Andrew Cuomo is not a competent governor of New York, but he does play one on TV. This week the denizens of make-believe world in Hollywood decided to honor Emperor Cuomo, as some of his lowly subjects here in the Empire state now call him. Specifically, the award was to show appreciation for his daytime press conferences at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
What was not mentioned, either in the wording of the award or in the video montage of old New York celebrities congratulating him, was that his response in New York was not only disjointed and shambolic, that the state not only has the highest number of COVID deaths in the country, that he has not only put needless and dangerous doubt on new vaccines, and that he also personally decided to put COVID patients in nursing homes, killing many in the process.
But you see, none of that matters to the Emmy awards, because none of that happened on the television. All of these disastrous mistakes by Cuomo did in fact happen, in the real world, that of flesh of blood and dying, but on television none of these things were spoken of by anchors smitten with his bold yet calm leadership. On television his mistakes were hushed up like attractive young women exiting the back door of the JFK White House. The myth of competent Cuomo was much more important to our televisual gatekeepers than any banal reality.
But why did Cuomo get this pass? Why did television, whether news, or day or nighttime talk, or even sports programming insist for nine months that his horrible leadership was actually some shining example? The answer to that is very simple and a mere five letters long. Trump. Cuomo was cast by the media to be the anti-Trump. And he was cast. Others auditioned, including California Gov. Gavin Newsom, and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer who were both in the running, as well.
And it was good casting. For Cuomo to play hero to Trump’s villain there needed to be not just differences, but important similarities. Cuomo was more fearful, Trump more hopeful, Cuomo wanted more economic restrictions, Trump fewer, Cuomo sat at his press conferences, Trump stood. And yet both are outer borough New York City blowhards who know how to talk smack and have shall we say, healthy egos.
The reason Cuomo so dearly deserved his winged Emmy statue is precisely because despite his failings of leadership, he was fantastic on television. He did what leaders are supposed to do on television. He soothed while scolding. He made us feel proud to sacrifice, though, in fairness he didn’t do much actual sacrificing, but also made us feel shame for doubting him. He was like a big brother. In fact, on CNN he often was literally a big brother, and as long we simply listened to him without question everything would be fine. It was a lie, but damn it was good TV.
One of the virtues of governmental systems that involve voting is that the people tend to get exactly what they deserve. In Cuomo, New Yorkers got a governor out of central casting swaddled by memories of his father, the beloved former Gov. Mario Cuomo. He is terrible at his job and has ruled like an autocrat for nearly a year now, but isn’t he just so grandfatherly?
This happened with Joe Biden as well. Trump, we were told four years ago, was going to get us into wars all over the world with his crazy bellicose talk. The opposite happened. Now we will likely have a president Biden, a lovely old man who will rain down rhetorical pleasantries as his neoliberal cabinet rains down bombs all over the globe. But he will be good on TV. Maybe he too will win an Emmy, or at least a Nobel Peace Prize.
It is all a bit strange, isn’t it? Andrew Cuomo is America’s best governor on television and its worst in real life. It’s almost like the people who create TV, who produce it, star in it and give out awards for it aren’t really all that interested in the truth, just so long as remotes click their red buttons on. Andrew Cuomo is very good at that. And Hollywood is very good at handing awards out to people. So as you huddle over your giant bowl of mashed potatoes by yourself this Thanksgiving, governor’s orders, remember to be thankful for Andrew Cuomo and all he has done for television.