Kingdom of Normalcy

On Governor DeSantis’ ascendance and the New Florida

I don’t believe there’s anything mystical about crossing state lines, but when I crossed over the Georgia state line and pulled into the massive Florida welcome center in March of 2021, after spending a week in Tennessee with my girlfriend, I felt great relief. I’d spent some pleasant days in Tennessee, gorging on barbeque and other assorted fatty foods difficult to score in Miami, but I’d been itching to get back home — to the Free State of Florida. As I searched for a parking spot, I scanned the license plates of my fellow travelers: New York. Vermont. Maryland. California. New York. North Carolina. Florida. New York. So many damn New Yorkers.

Finally, I found a spot next to a Winnebago sporting Canada plates and hopped out of my rental. I was back! I’d stopped at the welcome center in pre-pandemic days, but what I encountered a year into the pandemic shocked me; people were spilling out of the center and rushing into it, while others, seemingly dazed by Floridian freedom, congregated outside and regained their bearings. I weaved my way past Americans of every imaginable derivation and made it to the bathroom, where I encountered a big line. I’d heard about the influx into Florida, but as I waited for a urinal, holding it in, I couldn’t hold back my thoughts: “You’re all coming aren’t you?” I hadn’t directed my comment at anyone in particular, but a stupefied — and sweat-soaked — gentleman wearing a Detroit Lions jersey, turned around: “Nowhere else to go,” he said. There were certainly other places to go in America, but my new Floridian friend had made a point: to a certain type of American, it feels like Florida is the last place to go.

That statement was true in March of 2021 and it’s even truer today. 

There’s been a definite vibe shift down here that’s coincided with Ron DeSantis’ remarkable ascendance in the last year and a half. Before the pandemic, Florida was known as “God’s waiting room,” a sunny place where retirees ran down the clock and where “Florida man” drunkenly embarrassed himself and the state. While Florida men and geriatric snowbirds certainly contribute to the state’s identity, their influence has been overstated by the liberal outsiders — and self-hating Floridians — who usually construct the narrative for national consumption. For decades, liberal pundits and writers like Dave Barry and Carl Hiaasen, have treated the state like the nation’s laughingstock; the 2000 election fiasco in which Florida failed to properly count the votes didn’t help. Subsequently, the liberal framing of Florida as a fool’s paradise has proved difficult to shake. In turn, Floridians have always been defensive of their cultural position, which is why the state has been ‘uncool’ for so long.

Enter Ron DeSantis. The 46th Governor, a proud Florida boy, was well aware of his home state’s status as a national laughingstock back in the summer of 2020. DeSantis settled into his role as the leader of the red state contingent against lockdowns, confronted the hypocritical media and their lies, and opened Florida. As a consequence, his confidence grew exponentially. The defensiveness which characterized his political persona up until then didn’t quite disappear overnight, but with each passing press conference it was clear that he’d landed on a two-pronged political philosophy that animates his every decision. The DeSantis method is simple: 1) go on the offense. 2) value traditional American normalcy above all else, and govern as such.

What is traditional American normalcy? One only needs to look at DeSantis’ political directives since the summer of 2020. For starters, lockdowns were soundly rejected early on, mostly because they destroyed the hospitality industry; but also because the typical ‘spiritual lock-downer’ demanding bureaucratic sterility was the ‘urban blue-state professional’ — the antithesis of Florida Man. The lockdowns will most likely not return, but when a significant percentage of a population is temperamentally aligned with lockdown life and would easily (and perhaps gladly) slip back into zoom happy hours if told to do so, it doesn’t really matter. The desire to engage in physical reality, free of dehumanizing impediments like useless masks, is a hallmark of traditional American normalcy. 

As the pandemic waned, DeSantis leaned hard into culture war issues, ensuring that Florida is not only committed to ‘normalcy’ (as defined above) but also cultural sanity. The progressive Left, driven by its distaste for traditional Americanism, seeks to destabilize the country. The new tenets of Critical Race Theory and absurdist gender wokeism, being implemented into every institution it controls, are proof of that. With the signing of the Parental Rights in Education Act and the Stop Woke Act, which prohibit such teachings in schools, DeSantis has made it as crystal clear as the waters off the Florida gulf coast: in Florida, children will not be taught to distrust their biology or view their country as irredeemably evil. 

The Governor seems to understand that a soft American fracturing will eventually lead to what David Reaboi calls a “national divorce,” and so he’s transforming Florida into the capital of traditional America; for now, Florida functions as a firewall of sorts. The irony, of course, is that since Florida was relegated to second-class status for so long by uppity elites, the state now has no problem positioning itself as the home of American dissidents. Liberals love throwing around the meme of Bugs Bunny chopping Florida off the country, but it took the son of Italian immigrants to give everyone what they wanted. DeSantis rendered that pesky rabbit useless, and now he’s going after that overconfident rodent that has commandeered Central Florida for decades. 

DeSantis’ blindsided assault on Walt Disney World, the state’s most powerful force, caught even his most ardent supporters by surprise. The rodent, you see, has long been considered untouchable, but in his crusade against the woke and the bureaucratic destabilizers, the Governor went after Disney’s special status nonetheless. It was not merely a symbolic move, but its symbolism cannot be overstated: this is a new Florida now. It doesn’t belong to the rodent, and it is no longer the butt of liberal jokes. Florida is formidable and free, and Ron DeSantis, a man who looked like your typical milquetoast politician pre-pandemic, is aiming to turn it blood red for the foreseeable future.

The gentleman I met at the Florida welcome center who felt that there’s “nowhere else to go,” as well as thousands like him rushing to Florida, are simply longing for a return to normalcy. DeSantis, more than any other politician, understands that. The only political battle that matters for the foreseeable future pits those longing for a return to traditional America against the agents of the woke bureaucracy that seek to micromanage every facet of American life and relegate us to an anesthetized pod life. That, is what American freedom means today. The political realignment initiated by the pandemic is evident whenever a former New Yorker now residing in Florida says something to the effect of: “It just feels different over here.” It does. And that’s because the vibes are different in Florida. Nothing, after all, kills happiness more than wokeness.

The New Florida is simply the old America, which is precisely what draws so many people tired of the New Woke Normal characteristic of blue states, and who have forgotten what it’s like to live without the ever-present eye of the woke bureaucracy watching their every move. The hatred directed at DeSantis and the New Florida by the Left speaks to the irreconcilable differences between those who love freedom and desire traditional American normalcy, and the woke bureaucratic destabilizers and heralds of a soft American fracturing. There are indeed two Americas — and the chasm between them gets wider every day. 

Alex Perez is a Cuban-American writer based in Miami, and a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Related reading:

Land of the Free?
, by Riva-Melissa Tez

America’s Trial, by Benjamin Braddock

Fear-Addled Bugmen, by Adam Winfield

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