Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Stuck with Cuomo, DeSantis in a post-truth U.S. | Will Bunch Newsletter

Plus, ‘Concrete Cowboy’ is the most Philly movie ever

Florida governor Ron DeSantis answers a question during a roundtable meeting with transportation industry leaders at the Hilton Orlando-Bonnet Creek Resort in Orlando, Fla., Friday, August 7, 2020.
Florida governor Ron DeSantis answers a question during a roundtable meeting with transportation industry leaders at the Hilton Orlando-Bonnet Creek Resort in Orlando, Fla., Friday, August 7, 2020.Read moreJoe Burbank / MCT

The sun is out, the Phillies are undefeated, I’m fully vaccinated, and I have a quick update on a story I’ve been intensely following. Last week, I urged a boycott of Coca-Cola, Delta and other Georgia-based brands until they took a stronger stand on their home state’s voter suppression law. Almost instantly, both firms did issue powerful statements against the measure, and in support of voting rights. So, for the permanent record, the need for a boycott has obviously been obviated. Did someone forward you this email? Sign up to receive this newsletter weekly at, as we change America one brand at a time.

What does a governor have to do to get fired? New York, Florida up the ante

Florida always seems like a metaphor in search of a state. So it feels fitting, given how things have been going in the Sunshine State lately, that a massive surge of green, toxic and somewhat radioactive wastewater is about to bust out of its retention pond and not only wreck homes but pollute Tampa Bay. You might ask why they even have large reservoirs of green atomic goop, but ... forget it Jake, it’s Florida.

At least this stench (which has been festering for a couple of decades) can’t be blamed on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who donned his gubernatorial windbreaker on Easter Sunday to assure his constituents that the state government is on the case, even though it may be too late to stop the looming deluge.

But there are a lot of other things you can blame on the first-term governor, who won the job in 2018 by boasting of his love affair with all things Donald Trump. Like Florida’s recent, out-of-control Spring Break, which coincided with yet another surge of COVID-19 among the state’s younger population. Or the news that wealthy friends and patrons of the governor were able to hop the coronavirus vaccine line. Or that the state gave its initial contract for the COVID-19 shots to a supermarket chain that’s also a large DeSantis campaign donor — even though its locations were particularly inaccessible to Florida’s less privileged who’ve also been infected at higher rates.

So, as you can imagine, DeSantis’ impeachment investigation is pretty far along as calls for his resignation mount and...oh my gosh, who am I kidding here? DeSantis, as a spokesman for the “free-dumb” movement of opening America up without a coronavirus care in the world, is not only over 50% approval in the pro-Trump state that elected him, but polls show that Republicans nationally prefer him for president in 2024 if The Former Guy doesn’t run.

This is the part where you might expect me to say this is typical of the corruption of the modern Republican Party, and I haven’t even gotten to the ultimate Florida Man — the you-can’t-make-this-up bizarre saga of U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz. But here’s the thing: I’ve always believed that rank personal political corruption is the last thing left in American politics where you actually can say, “both sides ...”

Take New York’s Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo...please. The third-term chief executive of the Empire State is actually depressingly similar to Florida’s DeSantis. Cuomo has been accused of funny business with the coronavirus numbers to make himself look better, just like DeSantis. And the New Yorker is no piker when it comes to doing favors for his political donors. Except there’s also at least five women who’ve accused Cuomo of sexual misconduct such as inappropriate advances or kissing in the workplace.

In other words, if DeSantis ought to resign for his misdeeds, Cuomo should be at least tarred and feathered. But while lawmakers in New York are weighing a possible impeachment — albeit in a slow-motion fashion that may help Cuomo more than it hurts him — he, too, remains surprisingly popular with voters in a heavily Democratic state. Too often in my Twitter feed, I see Democrats who ask why Cuomo should be forced to pay a penalty when Trump was credibly accused of misconduct with more than two dozen women — and nothing happened.

Welcome to post-Trump, post-truth America. After The Former Guy beat back not one but two impeachment raps, including an open-and-shut case of fomenting an insurrection to unlawfully keep himself in power, plus the Mueller obstruction-of-justice findings, plus the sexual harassment stuff, plus the sleazeball fundraising — etc., etc. — the bar for what would cause a politician to resign in disgrace has been raised to Abu Dhabi skyscraper levels.

» READ MORE: Trump told us he would wreck America. Why didn’t we believe him the first time? | Will Bunch

And that’s only the half of it. Any sense of shame over corruption has been completely trumped — pun fully intended — by our own tribalism. This was really driven home by what happened in Virginia a couple years ago, when those ridiculous blackface pictures of its governor, Ralph Northam, were made public. There were the back-then-still-expected calls for Northam to resign, but then it came out that the Democratic lieutenant governor had been accused of serious sexual misconduct. This created a scenario in which a Republican might have replaced Northam, just as Virginia seemed poised for progressive laws like expanding voting rights and abolishing the death penalty. Democrats, and especially Black voters, forgave the governor.

That was understandable, but as our extreme post-Trump partisanship rises above anything and everything, how to explain Democrats backing the beyond-tarnished Cuomo when a well-liked Democratic woman No. 2, Kathy Hochul, waits in the wings? What’s more, the U.S. Supreme Court — in its 2016 ruling in the case of a differently horrific Virginia governor, Republican Bob McDonnell — has raised the standard for convicting a politician of official corruption to absurd levels, which has also encouraged scandal-plagued leaders to ride out the storm.

The only consolation is that both DeSantis and Cuomo are scheduled to face voters in 2022, albeit in elections where party ID is likely to mean a lot more than moral character. Back in 1954, a lawyer destroyed the career of demagogic, red-baiting Sen. Joseph McCarthy by asking him on national television, “At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” Today’s post-Trump, post-truth politicians would answer with a shrug — but so would too many voters.

Yo, do this

  1. In a world that created films like Trading Places and, of course, Rocky, it’s daring and maybe outrageous to call the new Concrete Cowboy, now streaming on Netflix, the most Philadelphia movie ever made. But with its proper use of the word “jawn,” its AI jerseys, its giant hoagies and its narrow rowhouse vistas, this flick produced by area man Lee Daniels screams “Philly!” louder than a fan in the last row of the gone-but-not-forgotten 700 Level. And like the horses of the Fletcher Street stables, the movie ultimately busts free of some coming-of-age clichés to deliver a moving slice of real life on the Philly frontier.

  2. When I wrote a blurb last week about the 20th-century macho style in writing, I had no idea that the PBS master documentarians Lynn Novick and Ken Burns were days away from premiering their new, in-depth re-examination of Ernest Hemingway, the godfather of the genre. The three-night, six-hour Hemingway marathon (I found it weird watching a TV show in real time, that I couldn’t pause to take the dogs out!) launched Monday night, and it was riveting —for revisiting the writer’s most remarkable passages, for new perspectives on Hemingway’s surprisingly fluid views on gender (much less so on race, etc.), and for its uncanny foreshadowing of both his monumental fame and accomplishments and his eventual stony end.

Ask me anything

Question: How did you end up supporting Liverpool? — Via Gary Farnan (@gfarnan) on Twitter

Answer: Yes, there’s a bit of a story behind that. Increasingly hooked on soccer since the 1994 World Cup was held in the United States (while I was a couch-potato new parent), by the 2010s I found myself always watching English Premier League soccer during my Saturday morning chores, yet I struggled to find a team. At the same time, I had also struggled for years — as Boomers sometimes do — in passing my obsessions with spectator sports down to my restless Millennial son, until one Saturday in high school he came home from a friend’s house and proclaimed, “I’m a Liverpool fan now.” “Really?” I improvised. “Me too!” The rest, including last year’s league championship, is history.

Quick note: I’ve totally burned out my Twitter followers harassing them for weekly questions. You, faithful newsletter reader, can — at any time — ask me a question that I’ll answer here (or, if not, hopefully by an email response), at

History lesson

Richard Sprague, arguably the best-known Philadelphia lawyer of the last half-century, died Saturday at the age of 95. As a result, you might actually see something you would not have read for the past few decades, which is some criticism of Richard Sprague. That’s because you can’t libel the dead — and while he was alive it was very, very hard to write anything negative about Sprague, or the powerful people he represented, without fear of getting sued. When I started working in Philadelphia in 1995 after a decade in New York, I was taken aback at the ways that local investigative reporting in my new hometown sometimes pulled its punches. Then I learned about Sprague and his unparalleled skill at winning libel suits, including a $34 million jury verdict against The Inquirer in 1990 (settled, after appeals, for a lesser amount).

» READ MORE: Attorney Richard A. Sprague — the ‘fearless, fearsome, and feared’ giant of the Philadelphia legal world — has died at 95

I believe that Sprague had a chilling effect on journalism in Philadelphia — weaponizing the city’s corrupt and contented legal system — and, whatever his intentions, the city was a worse place for that. Arguably, the Philly lawyer was merely on the cutting edge of a much broader, insidious trend in American life, which is the powerful using their wealth and the best lawyers their money can buy to stifle criticism and crush their opponents. Richard Sprague the human being was said to be a doting grandfather, a good friend to his inner circle, a lover of opera. Sprague the lawyer was an enemy of a free press. Condolences to his family. And thoughts and prayers that the next attorney with his brilliant courtroom talent will use it for a higher good.

Inquirer reading list

  1. In my most recent Sunday column, I waded into the controversy over how to pay for President Biden’s ambitious more-than-$2-trillion infrastructure plan with some thoughts on the road not yet taken — salvaging dollars from the massive waste taking place at the Pentagon. I focused on the obscene tragedy of the F-35 Lightning II fighter jet (lifetime cost: $1.7 trillion) that, ironically, can’t fly in lightning and occasionally shoots itself.

  2. Over Easter weekend, I picked apart the pretty big lies that the GOP is using to cover for the Big Lie about 2020 election fraud — including the falsehood that Major League Baseball somehow dishonored Atlanta baseball great Hank Aaron, who died in January, in its decision to move its 2021 All Star Game out of Georgia over that state’s new voter suppression law. In fact, Aaron, after a lifetime of finding his voice on the civil rights issues he cared so much about, surely would have approved.

  3. In the constant tsunami of news these days, it would be easy to forget about Philly Fighting COVID, the young Drexel grads who talked their way into running Philadelphia’s early vaccination efforts until they made quite the mess of things. But The Inquirer didn’t forget. Reporters Ellie Silverman and Laura McCrystal got their hands on the emails that demolished City Hall’s false claims that the partnership was formed “in haste.” Imagine a city where no one held public officials to account — and you’d be imagining Philadelphia without The Inquirer. Keep us around by subscribing today.