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History links sagas of Andrew Cuomo, Donald Trump, COVID-19

By Harlan Ullman, Arnaud de Borchgrave Distinguished Columnist
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History links sagas of Andrew Cuomo, Donald Trump, COVID-19
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced his resignation on Tuesday after an investigation into allegations that he sexually harassed women.  File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

Linking New York's embattled resigning governor, Andrew Cuomo, former President Donald Trump, COVID-19 and today's American politics may sound like a bridge too far. But there certainly is one. It is history.

No matter how deplorable the governor's conduct may have been in harassing some 11 women, it does not share the same history or universe with the behavior of Trump -- comparing these misdemeanors with his major felonies. Trump's accusers far exceeded Cuomo's in numbers and claims of criminal activity, including rape.

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According to his lawyer Michael Cohen, Trump ordered a payoff to a porn actress covering up his infidelity. Trump was also recorded as bragging over how his celebrity status enabled him to "grab" the private parts of women at his pleasure.

It does not appear Cuomo committed rape or major sexual assault while exhibiting coarse, offensive, unacceptable behavior. Unwanted touching or feeling and making inappropriate comments are inexcusable, especially by any powerful official in the private or public sectors. Cuomo strongly denied all the charges made in the investigation and by his accusers before resigning.

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Sexual harassment is often difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. Much rests in the reactions of the victim. In today's politically correct environment, what is said or meant by a male's comments or actions can be interpreted entirely differently by the opposite sex. This display of alternate understanding is strongly reflected in today's politics.

Any comment can be purposely interpreted or misinterpreted as "sexist," "racist," "fascist," "socialist." or any other incendiary term. That is not an excuse. It is reality.

Interestingly, while the video news conference by Cuomo's defense team last week was bitterly condemned as amateurish and even misguided, it does follow the Trump strategy of harshly denying any charges and attacking the integrity and credibility of the investigation and witnesses.

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And the defense team seemed to shred the testimony of Lindsey Boylan by revealing a timeline that made her charges of the governor stroking her breast seem very unlikely.

That said, as COVID-19 has claimed about 620,000 American lives, New York Attorney General Letitia James' investigation will take Cuomo's political life and future. The interesting question for historians is how did Trump survive a far more serious list of allegations -- and that ignores two impeachments, the second for inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection -- and Cuomo's demise forcing him to leave office?

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Using history as a further link, with the fourth wave caused by the Delta variant threatening to exacerbate the pandemic and recovery, references to the 1918-20 Spanish flu outbreak have disappeared. This is unfortunate because how that pandemic ended might better inform us about the current one. After two years, the Spanish flu simply ran its course.

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The reason is unknown, as no tests or vaccines existed then, and whether herd immunity took hold with so many infected people giving the virus nowhere to go. Whatever variants were created and still persist today, and the seasonal flu would take its toll, almost magically that pandemic ended. And by 1923, the United States had embarked on the greatest economic recovery in its history.

Today, no one can predict if variants E, F, G and possibly more will emerge and whether the current vaccines will prove effective against new strains. Nor has any one predicted or forecast how this pandemic will end. Requiring vaccines of all citizens, unless granted waivers for health or other viable reasons, and ensuring inoculation would seem a near certain means of ending this pandemic. Although some may argue that a future virus may prove to be vaccine resistant.

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These two cases of historical linkage raise the question of why history seemed to be ignored. In the Cuomo-Trump parallel, one answer is that Republicans were prepared to support the former president, no matter what he did, even as he claimed he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and escape prosecution. The Democrats, on the other hand, have taken a zero-tolerance stance going back to the forced resignation of Sen. Al Franken with the flimsiest evidence of real sexual abuse.

That does not excuse Cuomo. However, it is an interesting contrast of the ideological divergences between the two parties over personal conduct. Indeed, that difference extends to COVID-19 and the red-blue divisions over vaccines.

One could ask if Republicans are embracing personal freedom at all costs regardless of consequence. And have Democrats become the new moral Puritans? For the sake of the country, one hopes not. But that is far from any certain judgment.

Harlan Ullman is senior adviser at Washington, D.C.'s Atlantic Council, the prime author of "shock and awe" and author of the upcoming book, "The Fifth Horseman and the New MAD: How Massive Attacks of Disruption Became the Looming Existential Danger to a Divided Nation and the World at Large."

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The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

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