Our topic for today is the state of America circa 2022 and how it can be that a Florida governor could wake up one morning and decide it might be a good idea to get into the human-trafficking business, or at least the political part of the business. 

It’s not as complicated as it sounds. In fact, it’s not complicated at all.

First you have to think back far enough — like, I don’t know, maybe two years — when there was still a question about Donald Trump and the cult of Trumpism and whether it was all a one-off, a bad dream, a four-year detour into madness. 

When Joe Biden ran for the presidency, beating Trump in the process, he promised us a return to normalcy. Biden promised a lot of other things, too, and you can argue about his success rate — an argument that may be at least temporarily resolved by the November midterms — but no one can possibly believe that normalcy is anywhere on the horizon.

Not when we live in the shadow of the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol. Not when Trump-endorsed election deniers seem to be everywhere on the November ballot. Not when an overwhelming number of regular Republicans routinely tell pollsters that they actually believe the 2020 election was rigged. 

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Interestingly, more Republicans believe the Big Lie today than in the weeks closely following the election. That can’t be normal.  But it does explain why Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis sent operatives to Texas, or maybe he just recruited actual Texans to do the dirty work, to persuade 50 or so Venezuelans who had crossed the Rio Grande, apparently seeking asylum, to get on a plane to Massachusetts. Immigration is a sure bet to rile up the base.

According to some of the asylum seekers, they were plied with promises of a place to live, something to eat and help in expediting work papers until they could get their day in court.

As we know, DeSantis wants to be president. The Republican governor is said to want to run for president whether or not Trump decides to run again. In order to either challenge Trump in a GOP primary or, I’m sure he’d greatly prefer, simply replace him in the hearts of Trumpists, DeSantis needs to out-Trump Trump, to set himself up as the smarter, and therefore possibly even more dangerous, Yale undergrad-Harvard Law version of Trump.

DeSantis isn’t the only one with this idea. Another governor thinking along the same lines is Texas’ Greg Abbott, who has been busily busing undocumented immigrants to New York and Washington, D.C., where the so-called open-borders advocates and sanctuary city folks live. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has also made use of the bus brigade. 

Yes, there are problems at the border, where Venezuelans, among others, are now crossing in large numbers.  And since the U.S. has no official relations with Venezuela, it’s difficult to send those migrants back. And since it may not be that difficult to prove you need asylum if you’re from Venezuela, where nearly 7 million people have been displaced, this problem may not end soon.

So just last Thursday, Abbott directed the bus drivers to drop off migrants from various Latin American countries, including Venezuela, in front of the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C., which is, not coincidentally, the official residence of Vice President Kamala Harris. Don’t get the wrong idea. It’s probably no problem to find migrants, undocumented or otherwise, who would love a free ride to Washington. 

As New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait points out, this is not even an original idea. Back in the ’60s, in the days of the Freedom Riders, White Citizens Councils in the South persuaded Black people to board buses to the North with lies of waiting jobs. They even sent one bus to Hyannis Port, home to the Kennedys, in 1962.

As Abbott would tweet, “VP Harris claims our border is ‘secure’ & denies the crisis. We’re sending migrants to her backyard to call on the Biden Administration to do its job & secure the border.”

Usually when Texas drops off migrants in D.C, they drop them off at Union Station. This time, no one knew where they were being dropped off. And meanwhile, the Washington mayor has called for a state of emergency, which just happens to free up $10 million of relief funds.

In political parlance, this is known as “owning the libs.” In human parlance, the DeSantis move is known as either grotesque or monstrous, depending on your take on the relative ugliness of ambitious politicians exploiting desperate people in what can only be called a political stunt.

The Kamala Harris stunt got Abbott some good/bad press, and it probably got DeSantis to thinking how he could out-Abbott Abbott, who, like DeSantis, also has designs on the White House.

So, as we all know by now, DeSantis picked up the apparent asylum seekers in San Antonio, flew them for a brief stop in Florida on the way not to Boston, but to Martha’s Vineyard, a summer home for the mostly liberal wealthy. Just as one example, the Obamas have an $11 million home there. 

If you’re wondering why DeSantis had to go to Texas, check out a map. Florida doesn’t have a border with any Latin American countries. And besides, he would steal some of Abbott’s thunder.

The arrival at the airport was a complete surprise to everyone in Martha’s Vineyard, a town of 15,000 (in the offseason), unprepared to care for the migrants. Apparently no one, other than Fox News, which dutifully filmed the whole thing, was told. DeSantis didn’t contact the Republican governor of Massachusetts, much less any of the libs still vacationing on the island after Labor Day.

DeSantis bragged about the stunt, saying the libs were going “berserk” and calling their seeming distress no more than “virtue signaling.”

There was one problem. No one was actually going berserk. Sure, there are plenty of liberals guilty of NIMBYism, but most people, liberal or conservative or somewhere in between, would do just what those in Martha’s Vineyard did, which was to feed and clothe and shelter the unsuspecting migrants. And now they’ve left the Vineyard church in which they were staying, supplied with new bags, with cell phones and a temporary home at a Cape Cod military base. 

DeSantis may have been surprised at the warm greeting from the folks in Martha’s Vineyard. But he was fully ready to make the move. The Florida legislature had already ponied up $12 million to ship out undocumented workers. The law was passed, though, to handle people who were actually in Florida. Maybe the two planes stopped in Florida on the way to Martha’s Vineyard because there’s some question about whether the move was strictly legal, particularly if DeSantis’ operatives had misrepresented the facts of the trip to the migrants, undocumented or otherwise.

So, this from DeSantis, realizing that he might have stepped in it, “If you have folks who are inclined to think Florida is a good place (to live), our message to them is we are not a sanctuary state, and it’s better to be able to go to a sanctuary jurisdiction. And yes, we will help facilitate that transport for you to be able to go to greener pastures.”

Experts doubt that DeSantis personally broke any laws, although given the many jurisdictions investigating Trump, DeSantis probably should break a law or two if he truly wants to out-Trump Trump.

It’s apparently what Trumpists expect. You may remember that DeSantis’ team rejected thousands of math books because they were allegedly “indoctrinating” schoolkids. He has had his war with Disney over the “Don’t Say Gay” law. The list is long and will almost certainly grow longer.

And the really bad news for America — and not just migrants — is that everyone else looking to attract the Republican base will be out there, alongside DeSantis and Abbott, punching every culture-war button they can. If you’re outraged now, just wait. It will soon be worse. Much worse.

Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.

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