(Ed: please see the previous post for a discussion of how the choices for this year were narrowed down. See also Jeb Lund in the New Republic, who scooped me on DeSantis as the Least Valuable Player of 2020. We did not coordinate this; I guess DeSantis just really stood out.)
Ron DeSantis is the poster child for how this country failed during the pandemic. Yes, Donald Trump is bad. Yes, Congress is bad. But the day-to-day impact of the pandemic on our lives was 99% dictated by state and local governments. They decided what was open and what was closed; how schools would teach our kids; what unemployment relief would be available for the out-of-work; what public health recommendations or requirements would be enforced; how seriously the government would take contact tracing and other steps to mitigate the spread of the virus; what help was available to the professionals whose jobs obligated them to deal directly with sick people.
Every one of these decisions was made by your mayor, your town council, your governor, your state legislature. Despite our tendency to focus on national politics, the decisions made in Congress mostly amounted to what sort of financial aid would be offered to the other units of government responsible for dealing with this. Trump illustrated a failure of leadership, and his refusal to treat the issue seriously or attempt (even despite limited presidential powers) to coordinate some kind of coherent, consistent nationwide response cost many lives. But state governors and big-city mayors were particularly well-positioned to ignore him and make different choices. Most did. Ron DeSantis didn't. As if taking daily directives from right-wing media and Facebook comment sections, DeSantis and his state full of vulnerable older people did everything wrong. Literally everything. There wasn't one thing that could have been done from the Governor's mansion to make the pandemic worse in Florida that DeSantis did not do.
DeSantis is what he looks like, which is a mediocre hack with the intelligence of a golden retriever (seriously, just look into his eyes and tell me there's anything going on behind them) who, like that breed of dog, excels at showing the one characteristic necessary for preferment and advancement in an authoritarian organization: loyalty. Slavish, brainless, dog-like loyalty. And like a young Communist apparatchik attaching his lips to Stalin's ass in the hopes of being noticed and blessed with favor, DeSantis' time in the governor's mansion has been devoted to aligning himself with the Trump movement that he expects – correctly, as it appears – to become the driving force in the GOP over the next decade or more.
While many Republican leaders were and are happy to placate Trump or the OANN crowd rhetorically – calling covid the "china virus" and downplaying its seriousness and whatnot – the game they talked was not necessarily the game they played. But DeSantis, he didn't just mouth the words. He acted like he believed every single word of it. He didn't say "Schools should be open" simply because he thought it would please Trumpers, which it certainly did. He is that kind of uniquely blank mental slate that can digest and believe his own bullshit; he is effective as a propagandist because there is no mechanism in his brain that prevents him from absorbing the propaganda and treating it as the truth.
What truly separates DeSantis from the pack, though, is his year-long campaign to withhold information – at different times attempting to conceal data about infections and deaths in nursing homes, then hospitals, then schools. Throughout 2020 DeSantis attempted to further the propaganda goals – open the schools, "reopen the economy," carry on life as if nothing is happening – by the classic authoritarian trick of simply withholding or falsifying data. All year long he muzzled local public health officials, ordered state-level public health officials to clam up, and, in the run-up to the November election, simply stopped reporting covid cases and deaths (which both "mysteriously" fell in the preceding weeks). He attacked people who spoke out or blew the whistle. He refused to make even the tiniest and least controversial concessions to reality – releasing bare-bones data about school district infection rates, for example – without the concerted efforts of whole communities.
DeSantis is, in short, the archetype of what the Republican Party is now: rich, incredibly stupid pricks simply making up their own reality without any reference point in the world around them. If you don't want covid to be a problem, just don't count the deaths or infections and you won't have a covid problem. If you don't feel like changing anything, just insist that it's fine to carry on life as normal. Think it into being. Again, many Republicans and many Americans talked the talk, but we've shown part of our incredible powers of hypocrisy lately with the vaccines – people who expressed skepticism about the virus all year were and are more than happy to barge to the front of the line to get protected from it. DeSantis, like Trump, is the rare example of someone who actually seems to believe the things he said all year. It's 2021 and there's zero indication that DeSantis has any sense of covid being real or dangerous. He actually believes the shit churned out by the right-wing media to entertain the angry and the feeble-minded.
In a situation that called for the kind of Leadership Cosplay Americans eat up – look at how much mileage Andrew Cuomo got out of simply holding daily press conferences in which he acted like he was taking the virus seriously – DeSantis managed to be the only governor whose public approval went down due to covid. We saw people who were dead in the political water like Michigan's Gretchen Whitmer experience a 10-15 point leap in approval simply by doing the absolute bare minimum of attempting to take the pandemic seriously. DeSantis didn't. And he didn't in a way that was more consistent and sincere than anyone else in a similar position. He neglected to take it seriously *and* actively took steps to make it worse. When doing something would have helped he did nothing. When doing nothing would have helped he did something and made it worse.
Congratulations, Ron DeSantis. You are a shining example of everything that made 2020 unnecessarily horrid for everyone. You're a real piece of shit, in the finest tradition of the Lieberman Award. I hope you fall down the stairs.