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The Banality of Evil

Updated: Jul 5, 2023

Ron DeSantis is a thoroughly unexceptional man. He just managed to get to the heights of politics in the most powerful country in the world by ruining the lives of the most visible and vulnerable among us.

We know exactly why Ron DeSantis commands so much attention – he’s supposedly Trumpism without Trump. He’s the alternative: a “respectable” man who offers big policy wins for a Republican Party in the thrall of unnecessary malice and wanton hatred towards anyone who isn’t a white, cisgender, heteronormative man on the board of directors of a Fortune 500 company.

But how did this positively dull, completely average empty suit win a governorship in the third most populous state in US and remake the place in the image of a GOP obsessed with culture wars? How did he become a contender for the Republican nomination for president?

Ron was born to a middle class family and he started off promising – his parents even gave him Dion for a middle name, after the guy who sings The Wanderer. He excelled in baseball and managed to get into Yale for his undergraduate degree and went on to Harvard after that, becoming a Navy JAG officer while studying law.

He was a promising young man. But we can’t get too excited about him from this point on.

His military career is a fascinating inflection point, because despite his graduating rank of lieutenant commander in 2019, his actual combat experience ranges from watching grown men urinate in a cup to pretending not to see US military personnel torture some folks. He capped it all off with a lovely trip to Fallujah, offering free legal advice to special forces there in 2007 – a highly conspicuous assignment that put him in the thick of the dark side of American foreign policy.

Maybe that was the thing that made him realize that it makes a very particular kind of American feel good when pain is inflicted on someone they consider an “other”. It certainly had to plant a seed, but it wouldn’t blossom until much later in his budding political career.

But it wasn’t until the rise of Donald Trump that he really internalized what his political party was becoming. It suddenly dawned on him he could win the Republican nomination for governor of Florida with just one weird trick – even if most people had no idea who he was or what he was about. Upon winning the nomination, he dog whistled his opponent – the black Mayor of Tallahassee – by not-so-slyly referring to him as a monkey.

He knew, quite instinctively, where his bread would be buttered from that point on.

By hitching his star to Trumpism, he was able to squeak out a win by the thinnest of margins (and may not have actually won the election at all) and started veering into the culture wars with the expressed aim of destroying the culture. He immediately packed the state’s Supreme Court and abolished Common Core curriculum.

But he really came in to his own when COVID-19 came on the scene. By letting it rage across a state where most people can stay outside most of the year and simultaneously fudge the tracking of related deaths, he became the embodiment of America’s favorite way to think of “freedom” – purely in negative terms, where helping or protecting other human beings is always in conflict with the freedom lover’s rights to eat indoors at Cracker Barrel.

It's just a baffling anomaly why more people died of pneumonia there than anywhere in the history of modern medicine. Obviously facetious, but you get my point.

He managed to stretch and twist the ultimate battleground state for American politics into a place where only Republicans win statewide – and he did it by convincing a broad swath of the American electorate that the least powerful people in the country were going to do them harm.

Don’t understand why someone is born a boy and feels like a girl? They must be trying to hurt your children.

Does the gay couple across the street bother you? They must be on orders from the Disney Corporation to have sex in public.

Is there a pandemic going on for the first time in a century? Putting something on your face to slow the spread of an illness we don’t fully understand is literally communism, and we don’t do that here.

Does learning about slavery make you feel sad? You don’t have to talk about it EVER AGAIN.

As a white person, it is your God-given right in this country to be braindead on the subject for the rest of your natural life.

And God, we can't forget the neverending use of the word "woke" to signal anything that the hard right in the country doesn't like. Just don't ask them what it actually means. They can't tell you.

We have to pause and always remember that Ron DeSantis is smarter than this. You can’t get through Harvard Law without having a few brain cells to rub together (although I’ve been surprised before).

He doesn’t think or care about any of this.

He just figured out that his chosen political party has morphed into a White American Death Cult, and he’s content to follow their deranged impulses right off the cliff. But it’s catching up to him.

Part of him knows that he’s on a runaway train. It’s why he’s sending out press releases about his six week abortion ban just before midnight on a Friday. He feels far more at home paving the roads with radioactive material, as it’s a boon to his big business cronies. The whole thing makes way more sense when you realize it’s a fertilizer byproduct agribusinesses produce and don’t know how to get rid of otherwise.

His only option now is appear – somehow – to the right of Donald Trump and offer all the policy fixin’s without any of the personal drama.

But the Ivy Leaguer failed to account for the inconvenient truth that the GOP is held together by spit, glue, and a heaping helping of vibes and aesthetics…and nobody does vibes and aesthetics better than the fake billionaire who spent decades ruling the tabloid press. And he doesn’t like that Meatball Ron is challenging him for the top spot.

I must commend Donald Trump for at least one thing. He can figure out in about ten seconds after meeting almost anybody how to make them cry. His commercial about the Top Gov – and I can’t stress enough how disturbing this is – eating chocolate pudding without a utensil and sticking his grubby fingers into Social Security and Medicare to cut spending and raise the retirement age is the greatest political advertisement I’ve ever seen.

Imagine being the leader of the most terminally deranged people in the country and hitting your greatest rival in an attack ad for trying to dismantle the most successful progressive programs in the United States…in order to protect those programs.

We have to be making progress.

I have no remedies for what this man has become, but we know how this man got to where he is: he’s a signal of our times in a superpower grown out of control and more than ready for its inevitable decline.

My only commentary on him is that if you read up on the man’s life story, you get the distinct impression that he could be better than all of this. Instead he grew hollow in the pursuit of power - and a great many think of his a malignant growth on the American body politic.

Hannah Arendt spoke of Eichmann in Jerusalem when she coined the phrase “the banality of evil”. She spoke of the man as he sat for his crimes – of which there were many – as someone so fundamentally average and unexceptional.

More than anything, Ron DeSantis mirrors this man: a functionary. A bureaucrat. A very average person deeply interested in advancing their career.

It just so happens the advancement is tied up in immiserating the vulnerable and scandalizing the downtrodden.

Donald Trump fits our image of a villain…almost too well.

Ron DeSantis is the sadder case.

DeSantis is a man who could have applied himself in order to do the right things.

Instead he went for glory and contented himself with doing more evil at the practical level than almost any currently serving elected official in the United States.


If you liked what you read, check out my book These Troubled Days, available where books are usually sold.

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