It’s a difficult moment for America. We are in the grips of the coronavirus pandemic, which is sickening thousands and killing hundreds – all while growing its reach exponentially lately. “Social distancing” and “shelter in place” have become familiar terms. The economy continues to free fall. And everywhere there is anxiety, fear and doubt.
Which brings me to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo – and, specifically, to something he said in his daily press briefing on the coronavirus Tuesday morning. Cuomo spent most of his opening remarks in the presser outlining the grim reality of the situation in New York, which has rapidly become the epicenter of the outbreak in America: the rapid increase in cases, concerns about a ventilator shortage, and frustrations with the federal government response.
And then, before taking questions, Cuomo ended with this hugely important riff on why we still need to believe that this all will get better. I am excerpting a big chunk – shoutout to Alli Gordon for transcribing it! – because it’s very much worth reading the whole thing:
“And we’re going to get through it because we are New York, and because we’ve dealt with a lot of things, and because we are smart. You have to be smart to make it in New York. And we are resourceful, and we are showing how resourceful we are. And because we are united, and when you are united, there is nothing you can’t do. And because we are New York tough. We are tough. You have to be tough. This place makes you tough. But it makes you tough in a good way. We’re going to make it because I love New York, and I love New York because New York loves you.
“New York loves all of you. Black and white and brown and Asian and short and tall and gay and straight. New York loves everyone. That’s why I love New York. It always has, it always will. And at the end of the day, my friends, even if it is a long day, and this is a long day, love wins. Always. And it will win again through this virus. Thank you.”
That is an elected official standing up and reminding us that we’ve been in bad situations before and the way we’ve always persevered is by sticking together, remember that we all have a lot more in common than we have that differentiates us. That only by understanding we are all in this together – healthy, sick, old, young, health care worker, politician, whatever, will we get through it. That there is always a light at the end of the tunnel even if we can’t always see it. And that getting there won’t be easy, but we will get there.
That is leadership. That is empathy in action. That is what we need.
Cuomo’s rallying cry stands in sharp contrast to the rhetoric from President Donald Trump throughout this crisis. Trump downplayed the whole thing by repeatedly comparing it to the flu. He worked to scapegoat governors and the media for not handling it properly. And he’s made a series of claims – testing availability, vaccine timing, alternative drugs to treat coronavirus – that have turned out to be false.
What Trump has always struggled to do – in this crisis and other difficult situations in his first term (white supremacist marchers in Charlottesville being a prime example) – is to lead with empathy. To put the “we” before the “me” to borrow a phrase from CNN’s Chris Cuomo. To grasp that leadership isn’t just about dividing us for political gain but uniting us behind a common challenge and goal.
That is something Trump has never grasped – or, obviously, done. He is, in fact, in the midst of suggesting he wants people to go back to work despite the fact that virtually every medical professional is recommending a tightening of social distancing practices, not a loosening of them.
Trump cares deeply about Trump. What he perceives as good for him is what he is inclined to do. Andrew Cuomo, in his words on Tuesday, is offering another path: To believe in all of us, knowing that by protecting the least among us we are showing ourselves and the world how America fights and wins these toughest of battles.
The contrast between the two visions is startling.