Ron DeSantis’s War on Woke

Ron DeSantis calls himself the governor of the state “where woke goes to die,” and his track record of accomplishments in the fight against wokeness as governor of Florida – which he believes will be a model for his presidency of the whole country – has caught the attention of many across the country.

Take Senate Bill 266, which prohibits Florida’s public universities from spending money on programs or activities that “advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion or promote or engage in political or social activism” and weakens tenure protection for professors. Or House Bill 1069, dubbed by critics as “Don’t say gay,” which liberates teachers and students from having to use fashionable nonstandard pronouns. The law also expands existing parental authority over a child’s education by extending the existing prohibition on instruction relating to sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through grade 3 to include prekindergarten through grade 8 and expressly stating that charter schools must comply with this requirement. The bill also requires that instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in grades 9 through 12 be age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students. A review process is also established that allows parents to object to inappropriate books in schools and requires school boards to discontinue the use of any material the board doesn’t allow a parent to read aloud in public meetings.

As former diplomat and host of “DeSantisland” podcast Dave Seminara summarizes,

Mr. DeSantis also signed SB 254, which outlaws “permanent mutilating surgeries and experimental puberty blockers” for children. HB 225 protects female athletes from having to compete against males and allows public prayers at school sporting events. HB 1438 protects children from “sexually explicit adult performances in all venues—including drag shows and strip clubs,” while HB 1521 requires “educational institutions, detention facilities, correctional institutions, and all other public venues in the state with restrooms, changing facilities or locker rooms to have separate facilities available for men and women based on their biological sex.”

When asked by NBC correspondent Dasha Burns to define the term woke during his campaign stop in Iowa on Saturday, DeSantis responded that it is “a form of cultural Marxism [.…] It’s about putting merit and achievement behind identity politics, and it’s basically a war on the truth. And as that has infected institutions, and it has corrupted institutions. So, you’ve got to be willing to fight the woke; we’ve done that in Florida, and we proudly consider ourselves the state where woke goes to die.”

All in all, we may say that there is no politician who better understands this reality – and the threat it poses to the future – and who has wielded political power to fight back against it than Ron DeSantis. Whether it’s about Critical Race Theory, cancel culture or gender ideology indoctrination in the entire education system or the corporate boardroom, DeSantis has taken effective measures to stop the spread of that disease.

Donald Trump, for his part, is distancing himself from the conservative trend of extensively using the word “woke.” He suggests that the term was overused by Republicans during a 2024 presidential campaign stop in Iowa. “I don’t like the term ‘woke’ because I hear ‘woke, woke, woke.’ It’s just a term they use, half the people can’t even define it, they don’t know what it is,” he said on Thursday. Asked about Trump’s comments, Ron DeSantis suggested that the former U.S. president doesn’t understand the “woke” threat to America. “To say it’s not a big deal, that just shows you don’t understand what a lot of these issues are right now,” he said Saturday.  Unfortunately for Trump, and for America, he’s quite correct. “Woke is an existential threat to our society,” the Governor added. That’s why he wants to take his “War on woke” national.

Perfectly emblematic of this war is DeSantis’s shock appointment of conservative trustees to state-run and until recently progressive New College of Florida. In January, the Governor  announced that he would be making six new appointments to New College’s Board of Trustees, and, weeks later, the Florida Board of Governors appointed a seventh, which gave DeSantis’s incoming choices an immediate majority on the board. DeSantis’s chief of staff, James Uthmeier, told National Review that he hoped New College would become a “Hillsdale of the South” – a reference to the private, Christian conservative college in Michigan. Shortly afterward, Christopher Rufo, one of DeSantis’s new appointments to New College’s board, gave an interview to the New York Times’ Michelle Goldberg in which he spoke of a “top-down restructuring” of the school’s curriculum and culture, and suggested that if professors and students weren’t in line with the changes, they could leave. “If we can take this high-risk, high-reward gambit and turn it into a victory, we’re going to see conservative state legislators starting to reconquer public institutions all over the United States,” he said.

Of course, the ensuing shock waves that reverberated across the New College’s campus demoralized some students and faculty members and infuriated others:

“The call to overhaul New College is part of an orchestrated set of moves to undercut the principles of public education, of freedom of speech across the US,” said Amy Reid, a professor of French and director of the college’s gender studies programme. “What’s happening in New College is not just another anecdote from Florida. The suggestion that we adopt a curriculum based on Hillsdale’s Eurocentric and explicitly religious, so-called classical model challenges not only the principle of free speech, but also the goal of fostering an engaged and informed citizenry.”

What better proof – actually an a contrario proof – that the move is spot on?

Unfortunately, while DeSantis wages a war on woke, Trump seems to be waging a war on DeSantis. Regardless of Trump’s apparent rejection of the term, the former president has recently and repeatedly used “woke” to attack his political opponents. In a Truth Social post on Sunday, he blasted DeSantis over his war against Disney, arguing that the company had “become a  woke and disgusting shadow of its former self” due to the  governor’s policies. It’s too bad for all, including Trump.

Samuel Robert Piccoli is a blogger and the author of the books Being Conservative from A to Z (2014) and Blessed Are the Free in Spirit (2021). He lives in the Venice area.

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