The resignation of New York’s governor Andrew Cuomo following a scathing report by the state Attorney General that left him facing the prospect of impeachment marks the political downfall of a once seemingly invisible national political figure. Media reports had previously even touted the three-term governor and scion of a previous governor as a possible presidential candidate.
Mr. Cuomo, who handily defeated opponents during previous gubernatorial elections, steadily consolidated power in his state. Despite COVID’s brutal toll on New York and criticism of his handling of nursing home outbreaks, he rose to national fame in a highly politically charged climate during which he publicly tangled with President Trump. As New York overcame the initial virus onslaught that pushed its hospitals to the limits, he tried to avail himself politically and released a book touting his leadership during the pandemic.
Aside from the unfortunate timing (considering that a ‘state of emergency’ was still in place and a return to normalcy is far from an afterthought), the book’s lucrative payday, reported at over $5 million, resulted in multiple probes by state jurisdictions regarding whether state resources were used in its production.
In a way, Mr. Cuomo resembles a modern-day Oedipus. Like the ancient tragic figure, he is the son of a governor, although Oedipus didn’t have the benefit of his family name to move up the political ranks. Both figures are billed as practical problem solvers, however they are also both guilty of ‘hamartia’, or missing the mark in their leadership objectives, as the opium of power got the better of them. Mirroring Oedipus, Mr. Cuomo’s downfall is closely associated with a plague, as his actions seeking to remedy it eventually contributed to his demise.
The former governor could be said to have committed considerable acts of hubris during his time in office. This column is primarily concerned with his conduct during the pandemic, as this affected a far larger portion of the population. Like many other governors, Mr. Cuomo used the vast power granted to him by the state constitution – especially during a state of emergency – to infringe on fundamental freedoms. Characteristic instances include freedom of assembly, public worship, and basic decisions affecting people’s livelihood, like indoor dining capacity of restaurants.
The vast power of state governors – which in many cases exceeds that of the President of the United States – became very plain during the pandemic. This is partially due to state constitutions and charters, which predate the U.S. Constitution and contain authoritarian provisions granted by the King of England to his hand-picked political friends whom he appointed to govern his colonies. Although the excesses of executive fiat during this crisis were seen all throughout the United States, and many places elsewhere in the world, including Greece, they became more apparent in large states like California and New York, which drew (inter)national attention due to their prominence and the degree to which they were affected by the pandemic.
Whether this involved California Governor Gavin Newsom’s (who is facing a recall on September 14th!) antics of shutting down an entire state, including its restaurant industry, while himself masklessly frequenting gatherings of the ‘elite’, or Mr. Cuomo’s questionable handling of COVID -19 cases in nursing homes and vain self-aggrandizement in his recent book, the heaviness of hubris and the consequences that must follow adheres to the ancient causality.
The very act of forbidding public worship – which, beyond its supplicative capacity, has historically served as a spiritual and psychological outlet to release anxiety and cope with stress – smacks of excessive pride that serves as a catalyst for destructive events to come. Ignoring the empirical knowledge of humanity spanning millennia or the practices in place during previous pandemics – or other epidemics that lacked the media buildup but had a comparable case infection and fatality rate – state governors sought to pontificate in a retro medieval world of deified science arbitrarily enforced by a media apparatus playing the role of inquisitor.
The results of this ill-advised behavior are now starting to show, with Mr. Cuomo appearing as one of the first victims. Undoubtedly, others will follow. These lessons should not be ignored in the land where the tragedy of hubris was first taught in the amphitheater. The current Greek Government has imposed one of the harshest and most protracted lockdowns in Europe. Examples of ridiculous executive fiat included the shuttering of churches for major holidays like Theophany, the forbidding of processions while mass political demonstrations went unpunished, and the insistence that the Resurrection be celebrated three hours earlier than the traditional time due to a curfew – as if COVID is somehow more infectious after midnight. So far, the end certainly does not appear to justify the means.
On the contrary, despite unprecedented police meddling in the daily affairs of civilians (the requirement to show a text message with permission to leave one’s home to go food shopping or perform other daily activities) and harassment of institutions like the Church, violent crimes are surging across the country. Meanwhile, wildfires are ravaging Greece, burning a record number of acres for one season, and leaving an enraged citizenry feeling like the state apparatus is non-existent. There is widespread indignation regarding the millions of dollars that were allocated by the government to media outlets, while the national fire department remained understaffed and severely underfunded. Several of Greece’s firefighting aircraft remain grounded due to a shortage of parts, while the cleaning of forest undergrowth and tinder never happened in certain areas.
The current Government and some of its most pompous and high-handed members are now called to reckon with their hubris. Meanwhile, on the fire-stricken island of Euboia, people witnessed the recent miracle that happened when the clear blue sky in the area of Prokopi turned rainy shortly after a litany of the relics of St. John the Russian, saving this area from the menacing flames.
With such an epidemic of hubris, it’s time elected officials and officeholders start showing some humility.
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