event would be bursting out of John Hurt's chest cavity.
It's all an attempt to follow the scat of the rough beast that slouches toward Mar-a-Lago. Trump plows the path and others follow. DeSantis is most definitely a child of Trump — better at it, really, than the official hatchlings. Eric should take notes.
Dr. Steve expects that the DeSantis team, ambitious for the presidency, is probably test-marketing new political ads right now — one in which DeSantis drowns a bag full of kittens, and a 30-second shot of the governor pulling the wings off flies.
But if DeSantis is channelling Trump, he may also be fashioning himself into a 21st century George Wallace. Wallace, the former Alabama governor, was a surprise force in 1968 and 1972 presidential races, serving as the voice of unabashed racial hatred. Wallace had learned his lesson from an earlier failure. When he first ran for Alabama governor in 1958 Wallace lost to John Patterson, who had the endorsement of the KKK. Wallace vowed to never again be out racist-ed by a rival.
DeSantis too has an example before him, a moral void in the shape of a blue-ribbon pumpkin with a long red tie. And it is the Trump factor that makes DeSantis's stunt more toxic than the earlier antics of Ralph Klein, etc.
DeSantis, like other Republicans, is following a playbook. It would be misleading to say Trump wrote that playbook, any more than a stink bug writes a guide to stink. Trump is just Trump, while others work on their Vegas impersonations. And those impersonations involve not only fanning hatred and division but also the destruction of American democracy.
Numerous 2022 Republican candidates are refusing to accept the legitimacy of the electoral system, like their mentor. Seen in that context, DeSantis's cruel prank, his homophobic campaign, and general reactionary philosophy appear as an attempt to unleash Trump 2.0, a Robert Patrick T-1000 model to more effectively terminate democracy.
But Dr. Steve predicts that someday, DeSantis will be politically destroyed. Perhaps a secret video will leak that shows him, say, giving a dollar to a homelesss person, or perhaps holding a door open for someone who appears to be non-white. DeSantis will scramble and deny, of course: “The homeless guy? Sure, I gave him a buck, but I spit on it first. Later I stole his bindle. And that door thing — I was evicting a gay Mexican from Disney World!”
But it will be too late. His core supporters, appalled at the spectacle of DeSantis behaving like someone with a human soul, will search instead for a more perfect candidate, one who truly embodies the qualities of an Oscar-winning Anthony Hopkins performance. Even now, Steve Bannon is waiting by the phone.
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