New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has fallen from grace.
Ironically, Cuomo had been hailed as an American hero until recently. While his three-term tenure was marked by many impressive accomplishments, from raising the minimum wage to moving to marriage equality, it was not until after the outbreak of the pandemic that he took hold. national importance.
Cuomo’s no-frills daily briefings have led many Americans to perceive him as the voice of reason, representing the antithesis of President Donald Trump, who downplayed the threat posed by COVID-19 through denial and the spread of disinformation. In fact, Cuomo’s stature and popularity grew to the point that the media and many in the Democratic Party began to talk about his possible presidential run.
Cuomo’s star status, however, began to fade in the fall of 2020 when rumors began to circulate about his administration’s underreporting of the number of coronavirus deaths in nursing homes. State policy at the time – promoted by the governor’s office – prohibited nursing homes from denying admission to patients “based on a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of COVID-19.” As a result, thousands of older people have likely died.
The simmering public outrage was not only sparked by the state’s controversial policies, as other states had similar policies, but by accusations that Cuomo and his administration actively manipulated the data in order to distort information. numbers and mislead the public.
In the end, however, it wasn’t the deaths of thousands of older people and the cover-up that followed that brought down one of New York State’s most powerful men, but rather the testimonies of harassment. sex of 11 brave women.
This raises an important question: How do you explain why Cuomo’s fate was not sealed until after the release of New York Attorney General Letitia James’ report corroborating the sexual harassment allegations?
Even though the deaths in nursing homes are still under investigation, it is highly likely that Cuomo would have survived the scandal, as the elderly, as Shir Shimoni pointed out in these pages, are often seen as a disposable population. Their untimely deaths, even if caused by flawed policies, neglect and deception, do not end their political careers.
Likewise, ten years ago, Cuomo could also have prevailed on the sexual harassment accusations. Had there not been significant changes in public perception, it is not clear that the governor’s hand would have been forced here either.
First, since the emergence of the #MeToo movement, accusations of sexual harassment and assault – especially by powerful and wealthy men – have become more difficult to dismiss. That’s not to say they weren’t successfully dismissed – Trump is the most vivid example.
But when women talk about having experienced sexual misconduct, it is much more likely today than in the past that these testimonies will be taken seriously. This, in itself, produces a certain dynamic, where more women who have been harassed or assaulted are ready to come forward.
Second, media exposure has changed. Mainstream media have had to contend with the speed and reach of social media, arguably forcing mainstream news media to pick up stories they might otherwise have refrained from covering (often due to powerful stalker links with media conglomerates).
Third, due to movements like #MeToo and continued grassroots pressure, more anti-discrimination and anti-harassment workplace policies have been passed and laws passed, such as the 2018 Congress. Ironically, under Cuomo, New York State passed some of the most radical and comprehensive anti-harassment laws in the workplace.
Finally, today there are more women in positions of power – from Attorney General James to New York Assembly Representative Yuh-Line Niou – who care about these issues and help change the political terrain. .
All of these changes help explain why Democratic Party leaders including President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi quickly called for Cuomo’s resignation after the New York State Attorney General’s report was released. .
They also help explain why Cuomo’s facilitators, many of whom are women themselves, could no longer defend the hostile environment he created. Indeed, the report details how his main assistant, Melissa DeRosa, actively tried to discredit one of Cuomo’s accusers. While she only resigned after it became clear that the governor was likely to be impeached by the State Assembly, public disgust with her behavior also points to a shift in cultural feelings. around the shame and blame of the victims.
The political context also matters. One of the difference between Democrats and Republicans today is that the former begin to reject apologists and facilitators of sexual harassment and assault, while the latter continue to support former President Trump even after being accused. on several occasions of sexual harassment (and even following the insurgency of January 6). If Cuomo had been a Republican, it is not at all clear that his party would have denounced his actions on such uncertain terms, let alone pressured him to resign.
A movement for the elderly: #NotDisposible
Cuomo’s resignation is certainly a good thing. But this is only the first step. The former governor should now be impeached both so that he can no longer stand for re-election and to keep the message to other politicians and powerful men clear. Cuomo’s facilitators, from Melissa DeRosa and her brother Chris Cuomo to Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, must also be held accountable, if not in court, at least to public opinion.
And, while empowering individuals is necessary and important, it does not reach the heart of the disease. Only public reckoning with endemic and institutionalized sexism followed by systemic change will provide a long-term antidote to this American pandemic.
Sadly, while public opinion on sexual harassment has indeed changed, the rampant ageism that plagues society has not changed. American culture still treats the elderly as invisible and disposable. It’s yet another piece of the puzzle that helps explain why one scandal forced Cuomo’s resignation while the other didn’t.
If #MeToo has been successful in precipitating certain transformations in public perception, legislation and accountability, then surely the elderly and their allies can do the same. But we will have to organize, mobilize, and yes, even create their own hashtag movement. We are #NotDisposible.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.