Ron DeSantis’s War on Florida Students

Ron DeSantis’s War on Florida Students

Ron DeSantis’s War on Florida Students

The Florida governor is using children as pawns to test the limits of his power.


Empty bookshelves in classrooms. Teachers afraid to display rainbow flags. School board members subjected to ideological purity tests. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s ongoing assaults on the K-12 education system provide a look not just at what is becoming a statewide dystopia for those of us who live here but also at how he would lead the nation.

DeSantis, who is expected to make a bid for the Republican presidential nomination, has revealed himself as a politician with no coherent policy. His popularity rests on heaping abuse on anyone he considers a threat to his supremacy among educators, children, and parents—deflecting from the real problems of a struggling school system. His war on education is transforming what is taught and how it is taught while dividing communities and endangering already vulnerable students. The hate he incites is spreading beyond the classroom and will almost certainly grow beyond his control.

Stephanie Williams, a University of South Florida political scientist, called the governor’s “process” an “appeal to radicalism.” Teachers, librarians, parents, and even some Republican strategists echo the sentiment. “There was a third of the [Republican] party that was extremist and unafraid to admit it,” retired GOP campaign strategist Mac Stipanovich told one news outlet. “We exploited that third. We promised them things that we never were going to give them in order to have their votes on Election Day.”

By attacking the school system, DeSantis is trying to deliver to that third and banking on being able to appeal to more mainstream voters by portraying his actions as arising from his distorted notion of “freedom.” While DeSantis tries to craft a working-class image for himself, he’s a Yale and Harvard grad who comes directly from the elites that he works to vilify.

“A lot of what we see with him is performative politics,” Williams said. “Say that your children aren’t safe. Say that your women aren’t safe. He’s able to do that through the schools.”

In doing so, DeSantis has made a calculation that his supporters, many of whom delight in his cruelties, won’t label him a schoolyard bully. But to stay relevant to his base, he must keep fueling the right-wing media machine with attacks on others. This strategy, carried out largely against marginalized groups, makes him, in Williams’s opinion, less “Trump-lite” and more a different brand of extremism.

Like Trump, DeSantis has tapped into the long-simmering white supremacist sentiment in Florida. But unlike Trump, who obsessively needs to be the center of attention, DeSantis holds himself in check enough to both be molded by extremist networks and to promote elements of those networks, which then use him as their mouthpiece. Trump, by contrast, crudely leveraged personal wealth and celebrity while instigating and harnessing a mob mentality.

The symptoms of DeSantis’s state leadership are visible at school board meetings, where people, often not locals, arrive early to form lines with lawn chairs, as if it’s a sporting event. They wait for hours for the chance to yell at local officials about books and masks, spurred on by a belief that an erosion of “moral values” signals an educational apocalypse.

A September 2021 plea from the National School Boards Association asked the federal government to step in to protect board members from abuse. In October of that same year, about nine adults brought children to stand outside Sarasota School Board Chair Shirley Brown’s house holding signs that read “tyrant” and “child abuse” and yelling through a bullhorn, demanding that she resign. One man wore a shirt related to the Proud Boys, a hate group involved in the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol.

Meanwhile, teachers with decades of experience and investment in the school system must stand by and watch as school boards collapse beneath the barrage. “It’s the hecklers’ veto,” said Alex Ingram, a high school teacher from Jacksonville’s Duval County. Ingram, 35, grew up in Jacksonville and has taught civics, AP American government, and African American studies in the same public school system that he attended as a kid. “You’re empowering and responding to, like, bullies and terrorists,” Ingram explained to us. “These are the same people that are calling teachers pedophiles and ‘groomers.’”

Jacksonville has seen an uptick in hate crimes, including the display of Nazi symbols; a local law was passed against “projections of text, graphics, logos, or artwork onto a building” after a swastika was cast onto the side of a downtown office building.

“The public is taking it straight to school boards,” said Erin Decker, an Osceola County school media specialist. “They’re bypassing every rule and regulation we’ve put in place to just go straight to school board meetings and put fear in the public and put fear in our school board members.”

Teachers, superintendents, and school board members in Florida have been assaulted, demeaned, and targeted with death threats. Their classrooms are being surveilled, and anonymous members of the public contact administrators to report a “crime” as benign as finding a rainbow flag pinned to a bulletin board.

Amid the threats, DeSantis has signaled that he will fight a federal investigation into increased teacher harassment in Florida and nationwide.

As this is happening, children watch and learn and get caught in the middle. The people they rely on in school are forced to pay more attention to being under attack than on teaching. Politicians and extremist school board members tell them that some classmates are less equal than others. And the stories they read and the way they learn have been yanked away from them.

“The Republican Party’s beating heart is fear,” Stipanovich told City & State Florida. Fear is spreading in Florida: fear of the future, fear of the unknown—and most terrifyingly—a growing, deep-rooted fear of each other.

“Make America Florida,” as the slogan reads on T-shirts seen near Panama City, and this is what our nation will become: violent and afraid.

A Right to Power

Education has always been political. Just look at the racial tensions and terrors in Jacksonville in 1990 as schools were desegregating: a bomb sent to the local NAACP office, threatening letters sent from the KKK to teachers, an anonymous $10,000 reward poster for killing seven Black residents.

Postcard images of Orlando and Miami contribute to an idea of Florida as more progressive than its Southern neighbors. Many of us cherish the idea of our modern state as diverse and committed to change. Yet the state has a racist legacy similar to the rest of the South. “People don’t really equate Florida with the Confederacy,” Williams said. But in the brutal calculus of lynchings, Florida “has always been as conservative as the state of Mississippi.”

Sekou Franklin, a political science professor at Middle Tennessee State University, agrees: “It’s best to look at what DeSantis is doing as much, much less of an aberration and more so that he and conservatives are able to anchor their position in long-standing grievances.”

Franklin added that DeSantis shares similarities with other governors who jostle for a slice of the national media attention. The tactics aren’t original, though DeSantis deploys much more aggressive and ingenious methods across a wider spectrum of institutions—bolstered by Florida’s high-profile role as a sanctuary for Trump and his acolytes, along with its status as the world’s 19th-largest economy.

“If you look at what they’re doing, they’re all literally operating from the same playbook,” Franklin said. “It’s just that DeSantis is constantly crowdsourcing his narrative, so he’s always in the news.” What Franklin means is that DeSantis uses extremist groups to amplify his messaging and craft a brand for himself. He then, deliberately, lends his legitimacy as governor to these organizations, helping to push them into the mainstream. Once mainstreamed, these groups extend DeSantis’s power in even more robust ways.

DeSantis, Franklin said, also overloads the media environment in a way that exhausts anyone who opposes him: “He floods the Florida political universe with constant repetitive punching, pummeling, punching. If it’s not one thing, it’s another thing, it’s another thing, it’s another thing.”

One engine that drives DeSantis’s crowdsourced “punching” is the group Moms for Liberty, which spreads misinformation, normalizes a particular brand of censorship, and leads campaigns against teachers, LGBTQ+ people, and people of color.

At a school board meeting in Orlando in late 2021, for instance, Moms for Liberty member Alicia Farrant told a local right-wing blogger with ties to the Proud Boys to read an explicit passage from Maia Kobabe’s graphic novel Gender Queer. The book was immediately pulled from shelves. Since then, Farrant has won a seat on the district school board.

Moms for Liberty cultivates an image of itself as a group of white women crying for help. This disguises the reality that it’s really a nationwide network of morality police. It even runs workshops to train members on how to disrupt communities and school board meetings.

DeSantis attends Moms for Liberty conferences and high-ranking members of Moms for Liberty participate in his press conferences. They also serve in important school board positions across the state. A host of others have ties to Republican public officials and political figures.

According to The 74, a nonprofit education news outlet, a $50,000 donation from Publix heiress Julie Fancelli made up most the Florida chapter’s financial support. Fancelli was a notable financial backer of both DeSantis’s reelection campaign and the January 6 rally that ended with an attack on the US Capitol.

Of that $50,000, just under half went to Microtargeted Media, a right-wing marketing company created by Christian Ziegler, the husband of Moms for Liberty founder Bridget Ziegler. Christian Ziegler is a former Sarasota County commissioner and chairman of the Florida GOP.

Moms for Liberty is a national network with extreme views. Last year, one Moms for Liberty chapter in New Hampshire offered a bounty to “the person that first successfully catches a public-school teacher breaking this law.” The New Hampshire law in question prohibits teachers from giving instruction around critical race theory. CRT is a decades-old academic approach that, according to Education Week, considers race to be a social construct and racism “not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies.”

Florida has enacted a similar law against the instruction of CRT, even though Florida legislators failed to explain how CRT differed from simply teaching about topics such as slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction. CRT, typically taught at the graduate level, has never been part of the K-12 curriculum in Florida.

The governor’s office says the purpose of Florida’s anti-CRT bill is to protect students. The law attempts to adjudicate “feelings” in students as in “guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress because of actions, in which the person played no part, committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, national origin, or sex.” Ironically, extremist conservatives have long targeted “feelings” and “safe spaces” as liberal terms that police free speech. Yet what could be more “woke,” by a conservative estimation, than being asked to take into account someone else’s feelings about their feelings?

The vagueness of the law, Ingram said, has had a “chilling effect on teachers’ First Amendment rights, both inside and outside of the classroom.” Teachers don’t know what they can and cannot legally do.

“So much is left to interpretation,” Williams said, “and I think that gives [DeSantis] a lot of power.”

Teachers can try to abide by the law and still fall afoul of populist censorship. Ingram told us about ending up in conservative crosshairs after he spoke, during a city meeting, in favor of removing Confederate monuments. An anonymous complaint led to reports against his teaching license that triggered an investigation by the state board of education (since dismissed). Ingram has also received vague death threats and suffered social-media abuse (ongoing). One online poster railed that he shouldn’t “be allowed to breathe, much less teach.”

“I have a dog, but I went and bought a gun,” he said. “I never thought I would have a gun in my house.”

Erasing Culture

As DeSantis increases the pressure on schools to conform, his anti-CRT and anti-“woke” laws have opened up another front for Moms for Liberty to advance an extremist agenda. Moving beyond the realm of textbooks, DeSantis has resurrected an old target: school libraries.

Florida has rocketed to the second-highest rate of banning books in schools. PEN America, a literary rights organization, has documented 566 book bans from 21 school districts (out of the 74 in Florida). The state of Texas was first on the list, with 801 book challenges from 22 districts.

Most of the books deal with queerness or non-white characters. Some have been challenged because they portray violence or sexual themes that right-wing activists say are harmful. Yet, notably, the Bible, which contains a multitude of horrific scenes of violence and sexual assault, has not been banned in Florida’s schools.

Instead, the Lake County and Escambia County School Districts purge titles like the award-winning And Tango Makes Three from its libraries. And Tango Makes Three is a children’s story about a same-sex penguin couple, based on scientific observation of common penguin behavior.

“These are not just individual complaints about books that parents are complaining about because their children are bringing them home,” PEN America’s Jonathan Friedman said, quoted by the Fort Myers News-Press. “Overwhelmingly, we are seeing people Google, ‘What books have LGBTQ content whatsoever,’ even just a book that has an illustration of a same-sex interracial couple gets thrown onto one of these lists and ends up banned in some districts in Florida.”

Teachers are afraid to bring supplemental material to teach history. Many have boxed up the books in their classrooms and taken them home. The risk has become too great, with teachers afraid of facing felony charges for displaying the wrong book. DeSantis claims school districts have interpreted his legislation too broadly, but, regardless, the bookshelves are bare.

Jacksonville teacher and education blogger Chris Guerrieri told Motherboard he had received dozens of anguished e-mails from teachers. “They’re making [the art teacher] get rid of [their] art books. They can’t even have their books in the classroom. Like they can’t just like, cover them up and put them to the side.”

A teacher in Manatee County, where widescale book banning has occurred, said that DeSantis’s de facto morality police was one reason for teachers’ fears: A “huge Moms for Liberty chapter in this area…would love to find a reason to target teachers who don’t buy into their fascist mentality.”

Across the state, DeSantis’s policies are depriving students of instructors who know their educational needs and can curate their lessons to nurture their inquiring minds and various interests. “It’s sad, because kids ask questions or they’re very curious when you teach certain topics, and not being able to pull background knowledge,” said Decker, the Osceola County school media specialist. “Like, if they don’t know what the Holocaust is, and you want to pull more background information about a story you’re reading—you can’t do that if it’s not already in the curriculum.”

As alarming as the campaign of banning books is, the efforts also work to distract from serious threats to democracy such as voter suppression, the deconstruction of the public school system, and the amassing of power in the state’s executive branch.

“Book bans, critical race theory, and LGBTQ+ issues—those are wedge issues that allow…people like DeSantis to mobilize their base,” Franklin said.

DeSantis is not unique in this regard. Democratic figures in Florida do the same. The difference between the parties, however, is whom Republicans are willing to sacrifice to their ambition.

“You know, fear works,” said Sonya Douglass, codirector of the Urban Education Leaders Program at Columbia University. “Fear, anger, emotional persuasion: It’s the political spectacle—the symbolic train, if you will, that moves people.”

She recalled a time during the early months of the pandemic when educators across the nation—teachers of middle schoolers, high schoolers—were driving out to meet students at their homes, pulling together resources to feed hungry families, searching for students who weren’t coming to class.

“[We must] remind people of the significance of educators and the tremendous work they’ve done…and how exhausted they are,” Douglass said.

Illusions of Success

Many people see Florida as a land of opportunity. Roughly 600 people move here every day—for the weather, the sunny beaches, and the lack of state income tax. For retirement, or to start their lives over.

Much of DeSantis’s rhetoric about opportunity in this fragile paradise, however, props up an illusion of prosperity. State politicians do not talk about how many people—for reasons including the skyrocketing cost of living—leave the state each year.

After more than two decades of Republican governors, the state has an affordable-housing crisis—for both homeowners and for renters. Recent legislative sessions—rubber-stamped by DeSantis—have resulted in huge wins for the insurance industry that further consolidate corporate advantages over everyday citizens. Right now, Florida is one of the worst states (39th, according to WalletHub) in which to raise a family, by metrics including affordability, health, safety, child care—and, yes, public education.

Education lags, and nothing about DeSantis’s war on teachers and books has helped remedy that fact. His political theater has steered the focus away from systemic problems. Student learning rates between grades three and eight have collapsed and are “the worst in the nation,” according to a 2022 Tampa Bay Times column, which uses data provided by a Stanford University study of standardized tests. “No other state comes close to Florida’s level of fourth to eighth grade performance collapse” in math from 2017 through 2022. The state also ranks among the lowest 10 states for student scores on the standardized SAT college entrance exam.

Florida also has a student health care problem. The Tampa Bay Times cites a recent Georgetown University study that found that 7.3 percent of Florida’s children are uninsured, amounting to roughly 320,000 kids. The families who can’t afford coverage are disproportionately Latino.

The organization I Am For Kids reports that “one out of six Florida children and one out of four households with children are food insecure, meaning they don’t know where they will get their next meal.” More than half of all Florida children live in households that don’t have enough money for food, clothing, and shelter.

Aside from the education they provide, schools often serve as a crucial focal point for communities. They offer day care for working parents, and food for students who can’t afford breakfasts or lunches, social outlets, and stability.

Maintaining DeSantis’s mirage of competency requires him to ignore the extracurricular roles of schools and the crises they face and to highlight sham successes, such as raising teacher salaries. Often it feels as if DeSantis has lifted a pebble over his head and proclaimed it a boulder. In March 2022, the governor’s office celebrated a hike in teachers’ salaries and applauded Florida as the ninth-best state in the nation for educators after allocating $800 million to “raise minimum teacher pay” to $47,000 a year “and increase veteran teacher salaries.”

That would have been a boon to teachers, but the effort concentrated on raising minimum teacher pay, with districts only allowed to use 20 percent of state-allocated funds for experienced teachers. In effect, the raise compressed the wage gap, with some seasoned educators only making $1,000 a year more than new hires.

“All the veteran [teachers] got screwed,” Ingram said.

The Associated Press also contradicted the governor’s claim of being ninth-best for educators, placing Florida at 48th in the nation for teacher pay rates. The state that is actually ninth, Maryland, pays teachers an average salary of $74,006, over $20,000 more than Florida’s $51,000 average salary during the same period. Florida ranks near the bottom in terms of per-pupil funding, despite a record budget surplus.

At the start of 2020, before the rise of Covid-19, thousands of Florida’s public-school educators flocked to the state capitol to demand better wages and more support from the state. “I shouldn’t have to marry a sugar daddy to teach,” read one sign at the march. But now educators can add a lack of general personal security to the lack of financial security, courtesy of DeSantis’s culture wars.

Many qualified educators are unwilling to take the risks of working here. “Professors and teachers don’t want to work in Florida,” Williams said. “People just do not want to come to Florida [to teach] because they feel that either they have to hide who they are or they can’t teach what they want to teach or are afraid of harassment.”

Rather than address the complex problems facing schools, DeSantis has tried to portray himself as education’s savior, with a stopgap measure to staff unfilled teacher positions with military veterans—a move that resulted in more national headlines for the governor.

“With the skills and experience that our 1.7 million veterans bring to Florida’s workforce, this new pathway to teaching will positively impact Florida’s students,” Commissioner of Education Manny Diaz Jr. said in an August 2022 press release from the governor’s office.

But the president of a Seminole County teacher’s union bluntly ascribed the governor’s motivation to something other than solving the teacher shortage. “Educationally…it’s akin to throwing darts at the wall,” Dan Smith told in December. “Politically, when you’re running for president of the United States, it’s a very, very good thing to do,” he said. DeSantis, “gets to hit on the military, he gets to hit on our veterans, and these are all positive vote-getters. It doesn’t do anything for public education.”

Underscoring another problem with many DeSantis initiatives, veterans applying often don’t understand the requirements to get certified to teach. “We’ve heard from our politicians in the state that anyone can teach, which doesn’t help,” one Hillsborough County Public Schools administrator told the outlet.

“If you listen to [DeSantis], he’s not a policy person,” Williams said. “Every rally he does is getting people angry about what the government’s doing in a very emotional way. Everyone understands there’s nothing specific that he talks about.”

Only after pressure from did a state education department representative confirm, in December 2022, the number of veterans certified as teachers: Out of 538 applications, DeSantis’s much-vaunted program had hired just seven veterans.

Widening Channels for Hate

In 2022, DeSantis established the Year of the Parent, which included a “Don’t Say Gay” bill as one anchor for ever-widening legitimizing of discrimination. States such as Kentucky and Indiana are considering similar legislation. Florida’s blueprint for hate is being exported nationwide.

The Parental Rights in Education bill (HB 1557) prohibits any instruction in the classroom “on sexual orientation or gender identity” for grades from K-3 “or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.” The bill also allows parents to sue a school district for any act or speech that they believe has violated the policy.

The Don’t Say Gay law, among other consequences, created an environment in which teachers hesitate to express themselves. A viral incident in Orange County aroused fear that teachers with same-sex partners would be forbidden to keep photos of spouses on their desks.

One lawsuit, filed by national and state queer civil rights groups Family Equality and Equality Florida, stated that the “effort to control young minds through state censorship—and to demean LGBTQ lives by denying their reality—is a grave abuse of power.” The law, according to these groups, violates free speech, equal protection, and due process of students and families.

The Trevor Project, a nonprofit focused on preventing the suicides of queer youth, has condemned the bill, saying it appeared to “undermine LGBTQ support in schools.” The organization also criticized the “vague parental notification requirements,” which could potentially require teachers to out students to their families.

“All [of this is] designed to really mobilize the base to give the audience and the voters of Florida the general feeling that ‘the other’ kind of group of folks are taking away so-called American values,” Franklin said. “And DeSantis is really perfecting that.”

Despite all of this clear harm and collateral damage, DeSantis insists that gender and sexual identities should not be discussed in schools, while using abstract terms like “rights,” “freedom,” and “liberty.” He calls it “indoctrination,” a homophobic dog whistle implying that embracing a gender and sexual identity outside heteronormativity is morally abhorrent learned behavior. Though, according to the language in his own law, DeSantis should be advocating the erasure of all gender references, even to “boys” and “girls.”

The Costs

Florida’s state government is escalating the spread of bigotry—and at what cost?

If it is necessary to rely on data to illustrate the importance of helping children flourish as themselves, then know that queer young people are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers.

Floridians must now remind lawmakers that it is not inherent to a child’s queerness that they are at risk for self-harm. If subjected to discrimination, alienated from societies that should express care and concern, they end up leading double or triple lives at a young age. Queer youth become more likely to kill themselves, because of discrimination they experience from people who have learned to hate them.

DeSantis doesn’t seem to care. He has started to use other departments to police nonnormative expressions of identity beyond the school system.

Take, for example, DeSantis’s use of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation to investigate drag queen events, including a “Drag Queen Christmas” performance at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale. On Twitter, Press Secretary Bryan Griffin posted an announcement of the investigation and alleged that the event had been “marketed to children,” though ads online for the show had noted that it was for people 18 and older unless accompanied by a parent.

In Florida, as in many Southern states, drag shows not only have a long history of relevance but are also somewhat similar in spirit to “Powderpuff” football games at high school, in which boys dress in feminine-coded cheerleading outfits and girls compete on the field. Are they now banned too?

“DeSantis cares not one whit about the law and limits on his authority,” Republican strategist Stipanovich said.

The stakes for Florida’s children are high. Beyond the daily pressures these policies create for students, the likelihood that this sort of hateful rhetoric will lead to gun violence cannot be ignored. More than 323,000 students at 346 schools have been exposed to gun violence in the United States since the mass shooting at Columbine High School in 1999. Nationally, gun violence kills more children than car accidents do.

In a widely denounced tweet, Moms for Liberty supporter and then vice-chair of the Florida Republican Party Christian Ziegler even encouraged an armed response to the Broward Center drag show, which he call an “insane event.”

The depravity of the extremism directed toward schools and antipathy toward LGBTQ+ youth seems in line with what DeSantis won’t say and how he won’t use his bully pulpit.

He has betrayed a general reluctance to condemn neo-Nazi marches in Orlando, Nazi symbols displayed by his own supporters outside a Tampa convention center, anti-Semitic messages at a Jacksonville stadium event in 2022, and banners unfurled over I-95 advertising Nazi conspiracies.

“Should DeSantis be elected president, that’s how he will also govern,” Franklin warned.

No solutions for actual problems. No tolerance for debate—just punching and pummeling.

The Never-Ending War

Later this year, Ingram plans to leave Florida for good. He hasn’t quit just the public education system but the entire state. And why should he stay? DeSantis’s latest gambits include funding private schools in a way that could obliterate the public school system and abolishing any programs he disapproves of in higher education. As prelude to these attempts, DeSantis has worked to destroy a liberal bastion of knowledge, New College, and issued requests for information from all public universities, focused on rooting out “diversity, equity and inclusion.”

For DeSantis, these moves reinforce executive branch supremacy and rally support for an as-yet-unannounced presidential candidacy. They once more conjure an illusion of policy where no real policy exists—just an agenda—applied to a “problem” of DeSantis’s own creation.

In pursuing this agenda, DeSantis is destabilizing democracy and stoking hate crimes. But this comes with a self-inflicted price in the current American political environment. To avoid being replaced as the far right’s leader in the popular imagination of his base, DeSantis must continue to supply and conquer a steady stream of enemies. This means he will always be desperate for the next controversy, the next fight that keeps him attractive to his base. It explains why he convened a grand jury to investigate Covid-19 vaccines, arrested citizens who legitimately voted in the 2022 elections, and abolished AP African American studies. To drive home a point. To direct attention to himself.

Yet the fact that DeSantis seeks to control Floridians so completely and prevent so many from voting means that we must have some power in our diversity. We are not just “Florida Man”; we are not a joke. DeSantis is attempting to make us forget our better selves, in large part by destroying a common infrastructure for education.

Schools should never be the “site of all this conflict,” Douglass said. “How do we [again] teach cooperation? Self-knowledge? Collective responsibility?”

There are two Floridas now, and the gap is widening. In one Florida, politicians and activists who oppose DeSantis try desperately to push back against his actions and hold on to the idea that everyone deserves dignity, respect, rights, and a decent life. That includes the fundamental belief that the queer community should not be erased from public life and that Black history should not be excised from society.

In the other Florida, DeSantis’s Florida, none of those things are true.

“No one can tell DeSantis he’s wrong about anything without being punished,” Williams said.

To avoid a DeSantis presidency that would “Make America Florida” in the crudest and most harmful of ways, it will require the nation to reject everything DeSantis stands for. Or as Douglass put it, “‘Freedom, liberty.’ How do we lose language? How do we get it back?”

Bringing this apparatus of hate into the White House sound the death knell for American democracy. We must hold strong to the idea that we are better than this—so much better. We must continue to remember that it doesn’t have to be this way.

A thank you for research assistance to Annamarie Simoldoni.

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