“Power,” the British historian and moralist John Acton said in 1887, “tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."

Florida’s governor Ron DeSantis has probably not yet been corrupted absolutely or become great enough to be really bad but he is well on the way there with each divisive policy he implements or champions. On Sept. 14, he took another step closer with his astonishingly cynical exploitation of refugees legally allowed into the country to await court hearings on their asylum petitions.

DeSantis acted as if he is engaged in a game of one-upmanship with two other governors. Between April and this month, Greg Abbott of Texas bused more than 7,900 refugees to Washington, 2,200 to New York and 300 to Chicago and Doug Ducey of Arizona sent more than 1,800 to Washington since May, The Associated Press reported. DeSantis, meanwhile, got the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature to budget $12 million to pay for rounding up “illegals” and dispatching them to other states.

A With no flood of asylum-seekers swamping Florida similar to what Texas and Arizona are experiencing, DeSantis improvised: He brought some here. Media reports indicate that he sent two planes to San Antonio to pick up 48 mostly Venezuelan refugees and fly then to Crestview near Pensacola, more than 1,100 miles away – supposedly to establish a Florida connection – and on to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, another 1,100 miles away.

Startled residents, rather than becoming outraged at the influx of refugees, welcomed the men, women and children with the sort of hospitality that some cynics insist Americans no longer have. Some of the Venezuelans had walked for months through almost impassable terrain in several countries to reach the United States burder. Local and state officials, who got no advance warning, still rushed to provide help, including relocating the refugees to a nearby military base DeSantis got the national publicity he wanted for an expected run for president in 2024. The local reaction remains to be seen in a state with large numbers of immigrants.

Like the rest of the country, Floridians’ ancestors were all immigrants, except, of course, for Indigenous peoples. DeSantis himself has Italian parentage. The American Immigration Council (AIC) has reported that, in 2018, 2.7 million immigrants worked in fields such as health care and social assistance (417,067), retail trade (347,298), construction (305,888), accommodation and food services (290,074), administrative and support and waste management and remediation services (221,268).

“Households led by an immigrant paid $8.5 billion in state and local taxes in 2018, in addition to $23.2 billion in federal taxes,” the AIC said. In addition, 437,600 immigrants owned businesses — 33 percent of all self-employed residents — and they generated $7.1 billion in business income. They comprised 57 percent of business owners in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Miami Beach metro area, 36 percent in Orlando, 29 percent in Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater and 20 percent in Jacksonville.

Undocumented immigrants, numbering 775,000 — 8 percent of the immigrant population and four percent of the total state population — have also been contributing to the economy, paying $588.3 million in state and local taxes and $1.3 billion in federal taxes. Do such demographics mean Floridians oppose DeSantis’ Venezuelan stunt? Not necessarily. In fact, The Miami Herald noted Monday that the 273,216 Venezuelans in the state are divided over the issue, with many supporting the governor, especially the so-called MAGAzuelans – those belonging to Donald Trump’s Make America Great Again (MAGA) world. The impact will likely be seen in the mid-term elections in November, when DeSantis is up for re-election.

His opponent, Democratic Congressman Charlie Crist, a former governor, described the treatment of the refugees as “disgusting and vile.” President Joe Biden accused DeSantis of “playing politics with human beings, using them as props.” The Archdiocese of Miami – DeSantis is a Catholic – declared, "Immigration is not just a political issue but a fundamental human and moral issue.”

And then there is the matter of the “Reverse Freedom Rides” which CNN recalled Sunday with help from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. In 1962, members of the White Citizens’ Council in New Orleans and Little Rock, Arkansas, paid for one-way trips for African Americans living in the South to move to Northern cities such as New York, Philadelphia and Chicago — as well as, strikingly, Hyannis Port in Cape Cod not far from Martha’s Vineyard.

They were promised help to find homes and guaranteed jobs as enticement to relocate, just as the Venezuelans said they were. They were temporarily housed at a Cape Cod military base – where the Venezuelans are being staying now.

Those trips, eventually involving 96 African Americans, were intended to mock the Freedom Riders — civil rights activists whom the Congress of Racial Equality organized in 1961 to take the bus from the North to protest segregated bus terminals displaying “whites-only” signs at restrooms and lunch counters in Alabama, South Carolina and other Southern states. And, just as the actions of DeSantis and company are designed to embarrass President Joe Biden over immigration, the “Reverse Freedom Rides” mocked President John F. Kennedy over desegregation.

"This is all very similar. It makes you wonder what playbook is DeSantis playing out of," Traci Parker, a University of Massachusetts Afro-American Studies professor, told CNN. "This is really part of a history of bigots, of white segregationists who want nothing to do with people of color," Whether segregation then, immigration now or women’s rights over their bodies (an unidentified woman once proclaimed “end abortions, save a white baby”), the thinly disguised motive remains constant through the decades: stopping the “Great Replacement” of European Americans by people of other races, perpetuating their supremacy and maintaining a system designed to benefit the wealthy while keeping non-European Americans in state-sanctioned repression.

The story does not end there. Just as there were calls for a federal probe of the “Reverse Freedom Rides,” DeSantis’ action could be probed for possible crimes including human traffic”and unauthorized use of state funds. Florida’s Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried has asked Attorney General Merrick Garland to launch an investigation. So too have Massachusetts officials, USA Today reported. Javier Salazar, sheriff of Bexar County, the Texas jurisdiction from which the refugees were taken, is loo”into claims that they were given false promises of work and other services. And civil rights lawyers are examining “very troubling legal issues” involved in the case.

Perhaps DeSantis and his officials did nothing legally wrong but the refugees are owed a full, transparent investigation into what really happened.