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analysis

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis addresses a joint session of a legislative session in Tallahassee, Fla., on Jan. 11.Phelan M. Ebenhack/The Associated Press

The execution was a bit amateurish – plain white pieces of paper taped to cars with New York licence plates – but the typed message was sharp and crystal clear: “If you are one of those ‘woke’ people – leave Florida. You will be happier elsewhere, as will we.”

In Palm Beach recently, several cars were “papered” with the politically charged message, a sure sign that this year’s high season, when thousands of New Yorkers winter in this tony enclave of the rich and famous, has a decidedly partisan edge to it.

Ask anyone who drives a car with New York plates in southern Florida this time of year and they probably won’t be surprised. We get cut off, brushed off and flipped off all the time. It’s one of the cultural hazards of being a “visible” New Yorker. The typical criticism – not always unjustified – is that New Yorkers are pushy, loud and rude.

This time, though, the ding was political, not cultural. And it reflects a rise in the volume and intensity of partisan bickering in the tropics this time of year, when northerners seek respite from winter weather and terms such as “woke” are weaponized – some conservatives using it to insult liberals for being hypersensitive and sanctimonious on issues of race and social justice.

The friction also reflects the significant demographic shift taking place in the United States, as millions of northerners in high-tax, low-temperature places take up permanent residency in Republican-run states such as Florida and Texas – and threaten to bring their liberal politics with them.

The clash has come into sharper focus during the pandemic, when flocks of northerners migrated to southern climes to ride out the health crisis, and GOP governors such as Ron DeSantis of Florida rejected vaccine and mask mandates like those imposed by the Biden administration and states such as New York and California.

And there’s the unfinished business of the 2020 election and U.S. President Joe Biden’s dismal approval ratings. Some said the car vandalism in Palm Beach was another sign of growing support for the town’s most infamous current resident, former president Donald Trump, who has been visible around town and entertaining at his Mar-a-Lago estate over the holidays.

It is certainly consistent with other signs that visitors from Democrat-led states might sleep with one eye open. On the waters in and around Palm Beach, pleasure boats carrying pro-Trump flags and vulgar anti-Biden flags are plentiful on weekend afternoons – as are Trump bumper stickers and “Let’s Go Brandon” T-shirts, the latter a meme and veiled insult against Mr. Biden.

The toxicity isn’t just a Palm Beach phenomenon. Recently, Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, vacationing in Miami, called out Mr. DeSantis for being missing in action as Omicron cases rose in his state. She was later called out by the governor’s office and on social media when it was revealed Mr. DeSantis was taking time off to be with his wife during her treatments for breast cancer.

Mr. DeSantis then responded himself by making light of the irony and hypocrisy of blue-state politicians such as Ms. Ocasio-Cortez and several governors who have sought the freedom and warmth of Florida when the “draconian” pandemic mandates and cold weather of their home states became too much to bear.

“If I had a dollar for every lockdown politician who decided to escape to Florida over the last two years, I’d be a pretty doggone-wealthy man,” Mr. DeSantis said when asked about social-media posts of Ms. Ocasio-Cortez partying without a mask at a Miami nightclub. “There are probably about a half-dozen governors who had restrictions on their people and then were spotted at various points in Florida.”

And then there are the Palm Beach car paperers. The big question on the minds of many is not why the vandals did what they did but why they stopped at cars from New York. If they were targeting cars from what they considered to be woke states, why didn’t they paper those from blue states such as Massachusetts, Illinois and Connecticut? There are almost as many of those in Florida right now.

In the final analysis, Palm Beach Police Captain Will Rothrock ascribed no motive, political or otherwise, to the papering incidents, saying only “the lack of civility and respect for personal property displayed by this is concerning.”

Concerning, yes, and a far cry from the lack of civility and respect for personal property that saw the destruction of homes and businesses during violent demonstrations in many U.S. cities in 2020.

But in the tinderbox that is modern-day America, even a few pieces of paper can be kindling for a bigger fire.

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