Politics & Media
Mar 03, 2023, 06:26AM

Jonathan Chait Tries to Be Both Anti-DeSantis and Anti-Trans

You can’t fight fascists by kicking marginalized people.

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Jonathan Chait thinks Florida governor and presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis is an authoritarian nightmare and a threat to democracy in the US. But, at the same time, he shares and boosts DeSantis-like conspiracy theories about trans people. As the father of a trans daughter, this is infuriating. It’s also not an effective way to fight fascism, which is what Chait claims he wants to do.

Chait’s case against DeSantis, published this week in New York Magazine, is strong and well-stated. The Disney corporation criticized DeSantis. DeSantis responded by ordering the compliant legislature to strip Disney of its self-governing status within Disney World. This is a direct threat to freedom of speech, and a nakedly authoritarian move to squash criticism and force corporations to bend the knee to the state. 

Chait adds, correctly, that DeSantis is boasting that if elected president, he would do to the US what he’s done in Florida—“use government power to force both public and private institutions to toe his line.” That means, as Chait says, that “Speaking out against him, or even producing content he disapproves of, would become a financially risky proposition.”

DeSantis is a scary guy. Chait and I agree! 

There’s one thing missing from Chait’s otherwise convincing analysis, though. He manages to go through his entire article about Disney’s criticism of DeSantis and DeSantis’ reaction without ever once mentioning what exactly it is that Disney was criticizing. What was the “prized legislative initiative” (in Chait’s words) that Disney objected to?

What Disney (mildly, belatedly) objected to was DeSantis’ sweeping “Don’t Say Gay” policy, which bans discussions of gender identity or sexuality in schools. The legislation effectively pushes teachers and students into the closet and fuels the state’s book bans.

Chait may have avoided talking about gay rights because he wanted to focus on free speech, not the content of the speech. But he also may have avoided talking about gay rights because he’s recently been pushing anti-trans conspiracy theories himself. Chait has embraced the idea that trans children are able to access health care too easily. In a recent New York article, he told his readers of reports that young people were coming into trans health care clinics claiming to be rocks or mushrooms, and immediately being given hormones.

This raises questions. What hormones would you give a rock? Why would you use your platform to spew unconfirmed and nonsensical rumors? Chait’s claims were quickly debunked by local reporting in St. Louis. At which point Chait wandered onto Twitter to say he was updating his “Bayesian priors” and whine because people were mocking him for being a credulous and bigoted fool.

Again, my daughter is trans, and I know first-hand it’s not easy to get trans health care. The first doctor my daughter talked to about trans care was transphobic and grossly insulting. It took us months to get connected to a care provider who was knowledgeable and took our insurance. Even though my daughter has very supportive parents and lives in a blue city, accessing trans health care hasn’t been easy. Chait wants to make it even harder, and is willing to spew nonsense to achieve that goal.

It isn’t just Chait’s nonsense though. The idea that doctors are irresponsibly pushing young people to transition is a right-wing talking point deployed by people like DeSantis to justify the policies Chait claims to oppose. DeSantis and his ilk believe that queer people are a contagion; they argue that children would all be happy and straight if they never heard that queer people exist. The right-wing authoritarians Chait warns about agree with him that evil doctors are pushing mushroom transition on unsuspecting youth. That’s why authoritarianism is needed—to protect the children from these wild conspiracy theories that Chait, among others, is cosigning. That’s why states like Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Kansas are pushing bills that would ban trans health care even for adults.

Reactionary centrists like Chait want to have it both ways. They want to oppose fascism without having to stand with marginalized people, who make them uncomfortable, or just seem less respectable than middle-aged white male pundits with sinecures at major magazines. Why can’t you fight fascism and deny trans people health care? “Both sides!” Chait bellows, as he bashes out a column warning of the dangers of the powerful governor of Florida and then turns around and bashes out a column about the dangers of human rights for a despised, marginalized minority.

Authoritarians like DeSantis use bigotry as a tactic. The fear and misinformation Chait promotes becomes the excuse for sweeping state dictats. The children are in danger (Chait agrees!) and so, DeSantis says, we need to do everything needed to protect them. That includes punishing corporations who speak against the ruler, banning books that challenge the ruler, and jailing people who try to vote against the ruler.

  • Didn't realize the "trans community" was so pro-free speech, especially after learning that one of them spat on a NYT reporter because their trans coverage wasn't one-sided enough. Meaning your argument is probably better served by not invoking the free speech issue. Your defense of corporate America (aren't they fascists?) is noted. They must not have their free speech rights denied! And DeSantis will financially punish all those speaking out against him if he's president? I'm scared now! I live in Florida, but haven't noticed I'm not allowed to speak out against the governor. As for his book bans, liberals have banned such books as Huck Finn and To Kill a Mocking Bird, which were both written from a liberal perspective. Fact check: there is no law called the "don't say gay" law. As the Parental Rights Act allows classroom discussion of families with two mothers or two fathers, it's doubtful that any teachers have had to go back into the closet. But perhaps you could offer evidence to the contrary to back your claim? I didn't think so. It's good to see you're open about calling for authoritarianism to "protect" people.Honesty is always the best policy. Still, it's puzzling when you dump on DeSantis for being an "authoritarian." Maybe it's just the kind of authoritarianism you don't like that's bad. And now DeSantis might try to jail me because I voted against him??? Sounds like a conspiracy theory.

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  • For the unvarnished truth one should always refer to source material which in this case is the 7 page Florida house Bill 1557 pertaining to parental rights in education. The primary focus of Bill 1557 is to give parents greater access to their child's school records and preventing school district personnel from discouraging or prohibiting parental notification and involvement in critical decisions affecting a student's mental, emotional, or physical well-being... The Bill also focuses on age appropriate education quote "Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards"....For the record Bill 1557 never says "don't say gay' nor does it prohibit classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in grades 4 through 12... Is it really appropriate to discuss topics regarding sexuality in grades K through 3? The parents of Florida overwhelmingly think it is not and Bill 1557 addresses the concerns of their constituents...

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  • Noah needs K-3 children to follow the curriculum he approves, or he will write fact-free screeds in protest!

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  • That would appear to be the case Subbeck. It would be curious to know how many journalists who criticize Florida House Bill 1557 have actually read the Bill in its entirety. My guess is very few. If HB 1557 were passed in 2010 or even 2015 it would have been seen as a reasonable and unobjectionable parental rights in education Bill that limits sexualized instruction in the lower elementary school grades. The Bill would likely have been widely applauded back then as it still should be today...Unfortunately in all too many school districts across the country today parental rights and reasonable age appropriate education standards have been sacrificed at the alter of the woke agenda ...

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  • None of them have read the bill, including Mr Berlatsky. That's not how it works in the media these days. You just write up front that it's called the "Don't Say Gay" law, and riff on that. Saves a lot of work.

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