I don’t like Disney, but not enough to see it suffer

The Florida legislature and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s war on Disney is something of a Rorschach test for Republicans, not to mention a scary and revealing look at how far Republicans will go to (yes) cancel opponents they don’t like. It doesn’t bode well for the future. If you are having trouble envisioning what authoritarianism would look like in the United States, take a good look and what Republicans are doing in Florida and decide if you want a lot more of this where you live.

Florida Republicans seem willing to kill the goose that laid their golden egg when Disney World opened in the early 1970s. Disney is, after all, the biggest employer in the state. A huge part of the rest of its economy is tied to an entertainment ecosystem most of which, like Universal Studios, would not be there if Disney hadn’t come first.

You have to know me really well to know I don’t like Disney. In twenty years of blogging I don’t think I mentioned it here once. The last time I was at Disney World was in 1996. With luck I’ll never go there again. Seriously, the place gives me the hives because it is so surreal and over the top. But not once have I wished Disney’s theme parks would disappear because I don’t like them and want the company to be miserable.

While it gives me the hives, it’s clearly a hit with the public. Watching costumed bobbleheads run around its theme park in its sweet and saccharine Disney way makes my stomach queasy, but delights children, parents and adults much older than my 66 years too. By giving Disney gobs of money, you can enter a surreal world of cute and unconditional love, a world stuffed with family values and mostly white people, that you would think would have Florida Republicans cheering. Until recently this was a given. You figured that if Disney would ever be attacked, it would be by grumpy Florida Democrats. Republicans are all about making gobs of money and letting business prosper without the big hand of government getting in the way.

The problem is that Disney is not mean. Being nice to everyone is clearly good for its business. So no surprise that there are gay and LGBTQIA+ themed times of the year. They won’t take a position on gay marriage because it would be bad for business: glad to see you, join me in a surreal happy smile and make sure to max out your credit cards while in the theme park.

I don’t like surreal, but that’s just me. I like the natural world. I’d like to say I’d prefer to backpack the Appalachian Trail instead, but I’m not that fit. To me a perfect vacation is a fancy cruise, so Holland American gets plenty of my money while Disney gets almost none. I don’t subscribe to Disney’s TV services, of course. And I’m not particularly a Star Wars fan either. Disney, try to beat this view of the Pitons in Saint Lucia, from the deck of a Holland American cruise ship where a few hours later we were enjoying excellent live chamber music on Deck 3 in their Music Walk and gourmet food in the main dining room. (Yes, I know Disney has cruise ships too, but I’m trying to get away from that plasticity, not get more of it.)

Republicans though are allergic to pluralism, even when it’s good to a company’s bottom line. Disney would not conform to Republican extremism. A sensible government would find ways to show their disdain without going to war on the company that now defines Florida in the eyes of the world. But this sort of behavior must be comforting to Florida Republicans. In fact, there is nothing Florida could do that is more counterproductive than its War on Disney. Disney doesn’t have to stay in Florida. Obviously they can’t move a theme park overnight, but they could build new ones in friendlier states. They could announce no new investments in Florida unless they are back to the deal they had before DeSantis declared war on Disney. In fact, they should require perpetual guarantees that its former Reedy Creek special tax district can’t be dissolved for at least fifty years after a bill is passed and signed by the governor.

Republicans spent decades getting courts stuffed with conservative, business-friendly judges. Now suddenly they don’t want to let Disney enjoy free speech? Our conservative Supreme Court justices unwisely declared that corporations are people so they enjoy the same unfettered first amendment rights as the rest of us. You can’t blame Disney for suing the state for an abridgment of these rights the Supreme Court says are inherent.

All this though just makes the state and its governor ornerier. It’s clear they want to rule because that’s what authoritarians do. And it appears that Florida Republicans are comfortable with this even if it kills their economy by driving out Disney.

Should Disney decide to stop investing in the state, Republicans, or at least a majority of voters, are likely to quickly sober up. The red state of Florida may soon become blue or purple. Disney is good for everyone’s bottom line in Florida. Florida is playing with TNT. Should things explode, well, don’t say I didn’t tell them this was unlikely to happen.

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