The fact that behavior is commonplace does not mean it should be mistaken for behavior that is normal.
-Jelani Cobb, The New Yorker, March 15, 2021
"How Parties Die"
I've been thinking about Governor Cuomo all morning and began to write this post as I was swimming laps. I've been loading up on well reported descriptions of a toxic workplace environment, the accusations of the Governor's female employees, the nursing home fiasco, and even worse, the cover-up. If true, none of this is good news. We relied on this elected official's leadership during the pandemic and were in thrall to every pronouncement at his weekly news conferences. We took his advice and we trusted him. Many women friends of mine joked that they were standing in line to date the Governor; he was hot, he was competent, he gave us clear instructions. The revelations of recent weeks don't change any of that except for one thing: many of his staff were suffering, and not from Covid. And though none of the allegations have been proven, and must be proven before we pass our final judgment, it is difficult to keep that judgment in abeyance when we feel shocked and disappointed. Nonetheless, we must. The abrogation of the rule of law these last four years has damaged our democracy. I find the prospect of trial by media rather than trial by jury as troubling as anything the Governor did or might have done. Have we succumbed once again to America's "persecuting spirit," as described by Nathaniel Hawthorne and amplified by McCarthyism?
Here are my more specific thoughts in no particular order:
1. Has the Governor been living in such a protected bubble that he's by-passed the protocols of sexual harassment law? They are very specific, stipulated by New York State law. At NYU I must review this law with a video course and answer questions before re-entering the classroom every term. Did the Governor, in fact, take the course?
2. Would it be possible to view the Governor's alleged sexual advances as pathetic rather than malevolent? Or desperate rather than malevolent? The attempts to connect sound as inappropriate and immature as a teenager's. Except for the "groping" allegation, they are not violent.
3. Andrew Cuomo was known as the "enforcer" for his father, Mario, when Mario was Governor. This backstory is well known and proven. Tough guy. Strongman. If it's true that he still bullies, shouts, and threatens to obliterate, why hasn't there been a protest by the women and the men who have worked for him all these years? Has he only hired men and women who are easily intimidated? Are his staff so eager and ambitious that they'll swallow all aggressive and abusive behavior?
4. Last but not least, as a mom of a strong daughter, who forced her to take karate until she got her black belt, I do have some questions about the women who have come forward. I believe them totally, but I also am concerned that accomplished ambitious women still do not speak up, or know what to say in situ—providing there is no threat of violence. Did the women in this story have any responsibility, any agency at all, or were they only victims? I hope not.
I am reminded of the complex and troubling discussion about Pablo Picasso's misogyny and Woody Allen's pedophilia. Must we disregard the art, destroy our pleasure in it—if we can still feel pleasure in it--or does the work stand alone, apart from the biography? Will Governor Cuomo be remembered for his management of the pandemic in New York State, the allegations against him, or for the results of the investigations once they are delivered?