This week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo resigned in an astoundingly tone-deaf speech following an official investigation into accusations that he sexually harassed multiple women. In less than two weeks’ time, Cuomo will step down from his position and be replaced by his Lieutenant Governor, Kathy Hochul. She has already made promises for big change in the state’s highest office after Cuomo’s culture of toxicity and macho posturing was reported in multiple publications. New Yorkers, by and large, seem delighted to see the back of Cuomo. In February 2021, it was revealed that Cuomo’s office had mishandled the reporting of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes. The state’s health department had logged just over 8,500 fatalities. In reality, more than 15,000 people in care homes had died since the beginning of the pandemic. Cuomo accepted blame for the problem but did not apologize.
Even before the accusations of sexual harassment, Cuomo’s popularity was sinking like a cinderblock in the lake. That stood in stark contrast to much of the rest of America, where Cuomo had seen his reputation soar as the straight-shooting and tough-minded pandemic-era counterpart to Donald Trump. Where the Trump administration seemed to gloat in the face of thousands of deaths, Cuomo gave the impression of being the leader that the moment called for. Granted, the bar was low given that the President was encouraging people to f**k around with bleach as a potential COVID cure, but Cuomo certainly grabbed the moment with both hands. He even emerged as a potential running mate for Joe Biden’s campaign. Some talked up his potential as a last-minute Presidential candidate. And then, of course, there was the Cuomosexual trend.
Everybody who said they were a "Cuomosexual" also has to resign now, just because that's gross.— Sara Benincasa (@SaraJBenincasa) August 10, 2021
Wtf is wrong with you people? pic.twitter.com/mRcDmBZqJy— pokey pup (@Whatapityonyou) May 21, 2020
In March 2020, a Jezebel writer shared their embarrassing crush on Cuomo, even though they admitted to ‘an intense and reasonable dislike’ of his political policies, because his ‘measured bullying’ seemed comforting during the infancy of the pandemic. Comedian Randy Rainbow, who rose to prominence during the Trump era for his musical political parodies, sang ‘Oh Andy, baby, you’re so strong and rational, from now on I, identify, as Cuomosexual’, all to the tune of ‘Sandy’ from Grease. Trevor Noah adopted the label. Ellen DeGeneres sucked up to him on her show. Soon, Etsy was chockful of Cuomosexual products. The New York fashion brand Lingua Franca produced a cashmere sweater with ‘Cuomosexual’ embroidered on the front, all for the low low price of $400. That company has since offered to restitch the sweater for all regretful customers, so you can now change the slogan to whatever you want.
Hopefully they’d just let me add “flaming” above “cuomosexual” pic.twitter.com/P9Q5vJFVes— badelaide (@addievibez) August 12, 2021
It’s somewhat surprising that the absolute cringe of this phenomenon wasn’t fully acknowledged at the time. At the very least, nobody in the mainstream seemed ready to take a pause and reconsider the obvious issues of turning a politician into a sexy slogan turned piece of iconography. One wonders how the proud owners of Cuomosexual shirts now feel looking at that item while considering how Cuomo allegedly told the state trooper assigned to protect him, ‘If I was the dog, I’d mount you too.’
Of course, hindsight is 20/20 and there weren’t any psychics available to warn us of the impending allegations. Still, even if we didn’t know what we know now, and Cuomo’s reputation was as pure as the driven snow - and it never was because everyone knew and celebrated his status as a grandstanding bully - there’s nothing about the Cuomosexual trend that ever could have ended well. Do none of us remember the Sexy Justin Trudeau PR gloss and how that’s going in Canada?
The line between politician and celebrity has been blurring for a while now. Ever since we saw Nixon’s desperate sweat live on TV, there’s been an insistence that our public representatives present themselves in a polished and charismatic way. It’s not a consistent demand — women politicians play by much harsher rules, as do politicians of color — but it’s one of immense potency, especially in the social media age. Certain toxic qualities can be spun as ‘honest’, like Cuomo’s egotistical pushbacks against any sort of accountability. Psychoanalyst Virginia Goldner explained to The New Yorker that part of the Cuomosexual allure came from a ‘retrosexual’ desire, essentially a throwback to another era of paternalistic masculinity. Whatever you think of that analysis, it’s certainly one that fits with how Cuomo sold himself over the past year and a half: that authoritative jackass who was doing ‘good’ and hitting all the marks of competency porn that delights the internet. Sure, he’s a jerk, but he’s a jerk on our side, and apparently that’s what we need.
The fetishizing of politicians as figures of pleasure and entertainment never ends well. Consider the deification of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, which barely allowed her to be human, or Boris Johnson’s weaponizing of the affable fool persona that has allowed him to face zero accountability for his blatant corruption in the highest office in the land in Britain. That strain of idolatry will always end in furious backlash, no matter how earnestly it is displayed. Investing so much of yourself into someone whose job is to serve the public interest is a level of parasocial force that’s far more draining than finding out your favorite actor is problematic. The stakes are higher, and that blind adoration can be weaponized far more effectively by the subject in question. Cuomo definitely had a ball upping his approval numbers and having a squeaky-clean image spread across the nation. Fawning over an elected official for seemingly doing the bare minimum is practically its own form of propaganda (especially since it turned out that Cuomo wasn’t efficient in his dealing with the pandemic, and a lot of people died as a result.) Politicians don’t get to have fans. They have bosses, millions of them. We shouldn’t lavishly defend them in the way that stans do with celebrities.
So, take a moment to think of the Cuomosexual t-shirt owner. The person with the ‘In Cuomo I Trust’ mug they now have to quietly toss in the trash and hope nobody notices. It’s not as though they can pretend it’s all about Chris Cuomo now either because he’s a corrupt piece of sh*t too, and CNN needs to deal with that crap pronto. Perhaps next time we can just stick to fighting over Chrises in superhero movies.
Header Image Source: Michael M. Santiago // Getty Images