One of my all-time favorite memes is a texting blunder that went moderately viral about midway through Trump’s presidency, in 2017 or 2018, when a young New York City woman got an outrageously filthy text from her apartment broker. Shortly after trying to arrange a meeting time, she received the following text: “I want to suck off Governor Cumo [sic] and his brother too — they can both shoot their loads all over my [expletive] face.” The sheepish sender immediately apologized, explaining the message had been intended for his best friend, but the damage had been done, and the text will forever live on as a testament to the chaos wrought by having access to technology while suffering from terminal horniness.
I thought about this meme a lot in the past 18 months — not only because it was objectively hilarious, but because at a certain point in the pandemic, it seemed we’d all turned into a nation of horny apartment brokers. As millions of people succumbed to Covid-19, flustered federal lawmakers struggled to rein in Trump, whose xenophobic rhetoric and championing of pseudoscientific “cures” marked a nadir in his already disgraceful presidency. Enter Cuomo, who projected an air of steadfastness and superman-like competence, his daily press conferences and hamishe references to Ma’s meatballs and Sunday dinner serving as an anchor in a sea of fear and instability. Despite his prior reputation as a wheeler-dealer and protector of the 1 percent, liberals started worshipping at the altar of Andrew Cuomo, to the degree that the term “Cuomosexuals” entered the lexicon and many publications (including this one) put him on the cover, his lips pursed in thought and his somber, heavy-lidded gaze exuding gravitas (and more than a little bit of carnality).
Cuomo’s brother Chris, too, became something of a sex symbol among Democrats, albeit for a shorter time. As one of the first members of the news media to publicly announce his Covid-19 diagnosis, his CNN dispatches from his basement in quarantine became required viewing, as did his playfully fraternal banter with his brother (which, again, almost always made reference to Ma and/or Sunday dinner). It didn’t particularly matter that he had previously garnered headlines for verbally abusing a cyclist who accused him of breaking quarantine rules, or that his wife Cristina later went viral for dispensing pseudoscientific quackery (including taking bleach baths to heal the effects of Covid-19) that would’ve seemed more at home on a far-right Telegram thread than on a wellness blog. In those early days of the pandemic, we were all little kids gazing up at the adults in the room, waiting for them to put on the capes and play hero, and the Cuomo brothers were all too willing to take up the mantle.
someone must track down the Cuomo brothers wrong number sext dude and ask him if he stands by this pic.twitter.com/NEIJ45Igbh
— 😮💨 (@MilesKlee) August 3, 2021
When the news initially broke earlier this year that Cuomo had been accused by 11 women of sexual harassment and misconduct in the workplace — and even more so, when New York Attorney General Letitia James announced in a press conference Tuesday that her office’s investigation found these allegations to be credible — one might have expected a parade of former Cuomosexuals to come to the governor’s defense. But while there was indeed some of that, the overwhelming response to the Cuomo news was resignation and, perhaps above all else, exhaustion.
Time and again, those on the center-left have put powerful, seemingly competent men like Cuomo on a pedestal, only for them to reveal themselves as predators (like Cuomo, per the AG’s new report), or criminals (like Michael Avenatti), or, in the best-case scenario, as largely ineffectual bureaucrats (Robert Mueller). This trend, of course, predated Trump, but his election truly kicked it into overdrive: at the brink of what Democrats viewed as near-inevitable apocalypse, many people were just looking for someone to tell us it would all be OK, and it helped if that guy had broad shoulders and Jeffrey Dean Morgan-esque eyebrows and irrefutable Daddy vibes. These men would enjoy a brief career starring in erotic fan fiction on #Resistance Twitter or featuring in branded throw pillows on Etsy before rumblings about past improprieties would inevitably culminate in an investigation in a major press outlet laying bare their bad behavior, causing the dominoes to start falling in rapid succession. Occasionally, we’ll act surprised, but most of the time, we’re not; we just sit there waiting for the ostensibly liberal next white male savior to wrap us in their big daddy arms and kiss our foreheads and tell us everything will be better tomorrow.
To an extent, trying to find a hero in the midst of unspeakable chaos is an understandable trauma response. “Based on visuals alone, it can be hard to distinguish between a competent leader and a con man — both will appear on television during a crisis and claim to have a situation under control,” says progressive strategist and longtime vocal Cuomo critic Monica Klein. “And during national emergencies like Covid, when voters are desperate for someone to take charge, it can be even easier to fall for a man who claims he’s taking care of everything.”
The past four and a half years have marked one of the lowest points in American history: not only did we have an amoral, raving Big Mac addict in the White House, but we also had to contend with skyrocketing debt, a creeping white supremacist movement, and the metamorphosis of neofascist hawks like Sarah Palin into cute and cuddly memes by going on The Masked Singer. Then Covid came around, and it was almost like the scene in the horror movie where the wispy ponytailed blond girl runs away from the scary guy with the knife in the woods, only to knock on the door of the even scarier guy with a chainsaw: in a world where danger seemingly lurks around every corner and there are far more villains than heroes, Cuomo seemed like the lesser of two evils.
Of course Andrew Cuomo was not a hero; no man who ascends to the height of his chosen profession because of a well-known name and an ability to project approximate competence ever is. Like most men who fail upward in contemporary society, he is a scion of privilege and power with a closet full of skeletons that you can only fail to find if you try really, really hard not to. This is a lesson that women and people of color in the workplace have gleaned well over time, largely as a survival mechanism, but it’s one that the majority of white liberals apparently need to keep learning. “Hopefully, former Cuomosexuals will learn that when politicians are intent on exaggerated displays of strength and manhood, they’re usually hiding something,” Klein tells me. Because to paraphrase Game of Thrones, if you think there’s going to be a happy ending to this story, then you haven’t been paying attention.