This week, however, Cuomo got into a shouting match with reporters over New York City school closures. For good measure, he pointed the finger at New Yorkers — you know, the people he governs — for the virus’s resurgence in the state. “If you socially distanced and you wore a mask and you were smart, none of this would be a problem. It’s all self-imposed. If you didn’t eat the cheesecake, you wouldn’t have a weight problem.”
On the West Coast, another pandemic superstar was also seeing his reputation take a blow. California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) was once lauded for saving lives when he quickly ordered the state closed for business in early March. “How the coronavirus crisis gave Gavin Newsom his leadership moment,” enthused the Guardian. When he reopened the state in the spring and case numbers rose, he quickly backtracked, garnering more praise.
The California governor didn’t fall from his throne this week over a matter as pedestrian as cheesecake, but over a haute cuisine meal he shared with 12 people — indoors no less — at the Michelin-starred restaurant French Laundry in the Napa Valley. Yes, the same Newsom whose office recently asked people to put on their mask “between bites” if dining out with family members at a restaurant.
Pandemic fatigue is a thing, tempers are short all over, and no one likes scolds or hypocrites — especially when it occurs at a Marie Antoinette level of obliviousness — but that’s hardly the only problem here. Americans are at a breaking point, and instead of rising to the occasion, Cuomo and Newsom demonstrated contempt for the people they are responsible for governing.
It should come as no surprise that gatherings over food and the lack of in-person public school are emerging as flash points in our ongoing societal meltdown. The holidays are approaching, and people are hearing nonstop calls to cancel get-togethers with anyone outside of their immediate household. At the same time, school closures are taking a toll on the educational outcomes of American children, not to mention destroying the professional lives of many of their mothers.
Evidence is mounting rapidly that shuttering public schools does little to combat the pandemic, even as it causes no small amount of personal hardship. So why the disconnect? Well, politically powerful teachers unions want the schools closed, so closed they are. And parents lack the ability to organize effectively to fight back. No politico is going to admit this, so they come up with increasingly see-through excuses — hence the Cuomo shouting match.
Meanwhile, private schools remain open — something Newsom is benefitting from. He’s sending his own four children to an in-person private school even as children in his public school district — and a majority of minority California kids — make do with second-tier remote learning. And at the same time Newsom masklessly enjoys a $350 per-plate restaurant, California is suffering the fifth-highest unemployment rate in the United States. This is a Gilded Age-level of disconnect. Little wonder Californians are losing their cool.
As for Cuomo: Despite his claims, New York is far from a covid-19 success story. Under his watch, the state suffered more than 34,000 covid-19 deaths, the largest death toll in the country. Several thousand came from nursing homes — and it was the Cuomo administration that issued the order encouraging these residences to take covid-19-positive patients released from hospitals in an attempt to free up beds at the height of the pandemic. Instead of accepting responsibility for this horrid mistake, Cuomo recently published a book lauding himself for his own pandemic performance.
President Trump’s refusal to step up left Americans desperate for someone — anyone — to play the hero. So for a time, many selected governors such as Cuomo and Newsom to take that role. But the masks came off over this past week: We’re all just muddling through, trying to do our best, even as the virus surges once again. This Thanksgiving, Cuomo and Newsom should dine on some humble pie and admit that even they don’t have all the answers.