Natural disasters provide opportunities for political leaders to show their stuff. Mess it up and you open the door to political oblivion, as many have found out the hard way: Shrub Bush after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 (“Brownie, you’re doin’ a heck of a job”), Anastasio Somoza after the 1972 Nicaraguan earthquake, and Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne after the 1979 Chicago blizzard.
Early indications are that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, contender for the MAGA crown, will go the other way as he soberly warns Floridians to evacuate before Category 5 Hurricane Ian hits. He is showing coolness under fire, and will likely let people who actually know what they’re doing organize the relief and recovery efforts, then take credit for the results. If that pans out, he will cruise to reelection in November, even if it later turns out that reconstruction funds went to well-connected Republican donors while Haitian and other Black neighborhoods were left to drown. This will put DeSantis in an excellent position to step in when, as seems increasingly likely, Donald “Jesus” Trump is finally crucified on a cross of his own shoddy construction. Good old Ron will play Mary Magdalene at this MAGA Calvary, weeping fake tears while secretly exulting in his own great good fortune. So much of success in politics, as in other areas of life, is about being in the right place at the right time, as H.L. Mencken once observed about President Calvin Coolidge (“a darling of the gods”).
Moreover, DeSantis’s impending triumph over a massive end-of-September hurricane that Definitely Has Nothing To Do With Climate Change comes atop his supposed triumph over that other great natural disaster, COVID-19, in which he heroically defied tyrannical mask and vaccine mandates with only maybe fifty thousand excess deaths in his state. There was little downside for DeSantis, since death mostly stalked unnecessary old and/or Black people whom the callous, the foolish, and the uninformed know and care nothing about, while adulating DeSantis for not disturbing their sunny lives. Voila: the Competent Trump! Knowledgeable observers have been warning for a long time that the next leader of the MAGA American fascist movement would likely not be quite as big a buffoon as Trump himself, but a professional politician who knew not to make all the beginners’ mistakes the Very Stable Genius has made, not to mention not being quite so beholden to the illusion that the entire universe revolves around him. Behold, such a man is Ron DeSantis. He plays the same resentment fiddle as Trump, and plays it almost as well as the Old Master. More, he has perfected the sleight-of-hand of committing some performative outrage, then moving on quickly before the trick can be exposed. Some of these tricks are illegal on their face, like using public funds to deceive refugees in another state and shanghai them up north, but he has learned from Trump’s experience of impunity what the fascists of the last century discovered of old: violate the law boldly and publicly and popularly enough, while daring the law in all its majesty to stop you, and you can go from strength to strength, until you are the law.