Andrew Cuomo and the Limits of the Never Retreating Approach to Crisis
If you take a few hours to read the New York Attorney General’s report on Andrew Cuomo, you will find the normal misery of reading about alleged sexual harassment. But once you really get into it, you’ll find a bunch of weird Citizen Kane, All The King’s Men stuff going on in and around the New York governor’s mansion.
The attorney general reports that a state trooper was assigned to Cuomo’s command at an event following a meeting with the governor and that the governor’s advisors unknowingly tracked down the contact information of a young lobbyist after a similar meeting. One of the governor’s officers testified on this report that she made a list of women who will receive a rose on Valentine’s Day. The craziness and power that permeates the report was shown in his video response to it last week, which featured photos of him touching the faces of famous people and strangers.
This video was a twist on what Cuomo did well in 2020: publicly exercising authority during a time of crisis – even if the reality was that the attorney general also released a report on how the state undercounted nursing home deaths during the pandemic. Now almost every prominent Democrat is saying it’s time for Cuomo to go, which he won’t. That the New York legislature could actually indict Cuomo after a decade in power is logical, but it seems shocking – for reasons related to perception, achievement, and the way refusal undermines tangible methods of dealing with problems can.
It increasingly feels like a ping-pong of politics between the courts and the executive, with performance and expectation management in between and very little legislative recourse. Achievement is always a part of politics, even when you have a highly functioning legislature. The whole endeavor involves a lot of signaling and modeling; the public presentation of competence or morality makes sense, even if the downstream effect can be unpredictable and non-linear. However, when performance and reality are out of whack, it can be difficult to maintain basic plans (e.g. that these vaccines are good).
Regarding Cuomo, politics for the past 10 years has been dominated by one approach to the crisis: the idea that if you rule the clock and never give in instead of coming to an end, you win a war of attrition and stay in power. Consequences, dissolution. Donald Trump was by no means the first politician to just break the admission of guilt and refuse to apologize and bow, but he was a real leader in the field and you can see the downstream impact with Virginia Democrats Ralph Northam and Justin see Fairfax, who basically followed suit, at least initially in the Northam case.
When a crisis breaks out and the party in question doesn’t leave and no one really does anything, everyone else is left in a kind of floating animation. Holding onto a conclusion about a bad cause and its effects can become difficult. The way we use social platforms in general tends to break things down into binary files, with an escalating need to complicate the original facts or allegations. even sticking to the original premise of condemning gross behavior can in and of itself become tired or performative.
Obviously people can and do repent and change course, and the idea that we must always cling to a fixed sin is not perfect either. But in politics we mostly talk about the privilege of holding an office, and the short-term, watchmaking, never-down approach thwarts expectations and creates this weird cycle between perception and reality where the former can change the latter, even if an appeal is available. January 6th could actually be the culmination of how caustic it can be when dreamland comes true: people told lies about the election results slammed into the actual stained glass windows of the literal Capitol and hit human police officers with American flags.
A big problem we have with politicians, celebrities, the media and social media is how to deal with people who act outside of what a super majority thinks is okay, like the governor of a state who feels entitled (supposedly ) To put his hand on the stomach of a state trooper in view of another state trooper, and what happens when that state trooper simply refuses to comply with a call for apology or resignation. Cuomo has apologized for some of the conduct alleged by women, but he has also defended his actions and has not addressed the allegations against the state trooper at all. In these equations, if the offending party simply refuses to change or go their way, what exactly should everyone else proportional to the situation do in a pluralistic society with multiple entry points for the offending party to move on?
And so, the idea that the New York legislature is actually pushing an impeachment process seems a little shocking – it would rearrange that dynamic where public refusal overwhelms everything else.