“the Republican appointed Chris Rufo, the architect of the 2021 moral panic over “critical race theory,” to the board of a public liberal arts school in Florida. As Rufo told New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg, his goal — and the goal of several other DeSantis appointees to the New College of Florida’s board — is to transform New College, a liberal bastion in the South, into something more like Hillsdale College, a conservative school in Michigan with close ties to former President Donald Trump.
The one positive thing that can be said about this appointment is that it is, at least, legal — something that cannot be said about many of the governor’s attempts to sic the government on institutions he deems too liberal. DeSantis isn’t just determined to use his public office to suppress dissenting voices and promote his own reactionary views; he’s also quite willing to thumb his nose at the Constitution in order to do so.
Indeed, DeSantis often seems to revel in his contempt for the First Amendment, even fundraising off of it. Shortly before DeSantis signed unconstitutional legislation punishing the Walt Disney Company for criticizing one of his policies, the governor sent a fundraising email to supporters touting the fact that he was doing so. The company, DeSantis said, was being punished after it “tried to attack me to advance their woke agenda.”
DeSantis signed legislation imposing speech codes on university professors, as well as legislation attempting to seize control of content moderation at sites such as YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook. He attacks classroom teachers with vague, unconstitutional laws stigmatizing LGBTQ people. His administration threatens drag performers with criminal charges.
In his victory speech shortly after winning reelection in his increasingly conservative state, DeSantis pledged to “fight the woke in the legislature,” “fight the woke in the schools,” and to “fight the woke in the corporations.”
One of his lawyers later clarified that the word “woke” means “the belief there are systemic injustices in American society and the need to address them.”
As a constitutional matter, a governor is allowed to give speeches arguing that the United States is somehow miraculously immune from systemic injustice. He may sign legislation repealing programs intended to cure these injustices. He may appoint officials to public school boards that share his belief that the US is immune to these injustices. And he may even enact policies that help perpetuate these injustices, assuming that those policies violate neither the state nor federal constitution.
But DeSantis goes much further. He wields the government’s sovereign powers to sanction speech he does not like, and to punish institutions that criticize him. DeSantis, in other words, does not seem content to simply enact policies that hew to a right-wing economic or social vision. He wishes to use the sovereign powers of government to shape public discourse itself — punishing some ideas, rewarding others, and conscripting public schools and universities into his culture war.
To be fair, DeSantis is hardly unique among Republican state governors in this regard — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), for example, signed legislation targeting social media companies that is even more aggressive than Florida’s. But DeSantis is also widely viewed as a leading contender for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024, so he is uniquely positioned to take his speech war national if elected president.”