Ron DeSantis Previews the Trumpist Line on Who’s to Blame for COVID-19

MIAMI, FL - AUGUST 29: Governor Ron DeSantis gives a briefing regarding Hurricane Dorian to the media at National Hurricane Center on August 29, 2019 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Eva Marie Uzcategui/Getty Images)
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) gives a briefing regarding Hurricane Dorian to the media at National Hurricane Center on August 29, 2019 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Eva Marie Uzcategui/Getty Images)
March 28, 2020 9:30 p.m.

The future is Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) of Florida. Today the governor who resolutely refused to close the state’s beaches or much if any of its commerce while the coronavirus spread like wildfire across the country has now decided to blame New York and New Yorkers. DeSantis was the first to order anyone arriving from New York City-area airports to enter a 14 day quarantine. That was on Monday. He told reporters he was pursuing the travel-ban approach rather than a statewide lockdown because, he claimed, the crisis in New York proved lockdowns don’t work.

DeSantis looks like the spur to the White House’s announcement late last week that New Yorkers traveling to any other parts of the country should be self-quarantining. According to the Post, a conversation with DeSantis this morning was behind the President Trump saying he’s “considering” a quarantine of the New York metro region. (This evening Trump opted instead for a “strong travel advisory”).

The effort to keep New Yorkers out of the state is at least understandable. I think I can say that with some standing since it would apply to me. For the moment New York is the most concentrated hotspot in the country. The fear and the reality are understandable.The Democratic Governor of Rhode Island, Gina Raimondo, yesterday announced plans to bar entry to cars with New York license plates and do house-to-house searches for fleeing New Yorkers. I’ll leave the constitutionality of such an effort to others. I think public authorities are entitled to wide latitude during epidemic health emergencies. The question is whether it’s an effective use of resources. In a press conference today DeSantis made a great ballyhoo about how a COVID-19-positive traveler from New York was intercepted at an airport checkpoint yesterday in Jacksonville.

The particulars of that story, if DeSantis’s account is accurate, are pretty egregious. But it comes after a 24-hour period when Florida’s COVID-19 positive case count went up by about a thousand, a 36% increase in one day. The virus is clearly deeply seeded in the state and growing exponentially on the ground. A few sick and scared New Yorkers certainly won’t help; but they are hardly the threat the state faces.

The heart of the issue is the tightly wrapped connection between incompetence, leadership failure and scapegoating. This is neither anomaly or paradox. It is the norm. Gov. Raimondo’s plan to search homes for New Yorkers seems more a product of panic and rash thinking. DeSantis’s gambit seems more political and forward looking, a fact underlined by the interplay between his and the President’s statements on a regional quarantine. Just as President Trump now blames China for hiding from him the escalating threat he ignored and denied for eight weeks DeSantis now seeks to shift blame for his failure to take the most basic preventative actions onto fleeing New Yorkers.

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You can see at a distance the evolving political narrative. The sorrows that befall Florida and soon other red states will be blamed on the symbolic capital of deracinated liberalism, New York City, with its immigrants, bad values and dirty ways.

The kind of grievance politics which created Donald Trump and which he embodies and champions can only understand or confront challenge through the prism of grievance, blame and betrayal. This storyline, the groundwork for which has been laid for years, is rapidly coming into view for how the American right will explain the crisis of COVID-19.

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