The nation has indisputably suffered in the absence of effective and empathetic leadership from the White House. But governors across the country, from both sides of the aisle, are stepping up to take the reins from a president who has been too busy pointing fingers to guide Americans to a safer future. One of these standout gubernatorial figures is New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the leading voice that has arisen from the pandemic’s U.S. epicenter.
From his helm at his daily press conferences, Gov. Cuomo has managed to give the entire nation unvarnished facts — yes, they exist! — a healthy dose of grim reality, and much-needed reassurance as we go together into the uncertain future. It’s been so refreshing to have a real leader that some people have been fantasizing about having a President Cuomo.
Our current and unfortunately real President Trump, in contrast, has spent many of his press conferences rewriting his own recent history, refuting statements in which he minimized the threat of the pandemic, and has even insisted that “unflattering” statistics be suppressed. Remember when he didn’t want to let passengers off a cruise ship in early March because he liked “the numbers being where they are?”
Watch Gov. Cuomo’s press conference on any given day, and you’ll be presented with graphs. And boy are they beautiful! With nary a Sharpie-manipulated chart in sight, he talks the press and the greater audience through what these numbers mean today, what they might mean for tomorrow, and is always clear about what we don’t know beyond that. He can contextualize all this data too!
For instance, in his Wednesday press conference, he presented a graph that indicated that New York is seeing the highest numbers all month of patients with Covid-19 infections being discharged from hospitals — and it’s not because we’re winning. “Why? More people going in, more people treated, more people coming out,” he explains succinctly, before moving on to the next order of pandemic business.
We’re psyched that he likes data! He also has been effectively holding down the fort as a leader by opening up about his own vulnerabilities, something that appeals to our sense of trust and humanity.
Also at yesterday’s conference, the morning after his brother Chris Cuomo’s revelation of testing positive for Covid-19, Gov. Cuomo opened up to share how the pandemic has personally touched him. “I deal with all sorts of stuff, and I’ve seen all sorts of things. And [Chris testing positive] frightened me. Why? Because we’re talking about my brother, we’re talking about my little brother. This is my best friend,” he shared. “It’s frightening on a fundamental level, and it’s frightening because there’s nothing I can do, and I’m out of control, and the doctors can’t tell me anything, and Tony Fauci can’t tell me anything, because nobody really knows. And this situation is the same situation for everyone.”
He emphasized that this can happen to anyone, a terrible reality that is going to bring us together whether we are ready or not. “No one can be protected from it. I couldn’t even protect my own brother,” he lamented.
But even while facing these devastating circumstances alongside all of us, he remembers to give us the down-to-earth reality check we need. “I take solace in the numbers, the facts. Because you can’t divorce yourself from the facts otherwise you go to a place of irrationality,” he reminds us, while acknowledging that that is easier said than done. “But we’re emotional beings. And as an emotional being, it is frightening and it is unknown and it is threatening and it is scary.”
David Paterson, New York’s previous governor, praised this balance expressed in Cuomo’s leadership, telling The Atlantic, “He’s been governor of the state, a friend, and a therapist all rolled into one. Who needs Dr. Phil?”
Even John Oliver from HBO’s Last Week Tonight admitted that, while he was never a big fan of Governor Cuomo, the governor has been occupying the vacuum of leadership our country so desperately needs. “I admit he’s doing admirably well, and I can’t wait to get to the other side of this when I can go back to being irritated by him again,” Oliver hoped.
After all, just weeks ago, we were horrified to learn that Gov. Cuomo was using inmate labor to produce New York State hand sanitizer to address shortages. We must ensure that marginalized groups don’t get left behind or forgotten while we’re expressing our gratitude over Gov. Cuomo’s leadership.
.@NYGovCuomo are you paying incarcerated people in prisons a fair wage for their labor? What are you doing to ensure that the very people you now have working to keep our communities healthy during a pandemic are safe and healthy themselves? https://t.co/C5j1DHkSVm
— Tiffany Cabán (@tiffany_caban) March 9, 2020
That certainly is not the only terrible choice that Gov. Cuomo is going to make while he is in office, but while we are in the thick of this unprecedented crisis, it’s hard not to take some comfort in his avowed commitment to apolitical goals that serve the greater good — you know, the one where we save lives no matter who they are?
President Trump has said plenty of infuriating things this week; he insisted that Gov. Cuomo has no right to complain about the lack of ventilators in the state despite nearly 2,000 dead as of today in New York (“…some people, no matter how much you give it’s never enough.”), and has even suggested that only the governors who say nice things to him will have the opportunity to communicate with him.
Cuomo hasn’t taken the bait; he’s adamantly been living in reality. While he has a reputation for being a controlling and overbearing leader, it’s clear he understands the gravity of the crisis we are facing. “I’m not going to engage in politics,” he said earlier this week. “Not because I’m unwilling to tangle, but because I think it’s inappropriate, and I think it’s counterproductive, and I think it’s anti-American.”
“Forget the politics!” he added. “We have a national crisis. We are at war.”
And with that thought in mind, at yesterday’s press conference Gov. Cuomo shared a quote from wartime leader Winston Churchill to emphasize how he sees us all moving forward together: “It’s no use saying ‘we are doing our best.’ You have got to succeed in doing whatever is necessary.”