When Disney began lobbying against a parental-rights bill in Florida that would prohibit public school teachers from discussing sex, sexual orientation or so-called gender identity with prepubescent kids in kindergarten through third grade, Gov. Ron DeSantis proposed a special session of the legislature to review Walt Disney World’s 50-year-old “independent special district” status to see if it was “appropriately serving the public interest.”
The popular bill — which Democrats and the media dishonestly renamed “Don’t Say Gay” despite the bill never mentioning the word gay or stopping anyone from saying it — passed both houses and was signed by DeSantis. Disney was handily beaten. Nevertheless, DeSantis ended up signing legislation that effectively stripped Disney of control of over 25,000 acres surrounding its theme park and created a new tax district.
Democrats like Jonathan Chait claimed the threat alone was “What Post-Trump Authoritarianism Looks Like,” and MSNBC’s Ja’han Jones noted that the threats showed the GOP had gone “full authoritarian,” and so on. By full authoritarian, he meant that the Florida legislature passed the bill and then the governor signed the bill. Disney, of course, has no constitutional or divine right to be a special tax district. But the notion of “democracy” is highly malleable these days.
It is probably unpopular to say I believe it’s a terribly shortsighted idea to normalize state retribution against speech. Disney should be able to stake any political position it wants without worrying about repercussions from the government — in the same way that Jack Phillips or Hobby Lobby or Chick-fil-A shouldn’t have to worry about the government punishing them for their beliefs. If Disney’s position is that state-run schools should teach kindergarteners about oral sex and celebrate gender dysphoria despite the wishes of parents, it would almost surely pay a steep economic price.
It is also true, however, that one can understand why DeSantis’ move is popular with conservatives. The entire feigned anger over the incident from leftists is laughable and transparently insincere. Contemporary Democrats have never been reluctant to punish and single out corporations that do not share their political values. Virtually the entire technocratic economic agenda of the contemporary left exists to subsidize industries that produce things they like, mandate consumers buy those things, and punish those who do not. Democrats have never been reluctant to target disfavored companies over their profit margins, to use corporations to compel vaccinations and unions, or to threaten Big Tech companies into accepting government speech codes.
This week, we learned that Walgreens wouldn’t sell the abortifacient mifepristone in 20 red states that have laws curbing unfettered abortion. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the man who presides over a state whose economic controls are beginning to resemble an Eastern European “republic” circa 1975, promised the pharmaceutical company would face consequences and that California would no longer do any business with the chain because it “cowers to the extremists” and “puts women’s lives at risk.” Soon after, California canceled a $54 million contract with the company.
Walgreens, of course, is not standing in opposition to any California law, much less putting any women’s lives in danger. It’s not lobbying the state to overturn laws that legalize abortion into the ninth month of pregnancy nor staking a position that is at odds with most of the state’s voters — though it has every right to do all those things if it desires. Walgreens has decided not to sell abortion drugs, ones it has never sold in the past, in other states. It is not doing so for any moral reasons. It is trying to avoid legal conflict.
Many Democrats celebrated Newsom’s threat, as they’ve celebrated threats before, because they have zero qualms about compelling or hurting companies. They don’t believe it’s authoritarian. They’re just angry they no longer have a monopoly on the practice.
David Harsanyi is a senior editor at The Federalist. Harsanyi is a nationally syndicated columnist and author of five books — the most recent, “Eurotrash: Why America Must Reject the Failed Ideas of a Dying Continent.” His work has appeared in National Review, the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Reason, New York Post and numerous other publications. Follow him on Twitter @davidharsanyi.