Mar 3, 2023Liked by John Ganz

Persuasive commentary. I get a lot from reading Linker, but I, too, thought his column directed astute analysis toward the wrong question. The thought exercise of "who would be worse" obscures the actual conditions of danger. Neither man is speaking or acting in a vacuum; they are both particles in an unstable atom. That is, they are both operating in a political field where they have to maneuver––primarily against each other––to get the GOP nomination, with knock-on effects for the general election. The fact that DeSantis has a less unstable personality is not just an isolated fact; it is a fact that his "fitness" could normalize the vicious reactionary appetites let loose by Trump, and already has, as this column claims.

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Mar 3, 2023·edited Mar 4, 2023Liked by John Ganz

«The man attempted to overturn a free and fair election! He would have liked nothing more than to have himself installed as a dictator! I honestly don’t think DeSantis will try something like that.»

Honesty aside, it would be interesting to know if, in 2016, Linker would've thought that about Trump (that he'd be capable of trying to overturn a free and fair election), because that sole belief is doing all of the heavy lifting in this argument.

I, like many non-Americans caught up in the schadenfreude of watching the politics the US fostered everywhere else coming home to roost, also downplayed the dangers of Trump back in the day. It was important to the development my personal politics to realize just how empirically wrong I had been.

Also, it is important to note that while maybe it is true that Trump is willing to break social norms that DeSantis isn't... once those norms were broken by Trump and taken in stride by Congress, it is safe to say that a lot of Trump's behavior is now within the accepted (and expected) normal for the GOP, so the point, in reality, is pretty much moot. All those unprecedented acts of corruption are now precedented political maneuvers.

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Excellent analysis. One good thing about Linker is that he'll read this and take it seriously. (Though I should add that he referred to the Lawyers, Guns and Money blog as "garbage" in response to a comment today. You don't have to love LGM or everything they write, but garbage is pretty extreme.)

Anywho, because I put some effort into a comment posted at Linker's place, I'll paste it here too.

Prior to Trump, GOP candidates for president strove to appear to be respectable, decent people. Democratic candidates did too, of course; no one could imagine that people would vote for a bull gleefully crashing around a china shop, unfettered by any sense of decency, and engaging in behavior that parents punish their children for (and that most children grow out of.) It helped that the candidates, whatever their flaws and frailties and occasional red meat tossed to the base, were mostly decent themselves. Even Richard Nixon was capable of shame, and at least tried to hide his dark deeds and paranoid tendencies.

Trump threw all this out the window in 2016. The chaos candidate became the chaos president. White House press secretaries and spokespeople straight-up lied to the press, and by extension, the public. Cabinet officials too. And when they weren't lying, they heckled and insulted anyone who dared question them. They were not accountable to anyone, except their fans, who didn't want the truth anyway, but bigger and better insults. 

This culminated in an attack on the Capitol and lawmakers on January 6. And rather than investigate this unprecedented affront to democracy, GOP congresspeople quickly fell in line behind "nothing to see here, and whatabout Hunter Biden." If McCarthy and McConnell had wanted to have a bipartisan, comprehensive investigation, I'm pretty sure they could have found enough closet Lynne Cheneys and Mitt Romneys to fill out a committee, but they calculated, almost certainly correctly, that holding Trump and Trumpism accountable would end their careers and destroy the Party. (The closeted "good guys" are in the closet for a reason.) They may fondly hope and fervently pray that Trump goes away, but those hopes and prayers, if they exist, are known only to God (and reporters gathering anonymous quotes). 

Before we get to DeSanctimonious, let's discuss Nikki Haley for a second. If she winds up contesting primaries next year, there are two plays available to her. One is to go full Trump; the other is to try to have it both ways, obliquely criticizing him, hoping to signal that she's a decent person forced to do indecent things to get the nomination of a party that demands a certain amount of indecency just to be viable as a candidate, like McCain picking Palin, or Mitt welcoming the support of Head Birther Donald Trump. She'll court right-wing media and evangelical extremists as surrogates, but on occasion might gingerly distance herself from some of their more extreme statements on her behalf. ("I didn't hear what Tucker said last night, and I have no comment.")

We already know Meatball Ron's play - full Trump all the way. Look at his current press secretary, an insult comic par excellence. Look at DeSantis - he's the guy who arrested people - many of whom for purely coincidental reasons happened to be Black - for illegal voting when they'd been cleared to vote by local officials. The guy who punished Disney for political speech, and repeatedly bragged about it. The guy who assured that a 72 year old man served hard time in prison on trumped-up violations of public meeting laws. (Even if you believe the case was legit, no one in America goes to prison for technical violations of public meeting laws - if they did, there wouldn't be room for illegal voters.)  (https://theintercept.com/2023/02/05/ron-desantis-florida-villages-oren-miller/)

This is frightening stuff, and it was inconceivable prior to Trump. While the GOP "clown car" primaries in 2008 and 2012 featured some bona-fide kooks, none presented themselves as malevolent people, and although one of the other of the kooks may have led the polls at some point, there was never much chance that one of them would win the nomination. Now, it's a virtual certainty that the GOP candidate will be a bomb-throwing, fire-eating scourge of decency (and Democrats), who'll explicitly run against half the country because he thinks that's the only way he can win. 

So, who's worse, Trump or DeSantis? Well, which was worse, Scylla or Charybdis? In mythology, neither Scylla nor Charybdis was the worst, the point was to avoid both; get too close to one or the other and get destroyed. So, who's worse? I fondly hope and fervently pray that we don't find out. 

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Mar 7, 2023Liked by John Ganz

One minor question is where corruption comes in here. Semi-fascist, authoritarian racist regimes--whatever you want to call them have been around a long time in the USA in various state governments. Behind the ideology there are the economic interests, and my sense is DeSantis is seen by them as a more reliable deliverer of what they request. Trump tends to ask for something in return, more like a caudillo. And he didn't always come through. Serving them is not his priority, as the Mercers discovered. Authoritarians always make money for somebody. Orban has systematized this for certain sectors of the Hungarian economy. The changes DeSantis makes will be carefully tailored in this way. That DeSantis is a lackey for billionaires will be his weakness in the primary, and it will be interesting to see how far Trump gets if he attacks it. Trump is seen as independent of economic elites; it's a key element of his popularity.

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Mar 3, 2023Liked by John Ganz

A weird point about DeSantis is that he's surprisingly eco-friendly. In terms of ecosystem conservation he's very openly supportive -- almost 90s Captain Planet vibes, willing to ban fracking and offshore drilling. In terms of climate change he's cagey in public but the general sense is he privately has pretty much the scientifically correct position.

Certainly "right wing authoritarian who values nature and conservation" is not new. But it could look new, if you don't know much history, and make him look more moderate, if you tend to think of politics as lying on a 1-dimensional left/right line.

I would expect this to become part of the story in the general if he won the primary, and some people to be taken in by it, as I was at one time -- I thought he would moderate his actual policies in other areas after being elected governor.

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I believe we can see DeSantis as the executive embodiment of the new SCOTUS judicial ideology. What he’s determined to do by executive fiat is pretty much what SCOTUS is on track to do via Judicial fiat. And it’s what the MAGAs in Congress want to do by fiat (in part because they have no idea of how to do legislation) in the legislative arena. And we can find exact parallels in many of the trifecta Republican states.

DeSantis will be favored over Trump by a larger coalition of conservatives because he understands exactly what “It” is that this authoritarian movement expects and has the opportunity to accomplish. Trump is not nearly so keyed-in to the what “It” is about and so is now seen to have significant liabilities as a freelance half-crazy conman.

I have suggested elsewhere that we can understand this moment in our history as a domestic Cold War, and DeSantis is the perfect head of state for building the sorts of walls that could endure and separate us for quite a while.

They might as well call their new confederacy the Land of MAGADeSantiSCOTUS. And we are going to have to fight this new confederacy at all of these levels.

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Mar 3, 2023·edited Mar 3, 2023

Interesting analysis as usual, thank you!

I definitely see both sides to this but after much consideration have come to see DeSantis as fascist and at least as dangerous as Trump.

I think we should be very specific on this topic, use specific definitions and examples. I find the Arendt model of fascism to be compelling- that it is not an exclusively right wing phenomenon, rather it is defined by the cult of personality of the charismatic strongman, who can manipulate his in-group cult with cynical propaganda to justify/incite domination/abuse over the out-group(s). So in this Stalin is just as fascist as Hitler (and Putin clearly is remaking the worst parts of the horseshoe stealing from Stalin and Hitler both)

With this definition, DeSantis clearly meets the problematic terms in several episodes.

1) sending undocumented migrants to locations unprepared to receive them as a gotcha propaganda play to own the libs

2) issuing significant retribution against Disney for its dissent to ‘Don’t say gay’ legislation, rebegging on decades old agreements for the autonomous management of Disneyworld development

3) cynical manipulation of voting registration for felons, removing checks against registration databases so that some felons might vote when they are not eligible in order to arrest them to create ‘voter fraud’ headlines in support of Trump’s Big Lie.

That he’s been able to do such without Trump’s crazy and with the support of mainstream business leaders and others is horrifying. Those are the last segments of society Trump needed but failed to get support from to fully capture power.

The three episodes demonstrate DeSantis is willing to abuse people and tax payer resources, willing to dominate business and media with gov power, willing to create propaganda to justify a power grab.

DeSantis is a sneakier fascist, has all the same impulses but is better at making it seem less horrible.

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It's nutz with a big Z to compare authoritarians. ALL BAAAAD. De Santis is a lot smarter than Trump and he's already showing his Spin Dictator(s) chops (see recently released publication of the same name by Sergei Guriev and Daniel Treisman and Democracy Rules, by Jan-Werner Muller for a check list), pretending to be all in on democracy and liberty while doing his very best sub rosa, to be the model of a modern despot. He knows it works (See: Atlas of Impunity pub. by the Eurasian Group.) Who knows what he might do on a grander scale with a favorable Congress and a gullible, highly motivated base of devotees, and a penchant for highly creative legislation, not to mention our own developing, highly armed quasi-Friekrops popping up here and there to make sure nobody steals anything. Not that that will be much of a problem with a homer Supreme Court that seems poised to eliminate the right to free elections and pretty much anything else that smacks of pluralism. Ron D. has told us who he is, and he is no fan of democracy.

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A D&D reference is useful here in that Linker's argument seems to be that chaotic evil is definitely worse than lawful evil, although I think he undercuts it when he says:

"[DeSantis's] badness is a function of relative competence at trying to do the same kinds of bad stuff Trump attempted but couldn’t."

The thing I wonder about is how much overlap Trump and DeSantis have in terms of their conservative fans. Trump tapped into white grievance in a way that made certain people feel *seen.* When Hillary called some of them deplorables, for example, they took her remark out of context in order to rebuke her for it, but then they also embraced the label. Trump made them feel like they could be proudly deplorable. The appeal of Trump (to them) is emotional.

In some ways what attracts conservatives to DeSantis is darker and more frightening. It seems like they see him as someone who is actually interested in driving forward a Christo-fascist agenda. They see him as someone who can impose (or inflict might be a better word) their ideology on the rest of us.

I agree with you that DeSantis doesn't fit the fascist label exactly, nor does he have the charisma or cult following he would probably need to have a broad political/social impact even if he makes it to the white house. But there is something I find creepier about DeSantis support than about MAGA.

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Three months later, this New York Times opinion piece by Ezra Klein gives fresh relevance to the political style of DeSantis. Yes, Trump and DeSantis are "both equally worse." Klein gives a window into the DeSantis style and method.


Heh, the two front-runners of the GOP presidency are their equivalents of Mao and Deng.

The Trump style: Bathe the audience in a cacophony of rhetorical violence. He will make a stump speech and tell his base, "There is more than one way to skin a cat." (There's always a meme of fash fanservice; in this case it nods to the urban legend of Nazis making lampshades from the skins of death camp victims.) Then his base, lathered in a frenzy, will start chanting "Skin the cat!"

The DeSantis style: He will run a campaign and speak softly. He stands up from a desk, with a wall mounted with large knives, machetes, swords, saws and flensing tools. Smiling and speaking calmly, DeSantis speaks: "My opponent says there is more than one way to skin a cat. When has he ever skinned a cat? There are 17 ways to skin a cat. I should know. My skinning badges helped me earn the rank of Eagle Scout. I put my skills to practice defending myself and my fellow armed service members and preserving our freedoms and way of life. My cat skinning has earned me the love and devotion of my beautiful wife and children (he puts his hand down by a framed photograph of his family, which happens to be resting atop what appears to be a feline pelt used as a table covering), who love and respect me as a husband, father, provider and protector. I have the tools and I have the ability to skin the cats of wokeness, gender ideology, critical theory and the intellectual terrorists grooming our children from the dark corners of universities, public schools and libraries. Won't you join me? I'm Ron DeSantis and I approve this message."

DeSantis is selling himself as the "capability and method is my superpower" kind of despot.

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This is good but I'm not too worried about scolding Progressives/liberals for losing their shit over every guy like DeSantis that pops up. Progressives tend to lose it a lot and it's a feature the Right loves to take advantage of. "Losing it" in a lot of cases too often means stopping up their ears with wax so as to be deaf to the siren song of anything that doesn't conform to activist Progressive cultural and policy programs.

Linker made a good point and I think a necessary one. DeSantis is bad and that should be sufficient because in the end we need to remember that DeSantis isn't really the problem - his voters are the problem. It seems to me the only way you separate them from DeSantis is by listening to them and taking them seriously.

That being said I like John's Hard Bob "Brook no bullshit approach" here.

BTW - Got to this substack by way of Linker so John owes him a beer.

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A thought of mine after reading both your piece and Linker’s is that it might be analytically helpful to think of fascism as the most unrestrained and ideologically opportunistic/syncretic of a broader counter-revolutionary assault by the Right--ie., the unleashed “id” of the radicalized right-wing subject, or what is also known as “reactionary.”

Recall that a common definition of reactionary (as opposed to merely conservative) is “wanting to blow up or roll back the current system” and replace it with an imagined past Golden Age in which traditional social hierarchies were rigidly enforced and where (the Right’s) ideological enemies were ruthlessly suppressed or even eliminated. In this, more “respectable” or at least, institutionally competent counter-revolutionary actors like Ron DeSantis, Mitch McConnell, and the Federalist Society are able to channel, for their own political goals, the animating energies of the fascist or proto-fascist movement in the Republican Party that so far, hasn’t found a more popular (or certainly more notorious, which is part of the point) avatar than Donald Trump. Key words: so far.

Perhaps in debating whether Trump is a fascist, or whether he or DeSantis is more dangerous, we’re focusing on the wrong questions. Perhaps in doing so, we’re missing the forest of the larger reactionary/counter-revolutionary project for the trees of certain prominent (and obviously quite powerful and dangerous!) individuals.

Or, at risk of using the most tired and abused “Bad Guys from History” analogy (albeit one that is, incredibly, still useful in some contexts): “Who’s more dangerous among Hindenburg, Papen, Schliecher, Hitler, Strasser, or Rohm?”

In the end, such questions were not particularly relevant or even accurate in the context of the rise of the Third Reich, even if some of these people ended up dead or otherwise marginalized when the dust settled in internecine power struggles and Hitler’s ultimate consolidation of power. They all shared responsibility. Perhaps the Trump vs DeSantis discourse, and the broader discourse around rivalries and factionalism within the GOP/American Right miss the point.

After all, those rivalries and factionalism are just as often due to personal and professional factors, not ideological ones. IOW, they have more to do with presentation and form (“who would make a good President for our reactionary political project”) rather than ideology and content (“what are our political goals, who do we consider “real Americans”, are we going to continue waging a right-wing Culture War with incredibly negative consequences for large numbers of people (answer:yes), do we want to cut even more taxes on rich people and corporations (a: yes), do we want to smash organized labor once and for all (a:yes), do we want to abolish all social welfare programs (a:yes)”).

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Legit question: what does it mean to "assimilate citizenship to the human condition"?

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You wrote “DeSantis is actually closer to “post-fascism” - Do you think he could behave like PM Meloni? she was extreme in the past, but once in power she seems to behave quite differently. She is definitely Post fascism leader, Desantis seems more extreme to me comparing to her, eventhough some of his actions could be debated, specially regarding some clinics in US that treat gender transition. There needs better control in these clinics, it’s not about against gay issue only. De santis took some action. Definitely I woudn’t call him worse one.

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