Andrew Cuomo shows us the way — of sacrifice and faith in each other

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If you’ve ever driven through the heart of South Carolina, you probably know why locals call the  interchange of I-26, I-126 and I-20 in Columbia “Malfunction Junction.” It’s the most congested area in the entire state and one of the most dangerous. Most folks who live in South Carolina go out of their way to avoid it.

But you can traverse this infamous stretch of road without reservation these days because it’s pretty clear — even at rush hour.

Vehicles that normally fill the lanes with standstill traffic are parked in driveways of homes or apartment building parking lots. Their drivers are home, working remotely or not working, while minding their children whose schools have closed along with restaurants, retailers and other “nonessential” businesses.

People are ensconced at home, fearing every sniffle or cough that might come along as they watch the numbers of reported coronavirus (COVID-19) infections in the United States rise to staggering heights, and worldwide deaths to 10,000.

So they stay home. They wash their hands constantly. They imagine the worst.

Of course, this situation is not limited to South Carolina. It is much the same across America, and so is the heightened level of anxiety and fear. Yet, while this crisis is unlike anything we’ve seen before, a crisis itself is not. And throughout our history, our leaders have risen to the moments before them.

Faced with a nation on the brink of civil war, Abraham Lincoln appealed to the “better angels of our nature.”

During the Great Depression’s dark days, Franklin Roosevelt showed us how to believe in a brighter future again through the strength of his will, bolstered by his firm message that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Our most desperate hours always have been marked by not only tragedy, but also the example of true leadership. The same is true today, though perhaps the voice we’ve been waiting to hear is not coming from the White House but from the office of New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo.

Let’s be clear: Whether by announcing mortgage relief to residents and suspending foreclosures or implementing new health rules to speed hospital admissions and discharge and increase health care capacity, Gov. Cuomo has taken the lead with deliberate, pragmatic action in the face of this public health crisis.

But, more importantly, his commitment to unflinching transparency strikes the right tone for the right time in our nation’s history.

While the folks at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. veer violently between doomsaying and outright denial of this national emergency, Gov. Cuomo recognizes that the truth is the best weapon against panic. He hasn’t shied away from an honest assessment of the challenges we face — now and in the days to come.

While the White House tries to sidestep the staggering unemployment forecasts, Gov. Cuomo not only refuses to hide from the worsening economic situation, he takes action to fix it.

While President Trump was deferring responsibility by attacking his political opponents and blaming other nations for America’s unpreparedness, Gov. Cuomo was ignoring the noise and the presidential tweets to focus on the crisis at hand.

From standing front and center for every press hit and news conference to making the right crunch-time calls in incredibly difficult circumstances, “America’s governor” is giving a clinic on crisis management and reminding the nation what leadership looks like.

The Italian general Giuseppe Garibaldi famously told his men: “I do not promise you ease. I do not promise you comfort. But I do promise you these hardships: weariness and suffering. And with them I promise you victory.”

That’s the vision Gov. Cuomo gives us. That’s the leadership I’ve come to know, respect and admire — and now I’m proud that the rest of the world finally gets to see it. 

It’s a vision that speaks to us of common sacrifice and common good. It’s a vision that shows our faith, not in institutions, but in each other. It seeks not to defer or deny the challenges ahead of us, but to rise above them.

This is leadership that shows all of us that, though the roads may be empty and we may feel isolated at home, we are not alone. At the end of the day, we are not a wandering multitude of disparate communities, but one people. We are not a confluence of self-interests but one nation, and we can overcome any crisis before us together.

Thank you, Governor. We hear you. Now, let’s get to work.

Antjuan Seawright is a Democratic political strategist, founder and CEO of Blueprint Strategy LLC, and a CBS News political contributor. He was an adviser to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2018 re-election campaign. Follow him on Twitter @antjuansea.

Tags Andrew Cuomo Coronavirus COVID-19 Donald Trump Pandemic political leaders Social distancing US economy

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