Discover more from Progress Report
DeSantis's new bigot bullhorn has shady associations
When Ron says "our way of life," he's not talking about multicultural democracy
Welcome to a Wednesday evening edition of Progress Report.
I had a big batch of important state and local news stories all queued up and ready to send this evening, but when Ron DeSantis went and blew his bigotry bullhorn this afternoon and nobody in the media seemed to notice, I knew that I had to change course and address the danger of the little man’s latest crime against humanity.
So, tonight is a new journey into Ron’s toxic spew, and tomorrow, premium subscribers will get the key state and local stories. (I’m very neurotic about keeping things fresh, so thank you for hanging with me!)
Oh, and one more thing: Democrats provided a majority of the aye votes in tonight’s successful House vote on the Biden-McCarthy debt ceiling deal. In doing so, they seized for the Democratic party ownership of a law that will kick 300,000 struggling people off of food stamps, restart crushing student debt repayment, and freeze national spending. Worse, they’re bragging about it under the delusion that American voters have given any indication that they value sober Beltway conduct and bureaucratic management in their politicians. Excited for the tough-talking fundraising emails tomorrow!
Ron DeSantis released a new Iowa-specific presidential campaign ad today, and as much as I hate listening to his horrible horse with a head cold complaining about the professionalism of the service at his daughter’s princess birthday party voice, I grit my teeth through its minute runtime as an act of public service.
It’s a whatever ad and nobody will remember it in a week’s time; these things exist to be chum in the bottomless pundit content machine more than actually influence any voters. What really caught my eye was the language of Ron’s tweet, which is being served to me incessantly by Elon Musk’s free speech machine: Florida and Iowa, he claims, have led the way in “the fight for our way of life.”
I wouldn’t call the line subtle — the casting director certainly was not concerned with DEI, and the whole thing looks like it was shot in a warehouse outside a private Trace Adkins concert — so even though DeSantis never actually specifies what he’s fought so hard to accomplish, he might as well be wearing a Make America a White Christian Patriarchy Again hat. But for the true believers in the audience, the spot is both blaring loud dog whistle alluding to back when there were two sets of water fountains in public schools and an allusion to some very nefarious movements.
First and foremost, in both import and obvious rhetorical connection, is DeSantis’s good friends at the far-right Claremont Institute's Center for the American Way of Life.
The organization just opened a new office in Tallahassee, which DeSantis has turned into a factory of far-right legislation. Now neighbors, they make house calls for one another and share a rhetorical mission of building a “new right,” which aims to take down the Hollywood studios, Fortune 500, universities and public schools, and the administrative state for their alleged takeover of American culture and erosion of its values.
“These institutions attack, ban, and slander everything for which America stands, alleging that the rule of law is racist; that freedom of speech is white supremacist; that the family is misogynist and homophobic; and that anything short of open borders is xenophobic,” according to the Center for the American Way of Life’s 2021 call to arms.
While not explicitly pushing the idea that human evolution was guided by a higher power who for some reason thinks our current bodies are ideal, the Claremont Institute’s Center for the American Way of Life does have some terrifying ideas about education, which mostly boil down to teaching conservative religious theology to children. The organization honored DeSantis last fall, and this spring, Charles Kesler, a senior fellow at the institute, was named to Ron’s hijacked board at New College.
Claremont Institute also maintains a “BLM funding database,” which is littered with the names of major corporations and ludicrous claims about how much they donated to civil rights organizations. For an organization that is dedicated to the fight against the “existential threat of identity politics,” that’s a lot of time spent on policing support for a certain identity.
They’re hardly alone in this mission, either.
“Preserving our way of life” is the rallying cry of the Discovery Institute, a freakishly far-right “think tank” that has led the charge in the battle against secular society, civil rights, and even science itself.
It’s actually quite pathetic: More than a decade after we thought the Darwin-denying “intelligent design” clowns had been vanquished from society, the Discovery Institute is still pushing the farcical idea through online trainings, seminars, books, speeches, and every other way it can muster.
In 2020, right after mysterious coronavirus pandemic sent the country into lockdown, the Discovery Institute published on its website an essay titled “Our Way of Life is Worth Preserving.”
Ostensibly a piece about the frightening prospect of schools teaching history lessons that teach the truth about American’s many sins and failures, it reads a lot like the first draft of a speech that DeSantis might give during one of his classic attacks on public education.
The author asserts that “our way of life has prospered because of our established political process and has survived because it is grounded on the combined wisdom of those who came before us.”
The old traditions are now under threat, the reader is told, by the “leaders of the progressive left,” who “hide behind a facade of love for the poor, the stranger, and their neighbor, while endeavoring to replace our Constitution with utopian ideas that have failed horribly.”
The alleged utopian ideas are never specified, but again, the general vibe is not exactly subtle.
DeSantis and the Discovery Institute have more than just a rhetorical connection. Christopher Rufo, the smug troll that DeSantis has put de facto in charge of higher education in Florida, used to be a fellow at the Discovery Institute. As I wrote back in January on this connection:
Rufo has dedicated his career to attacking vulnerable communities, public institutions, and anything that he perceives as a threat to white hegemony. After provoking backlash against homeless people and public policy intended to help them, Rufo gained prominence by introducing the right to the “danger” of Critical Race Theory, which he used as a blanket term to cover any attempt to reckon with the legacy of racism. Rufo railed with contempt against diversity and equity programs, both in schools and workplaces, and openly discussed his plans to infiltrate public education and broader institutions with the moral panic he’d created.
Bolstered by incessant attention from Fox News and other right-wing outlets, the “CRT” backlash has become a staple of Republican politics, with red states across the country passing bans on any education that presents history in a way that is less than flattering to white racists or acknowledges the systemic racism and segregation that still exists today.
Inspired by his brash bigotry, DeSantis worked closely with Rufo on the “Stop W.O.K.E. Act,” an omnibus attack on decency and diversity in society that the governor has made a centerpiece of the unending fascist drive that he hopes will lift him to the Republican presidential nomination. Rufo helped introduce the legislation to the Florida legislature, and then pivoted to honing in on attacks on the LGBTQ+ community.
A Growing Rhetorical Weapon
“Our way of life” has been popping up more and more in speeches and conservative campaign literature. In 2021, Sen. Marco Rubio accused the left of running a “systematic effort to dismantle our society, our traditions, our economy, and our way of life.”
Sen. Josh Hawley used it over and over again in a speech at the National Conservatism Conference in 2019 that cast Rockwellian midwestern small towns as “our way of life.”
In 2021, Rep. Bob Good, a member of the far-right Freedom Caucus, blamed “Big Tech, Hollywood elites, and Democrats” for seizing “unprecedented control over our speech, our culture, and our way of life.” The accusation came during a speech about a bill to ban trans girls from playing school sports, as if it weren’t clear enough that Republicans have never been concerned with the integrity of girls’ sports.
DeSantis has now seized on the phrase, which is becoming a staple of his presidential campaign. He used the same line in a press statement about a visit he’s making to Iowa this weekend, praising that state and his own for leading in “the fight for our way of life.” There were still few specifics, but in saying that he was “building a movement to restore America,” DeSantis left no ambiguity to what he meant.
Wait, Before You Leave!
Progress Report has raised over $7 million dollars for progressive candidates and causes, breaks national stories about corrupt politicians, and delivers incisive analysis, and goes deep into the grassroots.
None of the money we’ve raised for candidates and causes goes to producing this newsletter or all of the related projects we put out. In fact, it costs me money to do this. So, I need your help.
For just $5 a month, you can buy a premium subscription that includes:
Premium member-only newsletters with original reporting
Financing new projects and paying new reporters
Access to upcoming chats and live notes
You can also make a one-time donation to Progress Report’s GoFundMe campaign — doing so will earn you a shout-out in the next weekend edition of the newsletter!