Racist dog whistles against Andrew Gillum could backfire on Florida GOP
Andrew Gillum | Paul Sancya/AP

After Andrew Gillum became the first major party African-American nominee for governor this year in Florida, Republicans immediately launched a barrage of racist attacks on him. Since then, they’ve gone way beyond old dog whistle tactics. Republican ads have described him as “lazy” and unwilling to do the hard work of recovery now that Hurricane Michael has devastated the Florida panhandle. It doesn’t matter that while Tallahassee’s Mayor Gillum is busy sawing fallen trees to pieces his opponent Ron DeSantis and the GOP are keeping themselves busy running racist ads against him.

At first, DeSantis used the usual dog whistles, calling Gillum “articulate.” The message of the backhanded compliment, of course, was that Gillum was somehow coached to drop the inarticulate speech that is common to Black people. On Fox News, DeSantis said Gillum had “performed well” in the Democratic primaries. The message there was that the impressive and smart campaigning by Gillum, including his building of a multi-racial alliance of activists, was something he was trained to do. (We all know, don’t we, that black people, when properly trained, do great song and dance acts?)

Counterrevolutions ended the last of the socialist governments in Europe 27 years ago and with them, supposedly, the “Cold War.” But anti-communism and fear of socialism have always been—and continue to be—successful tools of the right wing. So why not bring them into the mix again in Florida in 2018? “The last thing we need to do is monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda with huge tax increases and bankrupting the state,” DeSantis recently said, referring to Gillum’s platform. He thereby stepped up his game by adding to the GOP racist playbook the kind of attacks often employed against white candidates (fear of the socialist bogeyman).

DeSantis, of course, was echoing the approach of his master, Donald Trump, who tweeted only hours after Gillum won the primary election that the mayor was a “failed socialist mayor who has allowed crime and many other problems to flourish in his city.” Trump said essentially that DeSantis could not have wished for a better opponent.

But something is happening in Florida that the president and his acolyte DeSantis certainly did not wish for. With just three weeks until the election, polls are showing Gillum actually up by four points over DeSantis. This can only be the case because many white voters are, despite the racist dog whistles and ads, saying they plan to cast their ballots for Gillum. That already is a victory in the fight against racism and portends well for the future—a future in which America will have grown tired of racism, hate, and division; a future in which America breaks free of the shackles that have diminished the quality of life for everyone.

The polls are evidence that the racism spewed by DeSantis, Trump and their party, the GOP, is energizing a response by a growing coalition of voters of color, millennials, and white working-class women and men. The president and DeSantis, as they blow their racist bullhorns, may be unwittingly contributing to a wave so big in Florida that on Election Day the state’s endangered Democratic senator, Bill Nelson, could end up winning re-election on Gillum’s coattails.

“I actually believe that Florida and its rich diversity are going to be looking for a governor who’s going to bring us together, not divide us,” Gillum has said. While DeSantis serves as a loyal acolyte to Trump, bowing and scraping before the titans of big business and others who benefit from racism, Andrew Gillum is appealing to the higher aspirations of the people of Florida and the nation.


John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.