by David Silverberg
We’re coming up on the end of the year, that time when media outlets from newspapers to television stations wind down, go to skeleton crews and put up pastiches of the last year’s photos and clips. It’s easy, undemanding, fills space and air time and gets everyone through the New Year without too much effort.
The temptation to do the same is strong at The Paradise Progressive (TPP). However, its philosophy has always been to look ahead and try to discern the shape of the year to come.
But a look back doesn’t have to be unproductive. How well did The Paradise Progressive do in predicting 2023 when it posted “Politics in 2023: Looking ahead at Don vs. Ron, MAGA madness and the race to the right?”
Let’s examine the effort and grade the results.
Don vs. Ron vs. Joe
Former President Donald Trump, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and sitting President Joe Biden: “This is the political story likely to dominate the year,” predicted TPP and it was correct—up to a point.
The rivalry between Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis was clearly the major political story as the year dawned. But unforeseen was the decline in DeSantis’ standing among potential primary Republican voters and Trump’s resilient popularity despite indictments and criminal charges.
Fate’s cruelest blow to DeSantis was that fact that without a single actual vote cast or a caucus called his campaign relentlessly declined in polls from the day he formally declared his candidacy in April. Once the favorite Republican non-Trump hope, he was steadily eclipsed by his rivals and abandoned by staffers, consultants and most importantly, donors. Trump’s relentless insults and belittlement had its desired effect. Outside of Florida, DeSantis proved inept, awkward and unpopular. What played in The Villages in 2022 did not carry over well to the Republican primary states.
This may be a harbinger for the nation as a whole. It’s an early sign that America does not want to be Florida, no matter what DeSantis says.
The formal campaign season will start with the Iowa caucus on Jan. 15 and the New Hampshire primary on Jan. 23 and it’s not looking good for Florida’s governor.
At the dawn of the year it wasn’t clear that Joe Biden would declare himself a candidate again. Once he did in April, all the speculation about a successor or a Democratic scramble died down.
So on the campaign front, TPP gives itself an A- for prediction. But this was a bit of a gimme. That there would be rivalries and a nomination contest was indisputable. However, the rapid decline of Ron DeSantis was unforeseen.
Congress and revenge
When it came to Congress, TPP did much better.
Had Republicans resoundingly taken the House of Representatives in the much-anticipated “red wave” of 2022, TPP predicted: “They very well might have impeached President Joe Biden for the high crime of being a Democrat. They would have tried to undo or cover up the felonies of the insurrection and would have done all they could to exonerate, excuse and elevate Trump.”
The prediction continued: “Republicans are still likely to try those things. Expect a cascade of House investigations in an effort to weaken and undermine the administration and Biden’s re-election. It will be a replay of Benghazi and Hillary Clinton’s e-mails on steroids.”
Well, TPP gives itself an A+ on that one. It took them a year but House Republicans are indeed proceeding with an impeachment attempt, despite the lack of a crime, evidence or prospects of success. Biden’s only real transgression? That he is a Democrat and Trump wants it done.
When it comes to trying to “cover up the felonies of the insurrection” the prediction literally came true (extra bonus points!).
On Nov. 17, House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-4-La.) stated he would release over 40,000 hours of Jan. 6, 2021 video.
But then, on Dec. 5, he said at a press conference: “We have to blur some of the faces of persons who participated in the events of that day because we don’t want them to be retaliated against and to be charged by the [Department of Justice] and to have other concerns and problems.”
He wants to cover up the faces so that rioters won’t face prosecution?! That is literally a coverup!
TPP’s satisfaction with the accuracy of its prediction is only dampened by the fact that the Speaker of the House is attempting to shield crimes against the branch of government over which he presides. Moreover, he’s doing this with no apparent hint of irony or inconsistency or self-awareness.
Another prediction, that “…when it comes to substantive legislation, Democrats kept the Senate, meaning that no matter how extreme the proposals coming out of the House, none are likely to make it into law,” proved to be true. But that was another gimme.
TPP made much of “the Harmful Algal Bloom Essential Forecasting Act, which would ensure that federal activities monitoring and responding to harmful algal blooms like red tide will continue despite any shutdowns” and would be of real benefit to Southwest Florida.
However, as predicted, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) did nothing to advance this legislation in the same way he has never done anything to advance any legislation he sponsored. Donalds’ disinterest in this, other legislation and his district was so obvious that this accurate prediction doesn’t even rate a point.
DeSantis and the race to the right
While TPP saw no reason to expect DeSantis to let up on his culture war on abortion, science, education, vaccines, immigrants, gays and public health, in fact TPP was proven somewhat wrong. As his Trumpish, anti-woke presidential candidacy campaign failed outside Florida, DeSantis began moderating his stances, especially on abortion.
As of right now, that softening looks too little, too late. It is, however, surprising. TPP didn’t see it coming and lowers its grade on this to a C.
However, the jury is still out on the Collier County school district. “The Collier County school system, which was previously rated the gold standard for the state, is now likely to crater as dogma, discipline and docility take the place of education, enquiry and enlightenment as priorities for students,” it predicted.
Collier County schools maintained their A rating from the state in what seems to be momentum from the previous board headed by Jen Mitchell. Also, the appointment of Leslie Ricciardelli as superintendent, despite MAGA demands to the contrary, meant that the district’s previous high standards would be maintained, at least in the classroom.
However, thanks largely to Jerry Rutherford (1st District), the board became enmeshed in extraordinarily time-wasting ideological and religious controversies, especially over whether or not to have a religious invocation precede its meetings. (It ultimately decided not to do so.) This controversy was confined to the school board itself but other issues, especially religious issues, may not stay there in the coming year.
Following the brutal damage of 2022’s Hurricane Ian, TPP observed: “Voters and the local mainstream media have to keep watch and ask: who is helping Southwest Florida recover? Who is helping it get the resources it needs? Who is shirking?”
Local media certainly maintained coverage of the recovery, from restoration of the Sanibel lighthouse, to rebuilding the clock tower in Fort Myers Beach to the extravagantly covered completion and opening of the town’s new Margaritaville resort.
Less covered were government efforts.
Here, there was a very interesting development on the part of Donalds that merits special attention.
In 2021 Donalds didn’t bother to request appropriations for projects in his district (known as “earmarks”) despite the fact that the Democratic-dominated House of Representatives had created a process and procedure allowing each member to request 10 earmarks per district. TPP called Donalds out on this in a March 16, 2022 editorial: Rep. Byron Donalds has failed Southwest Florida and can’t be allowed to do it again.
Despite this, Donalds won his 2022 re-election campaign and apparently got the hint. In the fiscal years since, he has requested earmarks (which congressional Republicans, despite previous agonizing over whether or not to permit them, increased the number allowed each member to 15).
It must be said: TPP didn’t see that coming at all.
But what TPP and just about every other awake person on the planet can see coming is climate change, whose impact is already here.
“Will Florida and its politicians finally acknowledge this?” TPP asked. “Their sense of reality needs critical scrutiny in the year ahead.”
It is long past time that the reality of climate change is acknowledged as a fact, even in reality-resistant Southwest Florida. To their credit, at least local broadcast meteorologists finally started mentioning its effects in their reporting.
DeSantis also finally acknowledged it on the campaign trail in Iowa.
“DeSantis’ own stance has changed: During the first GOP presidential debate, he did not raise his hand when candidates were asked if human activities are warming the planet. But in the Dec. 9 interview with the Register, DeSantis said he does believe human activities are a factor in the changing climate,” observed reporter Katie Akin in the Des Moines Register.
As far as predictions for next year go, this is an easy one: climate change and its impact will continue in the coming year. Southwest Florida needs to prepare.
An end to 2023
Overall, as a prognostication, TPP’s look ahead didn’t come out too badly. It didn’t try to predict everything that happened but where it looked, its analysis proved reasonably prescient.
What wasn’t predicted were actions by individuals. For example, even Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-23-Calif.) probably couldn’t have predicted that he would have such a hard time getting elected Speaker of the House—and then that he would be ignominiously booted nine months later and resign from Congress altogether at the end of 2023.
Next year promises to be one of the most momentous, historic and potentially dangerous in world history. It requires an entirely different analysis.
As the New Testament noted, to look into the future is to see through a glass, darkly. Once face to face all things become clearer. But maybe, with enough concentration, we can discern at least the general shape of things to come—and prepare to meet them.
Special to Big Mouth Media from the Paradise Progressive. Originally published on December 28, 2023.