The New York-based Manhattan Institute for Policy Research featured in last week’s column is not the only conservative think-tank involved in the campaign to convert Florida into a model ultraconservative state. So, too, is the 44year-old California-based Claremont Institute, whose founders include Larry P. Arnn, now the 12th president of the Christian Hillsdale College in Michigan, another institution involved in the Florida makeover.
Claremont claims to be “dedicated to advancing opportunity, individual liberty and the rule of law” and working “to improve the quality of life in our urban centers, with a particular focus on the problem of urban violence and the need for public-sector reform. We offer constructive alternatives to identity politics to help overcome our nation’s ethnic and cultural divides.” It also champions school choice and believes “that expanding economic freedom is essential to achieving widespread prosperity and upward mobility.”
But scholar and political theorist Laura K. Field, wrote in July 2021 in the conservative Bulwark that Claremont and several people associated with it played a key role in promoting former President Donald Trump’s election lie. Some have expressed racist opinions and the Institute itself has an “obsession with Black Lives Matter” and the writings of Ibram X. Kendi and Nikole Hannah-Jones and the 1619 Project — and critical race theory.
Claremont’s approach, Field said, “is distinctive for its insistence that the most radical version of these movements has now become hardened orthodoxy among all Democrats and most anyone in mainstream culture.” It is distinctive also “for its hand-waving refusal to acknowledge that concerns about American racism have even the slightest grounding in reality, let alone in genuine patriotism,” attributing it to “bad-faith ‘elite’ intellectualism” and not “serious history or actual Americans’ experiences on the ground.”
Claremont recently established a Center for the American Way of Life, which, Field said, “takes as its purpose combating American multiculturalism. … as an ‘existential threat.’” The Institute “sees itself as locked in a ‘regime-level contest,’” with its president, Ryan Williams, declaring, “Make no mistake, it is a war.’ That is the institution from which Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis got another member of his “brain trust,” Scott Yenor, a Claremont fellow who teaches political science at Boise State University in Idaho. Yenor could serve Idaho well if he advocated, for example, for better schools in the state where he has been teaching. Idaho “has the worst record of school funding in the nation,” Becca Savransky said in a report in the Idaho Statesman, co-published with ProPublica.
But Yenor has other dragons to slay in a state 2,679.4 miles away. He published a report, “Florida Universities: From Woke to Professionalism,” to coincide with a roundtable held in the state on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) which DeSantis is seeking to defund in state colleges and universities. Yenor is leading the journey down this latest rabbit hole.
In his paper, Yenor recommends defunding and dismantling all DEI ofﬁces, making collecting data on the basis of race and sex illegal and scrapping any DEI-infused disciplines in favor of “science,” The Nation reported. He also “seeks to provide a playbook for Florida to go to war against the ‘reigning national civil rights regime.’”
Yenor also opened up another front in the culture war, urging “state ofﬁcials to remedy what he sees as a core problem in higher education: too many women,” The Nation reported. “State ofﬁcials, he argues, should conduct civil rights investigations into academic programs, including education and nursing, in which women vastly outnumber men, while also ditching any curriculum or programs deemed ‘anti-male.’” He and other conservatives believe that this “disparate impact theory” should be “repurposed” to beneﬁt “the real victims of diversity policies: white men.”
In a speech last year at the National Conservatism Conference, Yenor called for “the systematic purge of female students … to correct what he sees as the damage done by feminism,” The Nation said. He “denounced colleges and universities as ‘the citadels of our gynocracy’ and derided career-oriented women as ‘medicated, meddlesome and quarrelsome.’” He said “male-dominated ﬁelds such as engineering, law, and medicine should stop trying to recruit women” and the “culture should return to urging women to pursue ‘feminine goals,’ chief among them, staying home and having children in the interest of restoring strong families, and through them, a strong nation.”
Venor also heads Claremont’s Center for the American Way of Life and his “bid to dragoon the nation’s women back into the separate sphere of domesticity and child-rearing is but one key directive he’s undertaken at the center,” The Nation said.
It is doubtful that DeSantis is suiting up for combat against women beyond signing a bill, under cover of night, limiting abortion to six weeks — not with his wife Casey DeSantis at his side as his “closest conﬁdant,” as The Miami Herald’s Emily L. Mahoney described her, and as a “major force multiplier,” as he referred to her in one of his books.
But there are other DeSantis battles which Yenor can join in what Williams, Claremont’s president, calls the “ﬁght against woke leftism.” Yenor will serve as Claremont’s new senior director of state coalitions, based in Tallahassee, Florida’s capital.
“This tight ideological alliance explains why DeSantis’ brain trust is stocked with Claremonsters, as the think-tank’s staff and fellows refer to themselves, who now play an outsized role in shaping policy,” The Nation’s Jennifer C. Berkshire wrote.
DeSantis’ speechwriter Nate Hochman is another Claremonster who is “a rising star in the intellectual right’s amorphous coalition of culture warriors, self-proclaimed economic populists, and unabashed America ﬁrsters.” He hopes the “Republican Party agenda is going to cohere around the culture war as its organizing, totalizing force,” The Nation said, adding that Hochman “now will be able to bring that mandate into the forefront of DeSantis’ campaign messaging.”
And, like Manhattan, Claremont is bankrolled by billionaires. They include the DeVoses of West Michigan, the Bradleys of Milwaukee and the Scaifes of Pittsburgh, Rolling Stone reported. Those three families “are among the most prominent donor families in conservative politics,” Rolling Stone said. “For Bradley and Scaife, the giving to Claremont tracks with a long history of funding right-wing causes and advocacy groups, from the American Enterprise Institute think-tank and the ‘bill mill’ American Legislative Exchange Council to anti-immigration zealot David Horowitz’s Freedom Center and the climate-denying Heartland Institute.”
DeSantis rarely mentions places such as the Manhattan and the Claremont institutes, which, ironically, are headquartered in two of the country’s most liberal states, where they have not pushed their brand of ultra-conservatism. They have chosen, instead, a Southern state whose power-drunk governor and Legislature are making its 22 million citizens guinea pigs to ideology and ambition.
Of course, Florida is not unique in that regard, just that its government is pushing as hard as any others to close the minds of the upcoming generation. That is what autocrats do, as is happening, for example, in India. There, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rightwing ruling party, goaded by an ultra-nationalist far-right movement, is in a campaign to replace “a constitutionally secular India with an ethnic Hindu state,” Al Jazeera reported. Whether there or here, they stack the courts with partisan judges, demonize the political opposition, critics, journalists and textbooks. They know that the greatest foe of anti-democratic forces is a thinking human being.
It was no surprise that a woman caller to WLRN’s “Florida Roundup” program last Friday said it looks like “I’m living in a police state.” It is not that just yet but it is surely starting to feel like an autocracy.