In Florida, a new culture war is flaring up about free speech. The Walt Disney Company criticized a Republican law banning education for younger schoolchildren on sexual orientation and gender identity. The dispute has come at the right time for Gov. DeSantis.
Free speech and free enterprise are key issues for America’s Republicans — at least, if you take them at their word. Anxiously, the Grand Old Party swears to free speech, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In furious speeches, Republicans accuse their political opponents of deriding this fundamental civil liberty, even wanting to abolish it.
In the political day to day, the Republican fight for free speech and free enterprise appears to be less heroic. That is to the extent that the legislature of Florida passed a bill this week stripping Disney of its self-governing authority over its theme park, along with various tax breaks. Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, had pressed for it and immediately signed the bill swiftly passed on Friday.
Now, there would be all sorts of reasons to strip Disney, a multibillion-dollar company, of such privileges. For the Republicans, however, these reasons have nothing to do with it; hundreds of other tax havens are still standing. The Republicans are targeting Disney, possibly the most American of all American groups, and are acting in political retaliation.
In other words, Disney criticized DeSantis’s education bill in March due to pressure from its employees. The bill banned children from learning about sexual orientation or gender identity up until the third grade. Disney expressed “concern” that the bill “could discriminate against gay, lesbian, nonbinary and transgender children and families.”* These words were restrained; other critics speak of a “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
For the Republicans, however, this criticism was too much. Free speech? Free enterprise? Now, everything has to be subordinate to the fight against a supposed woke culture. The dispute has come at the right time for DeSantis: He is making his mark as a possible presidential candidate for his party. Donald Trump is now just one of many with a liking for authoritarianism in his party.
*Editor’s Note: This quotation, accurately translated, could not be verified.