One of the hallmarks of a bully, of a cruel human being, is attacking people who don't always have the political power or resources to defend themselves. We saw a good example of this in 2019, when the Trump administration, in a remarkably cold move, attempted to kill federal funding for the Special Olympics.
If you've never seen the Special Olympics, which gives athletes with certain intellectual disabilities the opportunity to compete in several different events, it is a remarkable thing to watch. These Olympics don't just represent the best of sports. They represent the best of humanity.
The motto of the Special Olympics is: “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”
So, with cruelty, coldness and exuberant indifference being the genome of the Trump Era, it wasn't a surprise when billionaire Betsy DeVos, former U.S. Secretary of Education, proposed cutting the $17.6 million budget of the Special Olympics.
Reported The Washington Post at the time: “Do you know how many kids are going to be affected by that cut?" Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) asked DeVos at a House hearing.
DeVos replied that she didn't. “I’ll answer for you,” he said. “It's 272,000 kids.”
The cruelty was the point then. Fast forward to just a few years later and another bully. The cruelty is also the point now when it comes to the actions of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
It is true that DeSantis' cruelty and white nationalist-adjacency go beyond attacking the vulnerable. He attacks corporations and Major League Baseball teams. His actions, however, involving the Special Olympics are particularly awful.
The state of Florida threatened to fine the Special Olympics $27.5 million for requiring 5,500 participants at the USA Games in Orlando on June 5-12 to be vaccinated against COVID. That threat caused the organization to drop the mandate, a mandate that potentially saves lives.
“We don’t want to fight,” the Special Olympics said in a statement. “We want to play.”
Like the Trump administration before him, DeSantis displayed a level of cruelty toward Special Olympians that is almost impossible to believe. But it's real.
DeSantis and his cultists will say the Special Olympics weren't following the law. But authoritarians like him don't really care about the law. He's in a culture war, building up his extremist CV to appeal to extremists and brutality fetishists.
In the past, DeSantis has appealed to racists and other Cro-Magnon types. With his actions in the case of the Special Olympics, he's appealing to anti-vaxxers. This group lacks critical thinking skills, but some of them do figure out how to work a voting machine, and DeSantis wants every voter he can get. Even the ones who diD tHEir OwNN rESSeArcH.
There are numerous pieces of proof that show DeSantis doesn't really care about rules, just revenge, or using whatever person or entity he can to score points. Just this week, DeSantis blocked money for the training facility of the Tampa Bay Rays after the team tweeted against gun violence.
Two days after a gunman killed 19 children and two adults at a Texas elementary school, the team said it would donate $50,000 to Everytown for Gun Safety. The group pushes for programs aimed at reducing gun violence.
"This cannot be normal," the Rays' tweet read. "We cannot become numb. We cannot look the other way. We all know, if nothing changes, nothing changes."
CNN reported that DeSantis didn't decide to veto the money for the training facility until after the tweet. That sensible, responsible tweet.
DeSantis' bullying ranges from kids to Disney to the LGBTQ community. But what he did to Special Olympians goes beyond bullying. It's possibly extremely dangerous.
The Special Olympics reported that the 2019 World Games included over 1,000 athletes with Down Syndrome.
Two years ago, a large study out of the UK showed that people with Down Syndrome who get COVID are four times more likely to be hospitalized, and 10 times more likely to die, than the general population. Studies since then have buttressed that research. Down Syndrome, or trisomy 21, is a genetic disorder caused by abnormal cell division that produces an extra chromosome.
The CDC last year updated its guidelines to include people with Down Syndrome at increased risk for severe COVID disease. By requiring that Special Olympians get vaccinated, you lower the risk of them catching COVID. This is highly elementary stuff.
But not in DeSantis' world. In DeSantis' world, you use whatever you can to make a political point. Even if it's disgusting. Even if it's horrible. Even if it's potentially deadly.
Even if it risks Special Olympians' lives.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Gov. Ron DeSantis bullies Special Olympics, hits disgraceful new low