The word sanctimonious means “making a hypocritical show of religious devotion, piety, righteousness.” Its synonyms include phony, insincere, deceitful, fake. Simply said, to be sanctimonious is to lack genuineness, honesty, sincerity.
Two days before the 2022 election, Donald Trump used that word to describe Florida governor Ron DeSantis, the most acclaimed governor in the country and Trump’s fellow Republican. And he did so in a mocking way by referring to him as Ron “DeSanctimonious.”
Readers will recall mockery from Junior High School as not merely juvenile but deeply hurtful because it wounds by ridicule. Mocking people’s names is especially cruel because it attacks their uniquely defining identification in a way that offends not only them but also their families and ancestors. Its lasting scars unquestionably contribute to social disharmony.
Some Trump supporters will dismiss the mockery of DeSantis’ name as harmless jesting, but it is clearly more than that. Days later, before the polls had closed on election day, Trump took another, even more threatening shot at DeSantis: “I don’t know if he is running [for the presidency]. I think if he runs, he could hurt himself very badly. I really believe he could hurt himself badly. I think he would be making a mistake, I think the base would not like it—I don’t think it would be good for the party . . . If he runs, he runs . . . I would tell you things about him that won’t be very flattering — I know more about him than anybody — other than, perhaps, his wife.” Not actually an accusation but close enough to plant seeds of doubt and create division.
For the record, let me make clear that I am not a Trump-hater. I voted for him twice—and looked forward to doing so a third time—because I believed his impressive achievements outweighed his nasty mouth. However, his recent mockery of DeSantis has made me revisit that viewpoint. Here is why:
1) Trump knows better than most of us the cost of the division, disrespect, and hate that have afflicted America in recent years. He knows this as both a contributor and a recipient. (In the latter case, he received an unprecedented and disgraceful level of abuse throughout his term in office.) Precisely because of his familiarity with both sides of the matter, he should by now have abandoned the demonizing of others and begun practicing respectfulness and kindness. His obvious disinclination to do so is troubling.
2) Trump seems to still believe that insulting, intimidating, and bullying others is essential to being a real man or, if you will, a “tough New Yorker.” That notion is false. In New York, as in everywhere else, such behavior implies uncertainty rather than conviction about one’s masculinity. Genuinely strong men have no need to reinforce their self-image by demeaning others. They therefore are able to be gentlemen. Trump either lacks that ability or chooses not to use it.
3) Trump surely knows that Ron DeSantis displays none of the behaviors classified as “sanctimonious.” His popularity among Floridians and many other Americans is attributable to his stellar record in office. And his public statements are about ideas and policies, not about self-praise, as Trump’s statements tend to be.
4) Trump’s insult to DeSantis seems to have been unprovoked. Not only has DeSantis refrained from criticizing Trump; his manner toward him has been respectful and even deferential. I would guess this has not been simply a matter of courtesy, but also of DeSantis’ realization that they have much in common, notably love of country, commitment to serve its people conscientiously, and deep regard for the principles and values on which it was founded.
So what can explain Trump’s mockery of his fellow conservative just days before the election, precisely the time when he should have been vigorously supporting all conservatives running for office? I can think of only one plausible explanation—as a warning to DeSantis not to seek the presidency [Trump has admitted that] and as a hint that last-minute 2022 voters should withhold their support, thereby reducing DeSantis’ vote total sufficiently to make his win less impressive.
Am I suggesting that the former President is mistaken in his assessment of DeSantis’ appeal among voters? No. In fact, the very opposite. Trump sees very clearly that if the choice is between two highly talented and accomplished political leaders, only one of whom is a gentleman who can heal division and restore harmony, there is no question which one will be preferred.
In any case, Trump’s mockery was dangerously timed. Although it was widely believed that DeSantis would beat Charlie Crist handily, no one could be certain of that. Faithful Trumpians could conceivably have seen the slur, decided that Trump disapproved of DeSantis, and decided not to vote at all. This would have had a down-ballot effect, denying votes not only to DeSantis but to candidates for other Florida offices as well.
Both possibilities imply Trump was willing to create unnecessary and untimely dissension among the ranks of conservatives at the very time when they need to work together to solve the problems created by the Biden administration. Such unwillingness suggests that Trump is more interested in his own political recovery than in the good of the nation.
For all these reasons, I am reconsidering my support of Trump in the future. I have no doubt that if he could bring to the office of President the same combination of determination and skill that he brought to his first term, his achievements would be even greater than before. But that is a big IF. Before he can devote himself to meeting the challenges to the nation, he will need to resist punishing those who maligned or betrayed him and to control his tendency to aggrandize himself while demeaning others. That will require a level of humility that his latest behavior suggests is out of his reach.
Thankfully, there is time to change my mind, but for now I am inclined to believe Trump will not be best choice in 2024. If that proves to be so, the irony will be stunning. He will have journeyed all the way from most appealing candidate despite his nasty mouth to least appealing candidate because of his nasty mouth.
Copyright © 2022 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved