The last refuge of scoundrels

When Andrew Cuomo and Vladimir Putin complain about the scourge of cancel culture, you can be sure one of two things has happened: either we’re all deeply unfair to these two hyper-macho executives, or the The already spongy concept of cancel culture has become – as Samuel Johnson once said of patriotism – a villain’s last refuge.

Nowadays, “patriotism” and “cancellation culture” are the first refuges of desperate politicians. Putin invoked the two several times last October during a rant in Sochi. Looking a lot like your average far-right member of the Texas state legislature, the Russian strongman lamented ‘reverse discrimination’ against ethnic majorities and said teaching young people about gender fluidity should be a felony – which is, of course, an accurate description of what is about to become law in Florida.

Like Putin, Reverend Ruben Diaz of the Bronx has a long history of homophobic remarks; the former state senator and New York City Council member is one of the main reasons marriage equality wasn’t legalized in New York until 2011, when it became the main realization of the human rights of Cuomo’s tenure. (Russia explicitly banned same-sex marriage two years ago.) The former governor, however, is now so in need of a warm room to welcome him that on Thursday he appeared alongside Diaz to deliver a cover. from his speech two weeks ago in a church. in Brooklyn which marked his first public address since leaving the governor’s mansion.

Cuomo again peppered his remarks with religious language referencing the civil rights struggle. In Brooklyn, his address had more bridge imagery than “The Bridge Over the River Kwai”: He spoke of his ongoing journey “from resentment to reconciliation” and a few minutes later referenced crossing the bridge Edmund Pettus by Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis during the “Bloody Selma” protests in 1965. (“Eww, disgusting,” I said aloud while watching the video.)

In the Bronx, Cuomo’s remarks were devoted to bashing politicians who abandoned him in times of need and denouncing cancel culture, without ever really explaining why he ended up on his side.

To be clear: the former governor didn’t leave office because of mean tweets; he scuttled his administration rather than fight impeachment amid overlapping scandals — credible tales of sexual harassment and misconduct; obstructing the public over the deaths of nursing home residents from COVID-19; and his use of taxpayer-funded staff to produce his pandemic memoir for a cool $5.1 million payout.

None of these controversies were mentioned in the Bronx. “You shouldn’t be in politics if you’re not ready to handle the heat,” he said Thursday, but not in the context of his own kitchen outing last August.

There was enough pot-talk from the former governor’s camp to stock an industrial kitchen: Cuomo, a notorious bully who was infamous for threatening the careers of haters and critics, told his Bronx audience to “stand up to bullies”. He touted “straight talk and the unvarnished truth” as core Bronx values; As Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s audit of the state Health Department’s handling of nursing home data reiterated last week, Cuomo’s administration conspired to cover up the deaths of more than 4 000 people while he took care of his image before marketing his book proposal.

His spokesperson responded to the audit’s release by suggesting he was politically motivated — which is quite something from an administration that slammed a July 2020 self-exempting report on deaths in the retirement homes after publishing the full report.

Is the disproportionate shame of individuals on social networks a problem in our society? Sure. Are the rights to freedom of expression limited? Not really, although the blowback of controversial speech is, like blowback speech and many other forms of speech these days, certainly amplified by social media.

But given the platform Cuomo once had and still has — fueled by $16 million in campaign funds — it’s a bit of a howl for him to complain about being shut down by the woke crowd. He did this to himself, in part by surrounding himself with suckers who were only too willing to compromise morally to serve the boss. It was much the same with President Donald Trump, another boy from Queens who regularly complains about cancel culture.

Say what you will about Richard Nixon, but he rarely complained about being forced to resign in the face of overwhelming evidence that he abused his office in the Watergate scandal. In his televised interviews with David Frost nearly three years after leaving office, Nixon apologized to the American people and admitted to a series of errors in judgment while offering a rather lame legalistic defense of his actions. By then he had accepted the pardon of his successor, which required that he tacitly admit that he had committed crimes.

“My political life is over,” Nixon told Frost. “I will never have the opportunity to hold an official position again. Maybe I can give a little advice once in a while.

Cuomo, whose ouster is still fresh, is having fun toying with the public about the prospect of a return to electoral politics. Trump does the same.

It doesn’t look like a cancellation.

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