Seen from afar: DeSantis’ war on Disney is how autocrats deal with criticism


Whatever people think of Florida’s new “Don’t Say Gay” law, a parallel debate should chill the spine of anyone who understands the dangers of abusing government power in the service of ideological fervor. Disney had the audacity to oppose the law – to which Governor Ron DeSantis responded by threatening to hamper the entertainment company’s operations in Florida. This is just one example of the GOP hardliners’ rejection of their own philosophy of limited government in the party’s slide toward authoritarian thinking.

The new law prohibits teachers from discussing sexual orientation or gender identity in a way that is not “age-appropriate” for students. Critics say the standard is so vague that it will effectively scare educators away from any such discussion, even if it is appropriate.

The law itself is a debate. But DeSantis’ threats of official action against Disney for simply opposing him on a political issue should strike any freedom-loving American as an outrageous and unacceptable violation of free speech rights.

Essentially, DeSantis announced that as punishment for Disney’s disobedience, he would amend state statutes to remove longstanding benefits to the company, including limited autonomy from state laws in the boundaries of its famous Orlando theme park. DeSantis didn’t exactly put it that way, of course — instead he claimed, implausibly, that he was shocked to find out recently (right after Disney objected to his legislation) that these decades-old benefits were in law. But the message came through loud and clear: Nice little theme park you have here. Too bad if something were to happen to him.

DeSantis harbors a brand of Trumpism without the incompetence, but he certainly kept the brutality. His attack on Disney recalls the fact that then-President Donald Trump refused a Pentagon contract to Amazon to punish owner Jeff Bezos for the unflattering coverage of The Washington Post, which Bezos also owns. This is how autocrats act – and DeSantis has clearly learned the lesson.

To complicate matters, Disney, in addition to criticizing the law, pledged to withhold future political contributions from state politicians, of which DeSantis himself was a significant beneficiary. So a governor uses his power to punish a company right after it announces that it will stop giving him money. What could look fishy in there?

In Missouri, Republican lawmakers recently seriously considered making it illegal to even provide information to Missourians about abortion services in other states. At the height of the pandemic, several red states threatened private businesses with government sanctions if they followed the advice of medical experts regarding precautions. And now the governor of Florida is using his official powers to force Mickey Mouse to obey ideologically.

There are many words to describe the kind of governance this mob seeks for America. “Conservative” is not among them.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch Editorial

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