What is most disturbing about now-it-can-be-told scandals involving public figures formerly lionized by the press is the unshakable impression that many parties knew about the shenanigans all along but had remained silent until then for convenience. The allegations involving New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo are a case in point.
The three-term governor is confronting two crises simultaneously:
Several women, including current and former members of his administration, have accused him of sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior. He has refused to resign. An independent inquiry, overseen by the New York State attorney general, may take months.
The Cuomo administration is also under fire for undercounting the number of nursing-home deaths caused by Covid-19 in the first half of 2020, a scandal that deepened after a recent Times investigation found that aides rewrote a health department report to hide the real number. Several senior health officials resigned recently in response to the governor’s overall handling of the pandemic, including the vaccine rollout.
“Meet the Governor Cuomo we’ve known all along, beneath the Emmy-winning performance he put on for months,” was how Jumaane Williams, the New York City public advocate, put it. But if the media had “known all along” it implies a degree of complicity that goes well beyond the embattled governor amounting almost to a conspiracy of silence by trusted observers. No one was acting in ignorance, nobody was fooled; rather they foisted a villain upon an unsuspecting public. That the silence was motivated by political reasons made it even worse.
Cuomo’s top aide, Melissa DeRosa, had admitted to Democratic leaders in a conference call that the administration had withheld the true nursing home death toll from state lawmakers.
DeRosa told them in the leaked conversation that “we froze” because Donald Trump was trying to use the deaths as a “giant political football”.
In the wake of the admissions, the inevitable question is whether there is any other public fact the media is concealing. Commentators have suggested that perhaps Joe Biden’s failure to hold a press conference indicates some incapacity his handlers want to conceal. “Aides to President Biden hurried the traveling press corps away as they shouted questions at an unresponsive commander-in-chief in Washington Tuesday — his 48th day in office without holding a solo press conference.” But others argue Biden is simply focusing on “quiet triumph” by avoiding the regular fanfare. There is no way to know until history is written. There may be no Biden incapacity and even if there is, the missing data may be due to an honest ignorance of the facts.
Deliberate deceptions are usually only revealed afterward by evidence of a deliberate illusion or disinformation campaign. Whereas honest mistakes are random because unintentional, illusion is systematic. What makes the Cuomo scandals so damning is that the extensive scaffolding of awards, flattering stories, and moral praise is very suggestive of a tendency to convey the opposite of the apparent truth.
This can only be done with a deliberation that is at odds with the virtuous self-image of the Woke defenders of these causes. “Almost all philosophers agree that a necessary condition on lying is that one says what one believes to be false.”
One lies about p only if one: Says that p. Believes that not-p. … what makes liars blameworthy … includes the liar’s imposing a risk on the audience.
Since lies by definition are harmful because they impose a risk upon the dupe, when the Woke are victims themselves, the situation is even more perplexing. How can these high-minded people be so cruel? Virtuous liars have to deceive themselves to swallow the pill. They do this both to remain convincing and to ignore the emerging disaster.
The traditional paradigm of self-deception is modeled after interpersonal deception, where A intentionally gets B to believe some proposition p, all the while knowing or believing truly ¬p (not p). Such deception is intentional and requires the deceiver to know or believe ¬p and the deceived to believe p. On this traditional mode, self-deceivers must (1) hold contradictory beliefs and (2) intentionally get themselves to hold a belief they know or believe truly to be false.
The easiest way for self-deceivers to do this is by invoking a greater good or a higher cause. In George Orwell’s Animal Farm the socialist barnyard decides to self-censor to ensure that farmer Jones won’t come back.
“Bravery is not enough,” said Squealer. … Discipline, comrades, iron discipline! That is the watchword for today. One false step, and our enemies would be upon us. Surely, comrades, you do not want Jones back?”
Once again this argument was unanswerable. Certainly the animals did not want Jones back; if the holding of debates on Sunday mornings was liable to bring him back, then the debates must stop.
When “bravery is not enough,” virtuous lies are necessary so the greater good can be preserved in the face of the truth. If the costs of the lie exceed the energy necessary to sustain the illusion it inevitably collapses. While unfortunate, this is rarely enough to collapse the system of self-deception as long as belief in the greater good can be maintained. The cause will simply find a new hero and the disgraced public figure will be replaced like a blown light bulb.
Normally the narrative will continue as before until the apologists suffer what amounts to a loss of faith. This happens to individuals but sometimes it occurs among entire populations. A loss of faith destabilizes the entire edifice of self-deception and can push it over the tipping point.
Ironically the pressure is on Cuomo to take the fall in order to save the cause. They have not yet suffered a loss of faith. It is better that he should confess individual guilt than that the whole enterprise be held to collective responsibility.
Are there any more secrets out there? Who can say, but one thing is probable. If there are disasters lurking, those who actually know will be the last to know.
Books: Stealth War: How China Took Over While America’s Elite Slept. In Stealth War, retired Air Force Brigadier General Robert Spalding reveals China’s motives and secret attacks on the West. Chronicling how our leaders have failed to protect us over recent decades, he provides shocking evidence of some of China’s most brilliant ploys.
Follow Richard Fernandez at Wretchard.com