Don’t invite me to anything else at the Union League of Philadelphia ever again.
I mean it.
The fact that the stuffy bastion of Republican conservatism is awarding Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis with its highest honor — the club’s gold medal, also bestowed upon President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 — on Tuesday is a reminder of how anti-woke it really is.
It’s a shame, because it didn’t start out that way. The Union League had a noble beginning, being anti-slavery and a patriotic organization that supported the Union Army following its inception back in 1862. But this also is the same organization that for more than a century didn’t allow female visitors. It didn’t accept its first Black member until 1972. I still remember when the League finally got its first female president, Joan Carter, back in 2010. I wrote a column about her because it was such a big deal that a woman had managed to break through the Union League’s extra thick glass ceiling.
The private club’s founding motto is “Love of Country Leads.” There are plenty of good Republicans who have done great things for our country and who are much more deserving of recognition than DeSantis. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger both sacrificed their political careers to support democracy. As the sole Republicans on the Jan. 6th House Select Committee, they chose their country over their political party and paid dearly for it.
Meanwhile, DeSantis has done so much harm in his home state — supporting a so-called Don’t Say Gay law to limit discussions about sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, literally handcuffing Black voters in advance of the 2022 midterm elections, shipping migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, and blocking a new Advanced Placement course on African American studies from being taught in high schools in the Sunshine State.
As a descendant of enslaved Africans, I find his stance on AP African American studies particularly reprehensible. On Monday, DeSantis attempted to justify his flimsy position by likening course work on Black queer theory and prison abolition to indoctrination.
“Now who would say that an important part of Black history is queer theory? That is somebody pushing an agenda on our kids. And so when you look to see they have stuff about intersectionality, abolishing prisons, that’s a political agenda,” he said at a news conference. “We believe in teaching kids facts and how to think but we don’t believe they should have an agenda imposed on them.”
That’s a skillful deflection by the potential 2024 GOP presidential candidate. But I call BS. Exposing high school students to a wide variety of ideas doesn’t equate to indoctrination. Besides, if there’s a problem with a particular aspect of a course, that can be remedied — you don’t just up and ban an entire course of study the way he has.
I’ll give DeSantis this: He is masterful at stirring up the culture wars. He wants to permanently ban mask and COVID-19 vaccine mandates. Just last week he claimed (incorrectly), “Almost every study now has said with these new boosters, you’re more likely to get infected with the bivalent booster.”
As the Rev. Marshall Mitchell of Salem Baptist told me on Monday, “Lloyd Bentsen, when he was running for vice president against Dan Quayle, looked across the debate stage and said, ‘Sen. Quayle, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. [You’re no Jack Kennedy.]’ Ron DeSantis is no Abraham Lincoln.”
The Union League’s leadership should have listened to the 107 members who banded together and signed a five-page letter warning that the award ceremony, “poses outsized immediate and long-term reputational risk to the Union League.” Not to mention that it makes the club look as if it’s endorsing DeSantis.
The League may not want to have been woke, but an alarm is about to go off for its wakeup call.