Disney stance in ‘Don’t Say Gay’ fight is a reminder that culture wars are more about money than morality

The culture wars are firmly centered in Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis is fixated on using his power to attack those who refuse to embrace his right-wing politics and hateful rhetoric.

DeSantis is aided by a cadre of state officials from bodies like the Florida Department of Education, which last week rejected more than 50 math books from next school year’s curriculum, claiming that some of the books referenced critical race theory.

The irony is that many opponents of critical race theory are unaware that it is the examination of how race plays out in the American legal system. Perhaps worse, they don’t know that it is taught at the college level, not in grade school, and certainly is not present in fifth-grade math books.

» READ MORE: Lost in the critical race theory debate: the enduring value of a free press | Opinion

It’s easy for the powerful to ignore the racism that has long defined politics in Florida. But not when it comes to homophobia.

When The Walt Disney Company remained silent as DeSantis and his minions came for the LGBTQ community, the company’s employees staged walkouts in Florida and beyond. At issue was the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, which forbids instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity from kindergarten through third grade. Disney CEO Bob Chapek took the hint. Not only did Chapek condemn the legislation, he also declared that the company would no longer make political donations in Florida, where Disney has long given lavishly to mostly Republican politicians.

Now DeSantis, who is all-but-certain to run for president in 2024, is pushing Florida’s state legislature to revoke the special status that allows Walt Disney World to operate a private government over its Florida properties. On the surface, this fight looks to be centered on morality. In truth, it is a fight about money.

» READ MORE: Philly kindergarten teacher: Florida’s ‘don’t say gay’ legislation has me terrified | Opinion

Had Disney simply condemned the “Don’t Say Gay” law in the same way corporate interests make mealy-mouthed statements about Black issues like voter suppression and police abuse, the fight would’ve stopped there. However, when the LGBTQ community and its own employees expressed outrage, Disney went a step further than most companies do on Black issues. The company promised to cut the flow of political donations.

That’s different. That’s damaging. That’s real.

Disney’s promise to pull funding from DeSantis and other Florida politicians is bigger than what Major League Baseball did by relocating its All Star Game after Georgia passed a voter suppression law that disproportionately impacted Black people. Disney’s promise is bigger than JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon taking a knee after the murder of George Floyd. Pulling donations directly impacts the politicians who attacked the LGBTQ community to gain points with their base.

For me, that’s where it gets interesting, because DeSantis’ response to Disney cutting off the donation spigot reveals much more than his own petty nature. It also unmasks what’s essentially a “pay-to-play” relationship between corporate America and the politicians they support.

Disney bought its way into Florida politics decades ago, throwing around so much money that it was allowed to have its own government within the state.

Solomon Jones
Disney bought its way into Florida politics decades ago, throwing around so much money that it was allowed to have its own government within the state. To maintain that cozy arrangement, Disney had to keep the money flowing, and it did, right up until the “Don’t Say Gay” bill caused the company’s CEO to draw the line.

In Philadelphia, that kind of brazen quid-pro-quo would be called a bribe. We’ve already seen two City Council members face trial after being accused of improperly taking money in the course of their official duties. In the case of Bobby Henon, a federal indictment resulted in a guilty verdict. For Kenyatta Johnson, it led to a mistrial and a pledge from prosecutors to pursue the charges again. In Florida, apparently, it’s just the way things are done.

In a state where self-righteous politicians so often position themselves on the front lines for white supremacy, it’s almost disappointing to know that it really comes down to money.

For all their bigoted bluster about critical race theory and math books, about stolen elections and voting rights, about LGBTQ lessons and kindergarten, DeSantis and his colleagues are just greedy politicians. And, in their phony culture wars, as in any conflict, truth is among the first casualties.

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