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Florida Men

Osita Nwanevu
12 min read
Florida Men
Gage Skidmore (Wikimedia Commons)

Hey all. Let’s hop to it.

Recent Work

I just put out a column for The Guardian about the child abuse allegations the right’s flinging around and the Republican Party’s record of protecting child predators:

In 2017, the Republican party now babbling nonsense about public schools and LGBTQ people grooming children for sexual abuse ⁠– the party that spent the past week in the Senate arguing that Democrats are soft on pedophiles ⁠– officially backed a credibly accused child molester for election to that very body. If the Republican National Committee had gotten its way, there’s a chance we would have spent the past week hearing Roy Moore opine on Jackson’s ethical qualifications. It’s a mercy of sorts that we heard instead from the likes of Hawley who, as the White House noted earlier this month, refused to say whether he’d vote for Moore during his own campaign.
The Republican party’s ambivalence on child abuse extends beyond pure politics and the protection of accused politicians. Nearly 300,000 children between the ages of 15 to 17 were married in the United States between 2000 and 2018. An estimated 60,000 of them were below the age of sexual consent in their respective states; it’s thought that roughly 80% of American child marriages overall are between girls under 18 and adult men. Activists across the country have been pushing hard against those figures over the last few years. And while resistance to child marriage bans can be found on both sides of the ideological spectrum ⁠– which one would expect given that child marriage was legal in all 50 states as recently as 2017 – some of the most dogged defenders of the status quo have been red-state Republicans. Not long ago, for instance, the Kansas City Star called Josh Hawley’s state of Missouri “a destination wedding spot for 15-year-old brides” – especially ones who had been impregnated by men, thanks to uncommonly lax laws that facilitated the marriages of more than 7,000 children between 2000 and 2014.
When a ban on marriages to children 14 or younger advanced by a Republican party representative came up for a vote in February 2018, it was opposed by 50 members of the Missouri house – two Democrats and 48 members of her own party. Thankfully, that bill still passed the chamber, and a comprehensive ban on all marriages of adults over 21 to children under 18 was signed into law in Missouri later that year. But the significance of Republican lawmakers’ hesitation wasn’t lost on the marriage ban’s advocates. “Last week they were arguing that the government should be involved in approving a minor’s abortion,” Missouri representative Peter Merideth told the Riverfront Times after February’s vote. “So it’s a mind-boggling contrast when a minor who’s not even old enough to enter into a legally binding contract is being told they can enter into a relationship that makes statutory rape legal.”


It goes without saying that the GOP’s hypocrisies and the facts contradicting the accusations they’ve been making on child abuse don’t actually matter. The only material question is whether these narratives move the needle for them in November. I doubt they will, honestly. Critical race theory was one thing ⁠— and its electoral impact remains dubious ⁠— but anyone who believes Disney and public school teachers are in cahoots with child pornographers is already in the tank for the right; public opinion on LGBT identity doesn’t actually suggest there’s a meaningful swing constituency out there that could be swayed by these particular claims.

That said, whether Republican operatives know it or not, the GOP doesn’t actually need any particular narrative to “work” in advance of the midterms. The Democrats would be sure to hemorrhage seats even if the right didn’t try anything in particular. And as critical as we ought to be of this administration and Democrats in Congress on substantive grounds, there’s nothing they could have done, and nothing they can do, to dodge what’s coming.  The president’s party almost always tanks.

Just about everything being yammered about in national politics right now is being said in denial of these figures. Everyone has an incentive to ignore them. Writers need to have things to say; editors need things for readers to click on; cable needs its viewers; consultants, activists, and grifters on all sides have strategies and solutions that won’t make a difference to sell. It’s all nonsense, but the nonsense matters ⁠— people are going to come away from the election with lasting misdiagnoses of what went wrong for Democrats. It’s a given that Democratic leaders will tell themselves Biden and the party went too far left; there’s not much more to be said about that. But we should also expect pundits, analysts, and politicians to call the right’s anti-LGBT campaign a success. The Republican Party is going to come away from the midterms believing, incorrectly, that moral panic “worked.” And we have every reason to expect they’ll double down.

Consider the three paths out of Florida, now the nerve center of the American right, that have revealed themselves over the past few weeks. The first is the one offered by Trump. As certain as many remain that the right will simply go wherever that dazzling brain of his wants to take them, Trump hasn’t actually played as much of a role in pushing CRT and grooming material as Trump-centric analyses of the GOP would suggest ⁠— he’s been working on an already dead social media platform and his golf swing instead. He’ll be the party’s standard bearer for as long as he’s alive and active, but everything Rufo and co. have managed to engineer over the last two years should serve as a reminder that febrile energy on the reactionary right didn’t actually begin with Trump and was never going to end with him. He's s been an opportunist from the start ⁠— a willing vessel and weather vane – and will remain both the “leader” of the party and wholly incapable of independently giving it any real sense of direction.

Then there’s the path represented by Florida Senator Rick Scott ⁠— a true believer on conservative policy in the Paul Ryan mold who was elected as the state’s governor in 2010 as part of the Tea Party wave. It’s evident now that he came to Washington three years ago expecting the full revival of a Randian agenda. It never happened. So now he’s striking out on his own with a plan that includes raising taxes on the poorer half of the country and sunsetting Medicare and Social Security. And top Republicans are furious. McConnell publicly condemned the plan early last month, and things are reportedly still tense behind the scenes. From The Hill:

Republicans say McConnell warned Scott at a leadership meeting in McConnell’s office on Feb. 28 that his agenda would become a political liability.
One Republican senator who requested anonymity said Scott’s insistence on touting his controversial plan despite warnings from the GOP leadership is “baffling.”
The senator said Scott was told by leaders that he risked “morphing” his controversial Rescue America plan with the carefully calibrated Senate GOP messaging strategy because he is chairman of the NRSC.
The senator speculated that Scott is simply growing impatient with the lack of progress in Washington on major domestic and fiscal issues.    
[...] Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) on Thursday remarked that Scott is marching to the beat of his own drum.    
“He definitely has his own way of doing things. I think he desperately believes Republicans need an agenda to run on. I think that there are elements of that agenda, obviously, that are very susceptible to attacks by Democrats,” he said.  

I think I’ve shared this a time or two already before, but this piece I wrote in 2020 on the incentives (de)motivating Republicans on policy is especially relevant here:

It’s worth thinking through what purpose Republican power in Congress actually serves. Most liberal and progressive commentators take it as a given that the Republican Party lacks a constructive legislative agenda—there’s no real interest on the right in building new programs and institutions that would productively address America’s problems. But what many still don’t realize is that the Republican Party has no real legislative agenda of any kind at all—not even a conservative one.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that Republicans controlled Congress for two years under Trump. Their record of major legislative accomplishments, even from a clear-eyed conservative perspective, was fairly unimpressive. Sure, there was a massive tax cut that also eliminated Obamacare’s individual mandate and some financial deregulation. But Republicans also failed to fully repeal Obamacare, the central policy promise they’d made for years, and they flubbed the dismantling of SNAP in the 2018 farm bill as well—both thanks partially to Senate moderates. Speculation that the party might finally go after Medicare and social security in the last few months before the midterms subsided once it became clear that Republican lawmakers were actually considering nothing more than another round of tax cuts. Those never passed, and many Republican candidates wound up staking their campaigns on panic over the migrant caravan and other culture war material.
[...] It should be well understood by now that even if Republicans lose the White House and the Senate—and of course, neither victory is assured—the Democrats’ ability to pass Joe Biden’s agenda will be limited by the Senate filibuster. Although Biden has suggested in recent weeks that he’s open to ditching it to overcome Republican obstruction, the decision is ultimately up to Democratic senators themselves, and pivotal moderates still oppose the move. The filibuster aside, the conservative structural advantage in the chamber will probably be in good shape for some time. Adding Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia as states would help Democrats somewhat if the party were actually invested in making it happen⁠—another very large “if”—but analyst David Shor has estimated that a slight bias toward Republicans would remain in the Senate even if Democrats added six states, including the Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa, and Guam. If Biden attempts to circumvent Republicans through executive action as Obama did, Republicans can take solace in the fact that much of what he might try could be undone by another administration or, again, gummed up in court.

In short, as I said back then, Republicans don’t actually have to propose or defend an agenda of any kind to keep power and hobble Democrats in Washington ⁠— especially an agenda as unpopular as Scott’s. There was a time when there were plenty of Republicans on the Hill willing to swallow the political risks and back openly destroying Medicare, Social Security and the rest. But that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. The right’s donors and policy minds seem to believe, correctly, that they’ve already mostly won the battle over the size and role of the federal government and doubt plans like Scott’s ⁠— and Paul Ryan’s before him ⁠— are still worth pursuing. Consequently, more and more of the right’s politicians are signing up for the culture wars instead.

That’s the third path out of Florida ⁠— the DeSantis path. Slate’s Ben Mathis-Lilley:

Earlier this week, Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill that allows parents to sue school districts if teachers violate what appear to be tactically vague limitations on discussing sexual orientation or gender identity.
After internal pressure that included an employee walkout at the company’s Burbank, California, office, the Disney Corporation—whose Walt Disney World is a major employer and tourist draw in Florida—issued a statement that said the bill “should never have passed and should never have been signed into law.” Disney further said that “our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts.”
In response, DeSantis said that he believes the company no longer deserves “special privileges” under Florida law. He was referring in part to a suggestion, made by Republican state Rep. Spencer Roach, that legislators should “discuss a repeal of the 1967 Reedy Creek Improvement Act, which allows Disney to act as its own government.

I don’t know that DeSantis can materially win a fight like this against Disney ⁠— as the Reedy Creek Act’s very existence suggests, the company owns the state politically and economically. But I also don’t think winning is actually the point ⁠— DeSantis has his eye on the presidency and wants the base to see him taking on “woke capital.”  Beyond DeSantis’ personal ambitions, the appeal of these cultural battles to the wider party ought to be obvious  ⁠— they rile up the base and give Republican candidates something to talk about that isn’t dismantling Medicare.

There’s no doubt these crusades are alienating plenty of voters. But Republicans are advantaged enough by the federal system that they can afford to do so. All told, this stuff just makes sense politically, and top Republicans know it. Just compare the Senate caucus’ grumbling on Scott’s plan to their enthusiasm ⁠— all the way up to McConnell and Thune ⁠—  for the child porn nonsense during the Jackson hearings. They’ve made their decision; the way forward has already been chosen.

Reasons to Be Cheerful

You already know.

Jacobin’s Alex Press:

In an upset for which there are few parallels in the US labor movement’s post-Reagan history, Amazon warehouse workers in the United States have won recognition of a union for the first time ever. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)–supervised vote at JFK8, a fulfillment center in Staten Island, was 2,654 in favor of unionizing with the Amazon Labor Union (ALU) and 2,131 against, at a facility with 8,325 eligible voters. The sixty-seven challenged and eleven voided ballots will not be determinative, given the union’s margin of victory.
It is hard to overstate the obstacles workers in New York and Alabama faced to get this far. In addition to Amazon’s inordinately high turnover rate, a menace for building sustained shop-floor organization, Department of Labor filings released yesterday show that Amazon spent $4.3 million on union-busting consultants, a startling amount for any company. Usually, it takes even megacorporations years to rack up that kind of a bill with the specialists in the uniquely American industry of professional anti-union experts. Many of the consultants leading captive-audience meetings and otherwise crafting Amazon’s war on organizing were paid $3,200 per day.
[...] The broader union movement will need to recalibrate its assumptions about organizing Amazon given ALU’s win, as well as offer solidarity to the workers as they shift into the fight for a first contract. Distance and tensions between ALU and other unions are real, and they won’t go away overnight. But it will take the full cooperation of the labor movement to spread ALU’s victory to Amazon’s hundreds of US facilities. The company employs more than one million people across the country — that’s without counting the many drivers and other workers employed indirectly through third parties — and that number is only increasing as Amazon, currently the country’s second-largest private employer, enfolds an ever-growing portion of the economy.

At The American Prospect, Harold Meyerson writes that the Amazon victory is the latest and greatest development in an ongoing “generational worker revolt”:

In the past couple of years, though, workers who believed their particular skills made them immune from the threat of firing have begun to unionize. (For the handful of truly undischargeable and established workers—professional athletes, movie actors, airline pilots—this was true even during the lean years.) Recent years have seen journalists and think tankers, adjunct professors and research assistants, animators and museum staffers organizing in droves. This was a revolt of professionals, and overlapping with it, of millennials with at least a facsimile of job security, and Gen Zers who can’t be replaced, too. Earlier this week, the undergraduates who work in Dartmouth College’s dining halls voted in an NLRB-supervised election to unionize, in a union of their own creation. The vote was 52-to-0.
In the past few months, however, the revolt has spread to millennials who aren’t professionals, whom management could easily replace. Crucially, it spread to Starbucks baristas—a disproportionately young and educated workforce, but one subject to every scheduling whim and threat of discharge that management could deploy. And yes, Starbucks had cultivated a “benign employer” image that it couldn’t risk tarnishing too publicly, though it has played standard employer hardball (subjecting its workers to tacit threats conveyed in compulsory anti-union meetings and the like) when it thought no one was looking.
But Starbucks workers have been winning in enough far-flung outlets that today, thousands of baristas in hundreds of stores have filed for unionization.
[...] Starbucks isn’t Amazon, however. And Amazon has made clear in Bessemer, Alabama, and anyplace else where its labor practices have been called into question that its warehouse staff is just a necessarily evil until the company can robotize its entire workforce. By its actions, Amazon has signaled that it’s fine that the yearly turnover rate in its warehouses exceeds 100 percent, that in fact the jobs are all but designed to provoke a yearly turnover rate of more than 100 percent. The company wants its workers to exit; it’s a vastly preferable alternative to their staying and seeking a voice.
Besides, Amazon is the nation’s second-largest private-sector employer, after only Walmart, the club champion in union-busting. The idea of an Amazon warehouse workforce voting to unionize was, until today, all but unthinkable.
Now, it’s been thought, and done.

A Song

“Cannock Chase” ⁠— Labi Siffre (1972)