From presidential politics to widespread natural disasters, Americans have had lots of significant news to digest during the past week or so, and nowhere has the diet of news stories been more demanding of the public’s attention than in Florida.
For several consecutive days, the national news was dominated by analyses regarding who may have won or lost during the first Republican debate on Aug. 23, with Gov. DeSantis receiving decidedly mixed reviews.
Then reality intruded. When the Hurricane Idalia, which just decimated a swath of the northwestern part if the state, was still a tropical depression near the western tip of Cuba, DeSantis canceled several scheduled campaign events and paid a visit to Florida to declare a state of emergency, activate the National Guard, and attend to other gubernatorial duties.
It’s a commander-in-chief role DeSantis seems to relish. He was justly praised a year ago for his response to the damage wrought by Hurricane Ian. In particular, residents of Southwest Florida’s hard-hit barrier islands expressed appreciation for the expedited repair of the bridges and causeways linking them to the mainland.
DeSantis and President Biden even found time to confer briefly in anticipation of the need for the state to coordinate with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which has been roundly criticized for its belated response to the damage caused by the disastrous fires on the island of Maui in Hawaii.
Meanwhile, as if dealing with a then-pending storm were not enough, the state’s largest city, Jacksonville, was grieving Sunday after a heavily armed white man entered a Dollar General store on Saturday and killed three Black people — Angela Michelle Carr, A.J. Laguerre and Jerrald Gallon — before killing himself.
The killer, identified as 21-year-old Ryan Palmeter, had posted hateful and racist “manifestos” on social media. He had first approached the nearby Edward Waters University, an HBCU, but left when he caught the attention of a campus security officer, tipped off by an observant student.
DeSantis was heckled and booed when he attended a prayer vigil for the victims and spoke briefly, calling the killer “a scumbag.” The chilly reception was arguably a symptom of the estrangement between many of Florida’s people of color and the political organization that once called itself “the party of Lincoln.”
While all of this was going on, more Americans were paying attention to the travails of the Atlantic Coast Conference than to a diplomatic conference in faraway South Africa.
The so-called BRICS group, consisting of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, concluded its conference the same day as the GOP debate in which China and Russia were frequently mentioned by candidates airing their foreign-policy views — to the extent that those could be articulated in a series of sound bites.
Some of the more heated exchanges occurred between the two candidates, Nikki Haley and Vivek Ramaswamy, whose parents immigrated from BRICS founding member India, a nation now basking in pride for having landed a rocket on the moon’s south pole region, where other nations had tried and failed to do so.
As for the BRICS conference, it was attended by all the national leaders except for Russia’s Vlad “The Invader” Putin, who would have been subject to arrest in South Africa for committing multiple war crimes during his invasion of Ukraine.
Significantly, before the conference concluded, the current BRICS group extended membership invitations to six more nations — Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The group’s overall aim is to challenge U.S. “hegemony” in world affairs by changing the current norms of international commerce and, eventually, to find ways to get away from the longtime dominance of the U.S. dollar in matters of trade, especially with respect to energy.
For China’s leaders, there’s an additional agenda: If the United States actually gets serious in its efforts to become less dependent on China for key commodities, ranging from pharmaceuticals and solar panels to electronics, those leaders know they’d be in the same position as Amazon if, say, Florida could legally ban it as too “woke.”
That is, China realizes that it will need to find new customers to replace the rich Americans, and it’s already doing so by providing aid, financing infrastructure, and cultivating diplomatic ties with nations throughout Africa and in portions of Latin America, especially in areas with leftist governments.
Granted, Floridians have more immediate concerns than BRICS in the wake of Hurricane Idalia, and so do those Americans who are already dreading the prospect of a 2024 sequel to that 2020 match-up, Biden vs. Trump.
Even so, when it comes to major developments in global politics that could affect our national security and future prosperity, it’s prudent to pay attention despite all of the distractions.