I’ll make this brief. Ron DeSantis and Donald J. Trump are two totally different [political] animals. Trump is many things: he’s a real estate tycoon, businessman, reality tv star, drag queen, camp genius, performance artist, decadent amoralist, actor, puppet, narcissist–but I would certainly not call him an evil or dangerous person. Certainly his presidency gave certain people license to do evil and dangerous things–I won’t deny that. But it’s hard for me to take any of the immoral or ridiculous things he does or says seriously because there is nothing serious about the man.
Again, he’s an artist. Everything he does is part of his act. Yes, there are real consequences…but Trump Derangement Syndrome incorrectly looks to Trump himself as the culprit, rather than to the circumstances that brought Trump into his position.
In a twisted, “through the back door” (a la Huysmans) type way, there are virtues that come along with having a performance artist like Trump in office. His decadence is both a product of and the rock that shattered the already crumbling remains of the liberal democratic establishment. But most importantly, he injects humor into a direly bourgeois, self-serious culture. He plays the prophetic role of the court jester, in the spirit of Oscar Wilde (I explore this theme of decadent prophecy in my articles for the Critic on Trump and Milo Yiannopoulos).
As I’ve argued again and again, decadence can either open the door to the diabolical, to nihilism, and chaos…or to God, the sacred, and divine hope. And at the end of the day, both options are better than a naïve trust in humans’ self-sufficiency and the benevolence of the will.
The lack of seriousness of the historic archetype Trump embodies is irresponsible–but this irresponsibility is another place of paradoxical virtue. His over the top humor and performance of ironic apathy remind us that we are all fallible humans. The salvation of the world is not in our hands. We are not responsible enough to save anything. This was the tragic miscalculation of Enlightenment rationalism. Even if we were to engender utter chaos, it is ultimately God who CAN save us…IF we allow him to–thus the riskiness of decadence. (Yes, I acknowledge we shouldn’t test God, and God helps those who help [take responsibility for] themselves…but I’m trying to make a point using hyperbole, a device Jesus was known to rely heavily on.)
The difference with DeSantis is that for him, this is not a joke–he’s totally serious. There’s no room for play, for tension between God and the devil–it’s straight up demonic. Trump’s foolishness has opened the door for evil things to happen. DeSantis enacts straight up evil. He means what he says. Trump is unreasonable, but he doesn’t pretend to be reasonable. DeSantis is unreasonable while pretending to be reasonable. Trump is a liar, which at least he is honest about. DeSantis is a straight up liar. Trump LARPs as a pro-life Christian in a manner that’s so hilarious that it’s blatantly obvious that it’s just a LARP***. DeSantis is evil because he seriously expects us to think he’s a devout Christian.
The abuse Trump perpetrated against immigrants and refugees was certainly morally problematic. But DeSantis directly participated in (and was said to have enjoyed watching) the torture of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. His anti-woke curriculum reforms are purely reactionary. The fact that he lumps together any cause that has a whiff of wokeness, and can’t distinguish between books about trans children and books about Rosa Parks…and that he allowed for teachers to get fired for showing students “porn” (ie classical art) shows that he has no substantial convictions of his own.
And most horrifying of all, there is nothing artistic or even remotely funny or entertaining about DeSantis. Please don’t be fooled.
***For your entertainment, check out these old throwbacks of Trump talking about God and the Bible:
if you’re interested in preordering a copy of cracks in pomo: the zine or in making a financial contribution, email stephenadubato at gmail dot com
photo taken in lower Manhattan.