Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida has emerged as a leader for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. He wants Florida to be the place where woke comes to die, and as president would undoubtedly want the same for the country. However, a federal court judge has derailed that plan, prohibiting DeSantis from enforcing the parts of Florida’s Stop WOKE Act that bar Florida’s educators from expressing some viewpoints in university classrooms, calling the law “positively dystopian.”
One could dismiss this and take the anti-woke language as simply red-meat rhetoric, but that would trivialize the governor’s vision for the future of the nation. Today Florida is known for its beaches, tropical climate, citrus fruit and senior citizens. That’s nice, but lots of places around the world share those characteristics.
What DeSantis is offering Florida and then the nation is an opportunity to uniquely rebrand itself. It could be nationally, maybe even internationally, recognized as the cemetery for wokeness. There is no other country or state that could make that claim.
Here’s how we can help make the governor’s aspiration a reality.
Last year, DeSantis signed legislation making the destruction of historical monuments a felony. However, since the murder of George Floyd, 31 states, including both blue states like California, Massachusetts and New York and red states like Indiana, South Carolina, and Texas, as well as Florida, have wokenly removed 377 Confederate memorials and monuments. The price tag for their removal and destruction or storage has varied from $2,000 to $2,000,000 apiece. The social cost has been far higher in terms of protests, threats of violence and deepening divisions in already politically frayed communities.
Such costs can be slashed by taking a leaf from DeSantis’ playbook. He shipped refugees legally in the U.S. to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, which he characterized as a progressive state, a sanctuary location supportive of immigrants.
In a like manner, states and communities that wish to remove monuments and memorials could ship them to DeSantis at the governor’s mansion in Tallahassee, where they will be welcomed and treated with respect as were the refugees on Martha’s Vineyard.
This would be a win/win for everyone. The woke across the country could dispose of their politically incorrect memorials without the sturm und drang traditionally associated with their removal. DeSantis would receive an extraordinary gift enabling him to achieve his dreams for Florida. What could be a more tangible way to demonstrate his commitment to eradicating woke, which is defined as alertness to injustice in society, especially relating to race, than decorating the governor’s home and the grounds of the governor’s mansion with statues and memorials to slaveholders, racists and rebel leaders?
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This is a gift that will keep giving. There are still more than 1,500 Confederate monuments that have not been removed. One can expect in the years ahead, as states and communities become more sensitive to social injustice, that they will continue to raze their memorials, which they can continue to send to DeSantis.
Confederate memorials could be just the beginning. There are also monuments to anti-Semites, segregationists and authors and educators that could be removed and sent to DeSantis. The possibilities are mind-boggling.
With hundreds of memorials at the governor’s mansion, DeSantis, who is financially punishing Disney for criticizing his “Don’t Say Gay” school policy, could open a rival to Disney World building on his statue monopoly “Woke Land.”
What kid wouldn’t rather spend a day chit chatting with 8-foot cast members playing Jefferson Davis, Alabama Commissioner of Public Safety “Bull” Connor, or Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio; dodging snarling dogs; running through high-pressure hoses on hot days, or watching the nightly book burnings? No way Mickey and Minnie could compete with that.
Here’s another winner. Florida is one of seven states that still commemorate Confederate Memorial Day. Desantis can put his money where his mouth is and make it a state holiday like Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina. To do otherwise would be tantamount to a confession of being soft on wokeness.
Florida license plates could then be redesigned. They are now green and white with pictures of oranges at their center and the words “Sunshine State” at the bottom. If we do our part to help Desantis, he will have earned the right to remake them: change their color to funereal black, place the Grim Reaper at the center, and replace the current words with “The Graveyard State” or “Where Woke Comes to Die.” If DeSantis becomes president, he could do the same with government license plates, stamps and coins. To borrow a term from his chief Republican rival, wouldn’t that genuinely be Making America Great Again?
Levine is president emeritus of Woodrow Wilson Foundation and a distinguished scholar of higher education at NYU.