The age of the political brats

crying babies
Daniel McLaughlin photo

I’m almost old enough to remember when Republicans acted like grown folks. Republicans were the party of fiscal responsibility, the party of moral probity, the party of Dads. They used to be into stuff like civil rights, science, and, OK, golf–golf is encoded in white men at the cellular level. Still, Republicans prided themselves on being stiff of spine and big on principle.

Today’s Republican Party is stocked with ill-mannered brats, id-driven,  ignorant, and proud of it. I’ve seen more decorum on a playground full of pre-schoolers hopped up on Halloween candy. They’re white; they’re entitled; and they don’t give a damn about anyone not of their tribe.

Consider Matt Gaetz, the congressman from Fort Walton Beach. Gaetz honed his jerkery while still in the Florida Legislature: on opening day of the 2012 session, he tweeted, “With all of the lovely flowers in the House Chamber, I can barely smell the Occupy people outside.”

Gaetz, who owns one of the most slap-able frat-boy faces in America, voted against the relief bill for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and said “no” on anti-human trafficking legislation. His date for the 2017 State of the Union address was a Holocaust-denying white supremacist. Now Gaetz accuses George Soros of somehow funding the “invasion” caravan of poor people walking north from Honduras.

Rich as Soros is, you’d think he’d  just call up a fleet of Ubers to drive everybody to Juarez.

Rick Scott, R-Medicare Fraud, might seem too dim and witless to qualify as a bona fide brat. Yet he pulls some pretty bull–um–excrement moves. Like putting his (considerable, if ill-gotten) cash in a “blind” trust that was not remotely blind,  trying to green himself up with an announcement of more funding to restore the flow of water in the Everglades (even though he has been hostile to the environment since he arrived in Tallahassee), and stalked off when a reporter asked him what he thought of Donald Trump’s move to end birthright citizenship.

Scott obviously doesn’t know that one in eight Floridians has an immigrant parent.

Now, much as I’d love to blame the small-handed sociopathic oaf in the White House, the GOP’s tantrum-throwing pre-dates Trump’s elevation to the presidency. Republicans indulged in noisy bullying during Florida’s 2000 presidential  debacle. Take the Brooks Brothers Riot, when a gaggle of GOP campaign operatives pretended to be “grassroots” protestors, shutting down the recount in Miami. One-time Trump confidant Roger Stone was there, as well as  our beer-loving new Supreme Court Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who can pitch a mean hissy fit himself.

Which brings us to Ron DeSantis, Florida’s Republican candidate for governor. He’s rude, he yells, and sulks like a two year-old. Like Matt Gaetz, he seems to admire Donald Trump’s epic narcissism and Mussolini-style ability to rile up white people, convincing them they’re victims of some invisible cabal run by the Deep State, the UN, Barack Obama, the Clintons, and late night TV comics. DeSantis acts as though he deserves the governorship. I mean, he went to Yale and Harvard!

DeSantis blows up like a cheap gas grill when anyone shakes him. At their last debate, when Democratic opponent Andrew Gillum raised his multiple appearances at conferences organized by white supremacist David Horowitz, he barked, “How the hell am I supposed to know every single statement someone makes?”

Yeah, how could he possibly have Googled David Horowitz’s website and discovered that the guy thinks there’s a war against whites in America and promotes books about how  Barack Obama is a secret socialist?

When the respected foreign affairs columnist Andres Oppenheimer wanted to hear De Santis’s thoughts on the 3600 deaths in Puerto Rico due to Hurricane Maria, an issue of profound interest to many Floridians, he got angry: “All you’re looking to do, all you want to do is use this stuff to politicize it to try to attack Trump. That’s all you’re doing.” He lost it again when questioned about the campaign ad in which he inculcates his children in the ways of Trumpery,  playing blocks with his little daughter, saying, “Build the wall.” DeSantis huffed that Oppenheimer didn’t get that the ad was freaking hilarious, and anyone with a sense of humor would understand it. Obviously, added DeSantis, Oppenheimer was “just not very bright.”

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to endure four years listening to a guy who gets spitting mad over the least thing. Algae-choked water, say. Reproductive rights. Education spending. A governor who might spontaneously combust during a press conference would be both unseemly and unsightly.

Seriously, y’all, I’m sympathetic. I know it’s tough to be a white man; I know white men are feeling fragile these days, what with them no longer ruling every inch of the roost (just most of it), having to suffer the indignity of impudent women and people of color and even reporters insisting they tell the truth, and failing to automatically admire their general awesomeness, but give me a governor (and senator and president, for that matter) who knows how to behave, who doesn’t feel we owe him deference.

In 2018, this doesn’t seem too much to ask.

Diane Roberts
Diane Roberts is an 8th-generation Floridian, born and bred in Tallahassee, which probably explains her unhealthy fascination with Florida politics. Educated at Florida State University and Oxford University in England, she has been writing for newspapers since 1983, when she began producing columns on the legislature for the Florida Flambeau. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Times of London, the Guardian, the Washington Post, the Oxford American, and Flamingo. She has been a member of the Editorial Board of the St. Petersburg Times–back when that was the Tampa Bay Times’s name–and a long-time columnist for the paper in both its iterations. She was a commentator on NPR for 22 years and continues to contribute radio essays and opinion pieces to the BBC. Roberts is also the author of four books, most recently Dream State, an historical memoir of her Florida family, and Tribal: College Football and the Secret Heart of America. She lives in Tallahassee, except for the times she runs off to Great Britain, desperate for a different government to satirize.

12 COMMENTS

  1. ‘Jerkery’! Great new word for Gaetz. Also: ‘blew up like a cheap gas grill’ was a good one for DeSantis. Sorry, this white guy does not play golf, but I loved that line too.

  2. This is really the gospel truth. We have grown men doing and saying things that would get most five-year-olds sent to the time out chair. That this low bar of behavior for our elected officials has become acceptable to many Floridians/Americans is astounding to me. I am praying that my faith in humanity will be restored next Tuesday, but I am not holding my breath.

  3. Diane, Sspectacular reporting! I like to say, “LET’S START ELECTING GROWN-UPS. NO MORE PRE-PUBESCENTS WHO throw hissy fits if somebody fails to genuflect ! De Santis is a perfect copy of trump. Good reason to dump him too.
    Let’s make Very Sure that trump, de santis do not mess with serious investigator Mueller after the mid-terms, taking it out on his fine detective work! Everybody with brains, no excuses, go VOTE. We did. Wonder if this was the last time we will be allowed to vote, per our own Hitler-Mussolini-Putin dictator-at -large!

  4. Thank you, Diane, for a good start to my day. Imagine you had as much fun writing your fact-based opinion
    as I did reading + forwarding. Took time out for Obama rally for Nelson, Gillum + other featured FL Dems vying for important offices. Cashier friend at grocery later asked who/why she should vote for, agreeing w/ my reasons
    after 3+ mins. comparing Sen/Gov candidates. Next person in impatient long line behind me gave me a hug + said “I hope everyone heard you.” Best day, politically, in 2 yrs. in Rubio-red SWFL.

    Why media/pundits still tout polls, given their massive fails in ’16, confounds me. I’d like to read your + Mitch Perry’s opinions after Tuesday’s results.

  5. Florida has come a long way down since Republican legislators sponsored environmental legislation in the 1970’s. Why would any adult today want to be represented by those who act with childish behavior as the present crop of Republicans demonstrate?

  6. I loved your book, Dream State, and your columns – especially this one – made me cackle with glee. Your descriptions are brutally spot-on. Do you have a Facebook page to follow, or any other way to keep up with your work? Keep it up!

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