By Ralph Nader
The resignation of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo invites comparisons, historical context, and proposals for the future.
First, the comparisons: Former President Donald J. Trump must be chuckling. As the worst sexual predator to rule the White House, he must be wondering about the “weak” (his word) loser who quit while protesting his actions were innocent. Trump, the rapacious, super sexual assaulter, physically pushed women around, boasted about his prowess, and bragged about his seizures of women’s private parts. He also paid hush money to prostitutes in violation of campaign laws during his 2016 presidential campaign.
Yet the Democrats, led by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), hounded Senator Al Franken out from the Senate before his requested investigations by the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Ethics began its inquiry for alleged sexual harassment. Franken’s actions were not Trump-like by any measure and occurred before Franken even ran for office. The women who worked for him, past and present, voluntarily came forward to vouch for Franken as a Senate champion both of women and of consumer rights.
When I presented Senator Gillibrand with a detailed letter indicting Trump and asked for her to take action, she did not reply, nor did nearly one hundred other Democratic women members of Congress in the House and Senate who had this letter personally delivered to their offices. (See letter: https://nader.org/2020/02/25/open-letter-to-the-women-in-congress/). Forget the men there. No one disagreed with the letter. Some staff to whom the letter was personally delivered teared up in frustrated anger. “It’s all up to Nancy Pelosi,” some would say, for any House investigation to commence.
But Trump knew how to intimidate, unleash torrents of vicious internet messages by his backers, and relentlessly go after his opponents by name with wide media coverage. So, for these lawmakers and the #MeToo movement activists, the worst received the least of their relentless demands. Trump got away with his despicable, violent actions while his lawyers are obstructing, with tactics of attrition, several tort lawsuits now underway against him by his victims.
Second, the grim history: Perhaps the greatest regular form of violence between humans has been men beating up on women. For millennia this has been the case, with violence against children a close second. It is still ongoing everywhere, though the lights are starting to shine into this infernal darkness. But in an unusual reversal at long last, on the ladder of accountability, those in positions of visible power – political, economic, and academic as well as those in the media’s eye, are feeling the most ferocious demands to immediately quit their jobs and pay damages to avoid the additional possibility of prosecution.
Top media executives, corporate bosses, leading politicians, prominent sports coaches, and others at or near the top of their institutions, were tossed out for sexual harassment – not punished for any serious violent corporate crimes or for pushing illegal, murderous wars – but for believed allegations of behavior ranging from actual felonies to 1950s type non-consensual flirting with subordinates. From women never being believed over the centuries, if they dared to protest, there are those few who have gone public against “celebrities” with accusations who are now being immediately believed.
Some proposals: Governor Andrew Cuomo fell from favor for doing far less than what many in the New York State Legislature have been doing with impunity forever. Rampant occupational and physical sexism has been brutish and punishing, often connected to deals requested by commercial lobbyists, and overall an accepted part of Albany’s state legislative culture. Behaving lawmakers have not blown the whistle on their seriously misbehaving colleagues. There are simply too many consequences for their doing so, in addition to the penalties confronting the whistle-blowing victims themselves. As one long-time observer commented: “The scene was worse years ago, but it is still ugly and rancid today.”
Cuomo went out with a semi-mea culpa resignation address to the people of the State of New York. He could have brought the whole legislature’s tolerance of violent exploitation against women down with him. Moreover, by demanding due process in any impeachment proceedings in the state legislature, Cuomo also could have helped stem the tide of “conviction by accusation” without having due process such as cross-examination, and other rules of evidence in a judicial-type forum.
What does Governor Cuomo want to hide? What other scores do politicians want to settle with him?
The great civil rights and human rights advocate, former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, long argued that giving the worst offender their due process is what confirms the rule of law. Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic were given independent counsel and formal trials even though their known mass slaughters of innocents were legion.
The captured Nazi butchers tried at Nuremberg in 1945 could have been immediately executed. Instead, their trials and convictions expanded international law, along with the principle that saying “I was just following orders,” does not exonerate.
Influential American politicians rarely lose their positions of power over their most destructive decisions. Consider the more than one million plus innocent Iraqi victims of the lying, destructive, criminal war against Iraq, which George W. Bush and Dick Cheney perpetuated with complete immunity to this day.
Presently, Biden, Pelosi, Schumer, Gillibrand, and other Democrats who demanded Cuomo quit, are not demanding the resignations of the dangerous Republican governors of Florida and Texas. These men, facing a surging contagious Covid-19 pandemic, cynically cite “individual freedom” to boastfully oppose or undermine long-proven, life-protective measures. For instance, they oppose local school board mask mandates threatening to sue, defund, and otherwise keep local officials from obeying state laws that override these homicidal politicians’ executive orders.
Flouting CDC standards, Governors DeSantis (Florida) and Abbott (Texas) are knowingly and ideologically increasing preventable fatalities and disease, causing hospitals to fill up and health practitioners to wring their hands over staff shortages and deceit at the top. These governors meet the standard definition of negligent manslaughter. those deadly crimes, remarkably, still do not match the accusations against Cuomo for these Democrats.
Rather, it is almost always some bigoted words, some bullying personal mistreatment, or some minor but personal misuse of funds – not the huge waste and corruption in their administration – that produce expulsion.
The Cuomo ouster was a lost opportunity to start cleaning house in a more lasting manner in the Albany sex pits while sending a message to all state capitols to stop these hothouses of sex-crazed men, away from their homes, and sometimes willing to satisfy their personal lust through craven lobbyists working deviously against the interests of the people.