Opinion | Ron DeSantis Is Running One Freaky Campaign

By Frank Bruni

Mr. Bruni is a contributing Opinion writer who was on the staff of The Times for more than 25 years.

If you missed the previous newsletter, you can read it here.

The version of most politicians that we need to worry about is the one that they don’t want us to see. That’s why campaign reporters dog them; they’re waiting for the veil to slip.

But the version of Ron DeSantis that we need to worry about is the one that he proudly shows us. He embraces his meanness. He luxuriates in his darkness. Let other politicians peddle the pablum of inspiration. He prefers to ooze the toxin of contempt.

That’s one of the morals of a provocative anti-gay, anti-trans video that the DeSantis campaign shared late last week. The campaign’s promotion of it prompted accusations of homophobia even from some Republicans, and justly so: In an attempt to smear Donald Trump, the video doesn’t just accuse him of coddling L.G.B.T.Q. Americans. It revels in DeSantis’s vilification of them.

Initially distributed by a Twitter account called Proud Elephant, it presents a bizarre montage that’s superficially an anti-woke battle cry, pitting a truculent DeSantis against a scourge of degenerates. But while his viciousness comes through precisely as planned, so does something unintended: an undercurrent of homoerotic kink. Up pops a shirtless hunk with a ripped chest. Here’s a glowering Brad Pitt in his “Troy” drag. Are honchos with a Homer fetish some new thing? I need to get out more.

But the perversely purposed beefcake is less striking than the way in which the video exultantly spotlights DeSantis’s biggest critics and celebrates their harshest criticism, treating the words with which they’ve described him and his initiatives as the best measures of his mettle. “Most extreme” becomes a trophy, “horrifying” a crown and “evil” a sash.

The Florida governor is running one freaky and unsettling presidential campaign. He’s more focused on putting certain Americans in their places than on lifting others to new heights. He’s defined by the scores he pledges to settle instead of the victories he promises to achieve. He casts himself as someone to fear rather than revere. That video actually flashes an image of Christian Bale in “American Psycho” as a flattering DeSantis analogue.

Vote DeSantis: He’s a monster, but he’s your monster.

How does someone with that pitch possibly bring together and lead an entire diverse country, if he gets that chance, and what does it say about the United States today that he has come this far? Have we put tolerance, grand ideals and optimism so fully to rest? I remember “morning in America.” I guess it’s now midnight.

To read deeply and widely about DeSantis is to learn that his cruel politics match a cold personality. He seems to trust almost no one other than his wife, who’s his twin in unalloyed ambition. He’s a collector of slights. He gets an A+ in grudge holding and an F in humility, and he’s taking etiquette pass/fail. He has resting disdain face.

When I find pictures of him laughing, his expression is a bad stage actor’s — it’s a labored and spurious guffaw — as if a campaign aide intent on warming him up had just pulled hard on some string embedded in DeSantis’s back. Only his rants have a genuine air. He looked perfectly comfortable on Fox News recently saying that anyone who cut through a border wall between Mexico and the United States to traffic fentanyl would “end up stone cold dead.” He’s out to out-Trump Trump, who reportedly wondered aloud about a water-filled border trench stocked with snakes and alligators. I’m counting the minutes until DeSantis’s proposal for a moat stocked with great white sharks.

Raising questions about illegal immigration and border security is necessary and just. But what’s served by doing so with such bloodthirstiness?

Establishing guidelines for the age at which it’s appropriate for children in public schools to discuss sexual orientation and gender identity is legitimate. But what’s gained by inviting the word “groomers” into the conversation and casting yourself as a pulchritudinous gladiator who will teach them a pitiless lesson?

DeSantis mistakes spite for spiritedness, bullying for strength. I hope voters don’t do likewise.

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For the Love of Sentences

The Supremes sure made lots of news lately, so let’s start with them. In Slate, Dahlia Lithwick parsed the generosity from billionaires that Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas have so richly enjoyed: “A #protip that will no doubt make those justices who have been lured away to elaborate bear hunts and deer hunts and rabbit hunts and salmon hunts by wealthy oligarchs feel a bit sad: If your close personal friends who only just met you after you came onto the courts are memorializing your time together for posterity, there’s a decent chance you are, in fact, the thing being hunted.” (Thanks to Robert E. Gordon of Sarasota, Fla., for nominating this.)

In The Washington Post, Alexandra Petri mined that material by mimicking the famous opening line of “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that an American billionaire, in possession of sufficient fortune, must be in want of a Supreme Court justice.” (Nicole Seligman, Sag Harbor, N.Y.)

And in The Times, Tyler Austin Harper contextualized the battle over affirmative action: “Civil rights leaders did not endure the dogs and the cold baptism of the fire hoses in the hopes that one day their children’s children could become Ivy-minted venture capitalists and management consultants.” (Adam Fix, Minneapolis)

Also in The Times, Farhad Manjoo discussed the futility of debating Robert Kennedy Jr.: “He starts with a few sprinkles of truth — Ohio’s vote was run by a partisan official, some vaccines have serious side effects — and then swirls them up with enough exaggerations, omissions and leaps of logic to create a veritable McFlurry of doubt.” (James Brockardt, Pennington, N.J.)

Kim Severson noted how buffets struggled to emerge from the pandemic: “A model of eating based on shared serving spoons and food seasoned with the breath of strangers seemed like a goner.” (Elise Magers, Chicago)

Alex Halberstadt introduced readers to the Oregon winemaker Maggie Harrison: “Warm, funny and observant in person, she cultivates a persona of a curmudgeon, the way an octopus might disguise itself as a rock to throw off sand sharks.” (Michael T. Reagan, Ottawa, Ill.) Also, of a tasting room of Harrison’s with an unappealing entrance: “The scene was so hushed and civilized-looking, after the dinginess of the exterior, that it was like entering a chapel through the back of an airport Cinnabon.” (Robert Mugford, Scottsdale, Ariz., and Tricia Chatary, Middlebury, Vt., among others)

And Ligaya Mishan described a magical dessert from her Hawaiian childhood made by a frozen-treat wizard named Kon Ping Young: “He’d sneak in one of the whole plums, which he’d cover with more slush. I’d find it buried deep, a shriveled prize, so tangy that when I sucked on it, the world condensed to that one flavor, a tiny neutron star of sweet-sour-salt.” (Cindy Kissin, New Haven, Conn.)

In The Washington Post, T.A. Frank traced the arc of Mike Pence: “When he was a radio host, Pence liked to call himself ‘Rush Limbaugh on decaf,’ a mild concoction even then, to say nothing of an era when even Limbaugh on meth would be too laid back for some of today’s partisans.” John Hitzeroth, Wilmington, Ohio, and Doug Sterner, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

In The Ringer, Roger Sherman imagined how hard it was for N.B.A. teams to decide which of the 6-foot-6, identical Thompsons, Amen and Ausar, to draft first: “Normally, you can identify the evil twin by looking for the one with the handlebar mustache, but neither had one, making this a tough assignment for scouts.” (Marshall Sikowitz, Bassano del Grappa, Italy)

And in The Boston Globe, Odie Henderson was rattled by moments in “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” when a digitally de-aged Harrison Ford didn’t look quite right: “For the love of Ponce de León, stop using this technology until it’s perfected, Hollywood!” (Pat Isgro, Greenwich, N.Y.)

To nominate favorite bits of recent writing from The Times or other publications to be mentioned in “For the Love of Sentences,” please email me here and include your name and place of residence.

What I’m Watching, Reading and Listening To

I wish I could say that I loved the third (and, apparently, final) season of the British crime drama “Happy Valley” as much as I loved the first one nine years ago, but this great series did what many great series do: It fell a bit too much in love with its main characters and the superb actors who played them. I refer to Sarah Lancashire as a grief-haunted police sergeant and James Norton as the perversely charismatic thug who had a heavy hand in her grief. The latest season, whose American airing wrapped up a little more than a week ago, seems intent on giving them tricky or intensely emotional scenes in which to show their acting chops, and they deliver and then some. But the trade-off is a sometimes sluggish pace and lugubrious air. Regardless, if you never found your way to “Happy Valley,” correct that. The whole of it is undeniably worth watching. (It’s streaming on AMC+ and Acorn TV; you can also purchase episodes or seasons, as I did, through Apple TV+. There’s more information here.)

The Gay Pride month of June this year seemed to yield a particular bounty of reflections on what it means to be gay or queer, possibly because of a backlash in the United States right now against L.G.B.T.Q. people. The essay that most intrigued and delighted me appeared here in Times Opinion. It was Richard Morgan’s “As a Gay Man, I’ll Never Be Normal,” whose standout passages could have filled the entire For the Love of Sentences section this week. (Joan Vohl Hamilton, South Hadley, Mass., and Sarah Patrick, Carbondale, Ill., among others, nominated sentences from the essay.)

Another recent article in The Times that I especially loved was Elisabeth Egan’s 25-years-later look at the phenomenon — and impact — of “Bridget Jones’s Diary.” It, too, is a gold mine of spirited prose, along with acute observations.

Sally Jenkins of The Washington Post is a treasure (and appears frequently in For the Love of Sentences), and this recent article of hers about the friendship of the former tennis rivals Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert is a gem, also with sterling sentences galore about two women who “exemplify, perhaps more than any champions in the annals of their sport, the deep internal mutual grace called sportsmanship.” (Rebecca Howey, Detroit, and Tom Fortner, Point Clear, Ala., among others)

I’ve retired the occasional newsletter feature that delved into great songs and song lyrics but will mention popular music randomly and occasionally in this space. A Pandora station of mine just introduced me to the young singer-songwriter Ilsey and “No California,” a relatively new single of hers. She has an album due in October, according to this article in Variety, which also embeds the song, so you can listen. Despite its love-lost subject matter, it’s buoyant, summery and very, very catchy.

On a Personal Note (Odd Neighborhood Names)

You’ve been excellent about sending me examples of strangely or strikingly named streets, neighborhoods and towns, a subject that I first wrote about in January and revisited in this newsletter, this one and this one. Today’s Odd Neighborhood Names installment will be the last — we’ll find other fun topics to commune over — and I apologize to the many of you who have submitted unused material. Thanks to your generosity. I’ve had more options than space for them.

Almost all have fallen into one of three categories. I think of the first as “let’s pretend we’re somewhere we’re not.” Jane Houssiere of Boulder, Colo., wrote: “I live on the interface where the Rocky Mountains meet the semiarid high plains. We are nowhere near any ocean.” But, she added, “developers must have been homesick for the coast.” Behold, in this mountainous interior, Barnacle Street, Starboard Drive, Driftwood Place, Sandpiper Circle, Beachcomber Court, Outrigger Court, Jib Court and more. It’s a high tide of nautical nomenclature.

The second category is the motif-a-palooza, whereby the namers of streets work a theme as aggressively as my Regan does her favorite bones. Rob Boas of Atlanta alerted me to that city’s “Sherwood Forest” neighborhood, where the streets include Robin Hood Road, Friar Tuck Road, Lady Marian Lane, Nottingham Way and Little John Trail.

John FX Keane of New Providence, N.J., noted that his childhood home of Binghamton, N.Y., has byways that pay homage to classical composers: Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Schubert, Wagner and more.

The motifs can be … unexpected. Mary Beth Norton noted that Ithaca, N.Y., has a grouping of streets seemingly named for cigarette and cigar brands: Winston Court, Salem Drive, Tareyton Drive and Muriel Street. Lest that seem eccentric, Barbara Lerner wrote that in the Gibson section of Valley Stream, N.Y., where she used to live, there is a profusion of roads with cigarette- or liquor-related appellations: Marlboro, Munro (an English gin), Carstairs (a blended whiskey), Gordon (gin), Dubonnet (vermouth). The Gibson, of course, is the martini’s cousin, garnished with a pickled onion rather than an olive.

The third category: utter failures of imagination. Into this group falls what was probably your most nominated street name, Toronto’s soul-crushingly prosaic, spectacularly redundant Avenue Road. But Sheila Gerstenzang of Las Vegas wrote in with another fine example: Overthere Lane in North Las Vegas.

Beyond those categories are street, neighborhood and town names that just don’t seem like such names at all. In Ipswich, Mass., there’s Labor in Vain Road, as a former Ipswich resident, Douglas Atkins, and a current one, Tamsin Venn, pointed out.

And the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador is known for its amusing place names, including Dildo, Witless Bay, Blow Me Down, Tickle Harbour, Tickle Cove, Come by Chance and Heart’s Content. Thanks to Patricia Maher of Vancouver, B.C., for drawing attention to those.

Frank Bruni is a professor of journalism and public policy at Duke University, the author of the book “The Beauty of Dusk” and a contributing Opinion writer. He writes a weekly email newsletter.  Instagram  @FrankBruni Facebook

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