Lockdowns for the many, impunity for the few

“I was born in this county. I have never come across ill-feeling like this about anything. Everyone feels it is one law for us and one law for them. That is so unfair.”

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On Monday, April 20th, in what was probably meant to be a feel good moment for millions of people still trapped at home, CNN anchor Chris Cuomo came up from the basement of his large South Hampton home saying that “the CDC” had officially ended his self isolation after he’d tested positive for the novel coronavirus on March 31st.

There was just one problem with the story being told on the network and live streamed on his Instagram account: Cuomo, the younger brother of the governor of New York, who was able to continue working from home, had left his isolation and traveled on at least one occasion during this period, in an incident that he made public during what can only be described as a rant on his Sirius XM radio show.

Over the Easter weekend, Cuomo had been confronted while apparently looking over undeveloped property he owns in the East Hamptons with a person who appeared to be his wife, who had also been under quarantine after testing positive earlier for the virus, a second, unknown woman, and his kids.

Believing he recognized the host of ‘Cuomo Prime Time’, a cyclist, 65, who the newsreader referred to as a “biker”, stopped some distance away. Soon after, he reportedly had a conversation with the woman he believed to be Cuomo’s wife, who he said stood some ways away and asked if he needed help with anything. In the ensuing conversation, he pressed her about her husband being out of quarantine and not social distancing with the others in their party.

Soon after, the anchor joined the conversation and quickly became agitated, yelling at the cyclist, who, when interviewed by the New York Post, claimed Cuomo had said, “Who the hell are you?! I can do what I want!’” and told him, “I’ll find out who you are!”

By his own account, the cyclist, who asked the Post to refer to him only as ‘David’ then replied, “Your brother is the coronavirus czar, and you’re not even following his rules; unnecessary travel.”

This led to the anchor threatening him a second time and ending by somewhat ominously telling him, “They would meet again.”

While Cuomo (or, more likely his producers) should be given some credit for occasionally having progressives like Ana Kasparian of TYT on his program to debate the issues, his story is one that repeated in many countries, as influential people, some of whom were actually the architects of shelter in place policies and many of whom had the virus, casually broke the rules without fearing or facing any consequences.

To put this in context, in New York City alone, more than 80% of those who received fines (with some arrested) for not following the guidelines in terms of social distancing were African American or from Latinx communities.

The Mayor of that city, where Cuomo normally works, Bill de Blasio, who uses the language of progressivism while campaigning but has mostly acted as a standard neoliberal politician in office, was another who seemed to feel that the demands he was making on ordinary citizens to stay home and only leave for exercise nearby or for necessities, didn’t apply to him.

On April 26th, he and his wife, in fairness at least wearing masks, apparently felt like taking a stroll in Prospect Park, more than 10 miles from their home, Gracie Mansion, which, conveniently, has its own almost 15 acre park that for some reason didn’t suit the city’s chief executive at that time.

When confronted by a local man, Darren Goldner, who wondered what he was doing so far from home, De Blasio was reportedly very dismissive, trying to ignore him.

Aggravated by the encounter, Goldner was reported to have told the mayor, “This is so terribly selfish. You call yourself a progressive but you chauffeur yourself to Brooklyn, you force people to drive you. This is ridiculous. This is the epitome of nonessential travel.”

There are many similar examples from both North America and Europe of politicians failing to follow their own rules, including the Irish Prime Minister, Leo Varadkar, who was seen having a picnic in a park with his wife and two friends at a time when the government was telling citizens not to see people outside of their immediate household. In terms of non-essential travel, the earlier examples from New York pale in comparison to the actions Dominic Cummings, the main adviser to Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson and one of the ideological drivers of Brexit in the U.K.

Compared to the United States, with a population of just over 66 million, the U.K. is a tiny country, but is fifth in the world in terms of the number of diagnosed Covid 19 cases and is, at present, second after the U.S. in terms of deaths. Tellingly, even the country’s prime minister, who insisted on shaking hands with hospital patients as the disease was spreading in a show of ‘bravery’ that could have resulted in his death when he became seriously ill with it shortly thereafter, has refused to fire Cummings, who has been accused, including by some in his own party, of single-handedly ending compliance with the country’s voluntary lockdown through his actions.

Cummings, who is sometimes called ‘Boris’ brain’ traveled a great distance from his London home, where the virus was much more prevalent than the places he visited, on not one but two occasions that we know of, despite having symptoms linked to the disease after the prime minister announced he’d been infected, mandating a 14 day quarantine for Johnson’s top aide to protect others. This was after Cummings helped formulate the demands being made on citizens as part of the efforts to contain and, hopefully, stamp out the disease.

The adviser, considered something of a maverick for always looking like he is going either to or from the gym in a world of suits and ties, was reported to have driven some 260 miles to visit his family’s Durham estate in late March, where he has claimed he stayed in a separate cottage away from relatives, including his elderly parents.

His excuse about wanting to secure childcare for his 4 year old son in case both he and his wife, who was also showing symptoms, became too ill, earned him sympathy in some quarters, but the way he chose to explain it after being exposed, relying on rules put in place to protect children from abuse during the lockdown, didn’t go over well with the public. Taking such a long trip must also have meant stops along the way, where there was a chance of infecting others.

While in Durham, Cummings also took a 30 mile trip to and from Bernard Castle with his wife and son, who later also became ill. His excuse for this jaunt? He wanted to test his eyesight, which, if true, makes the trip even more dangerous for those who might have been on the road at the same time for more legitimate reasons.

Expressing the fury felt by Britons who had suffered real hardships to abide by the rules, was an elderly woman who asked that her name be withheld, who told the Guardian, “There is not one single person around here who is not disgusted. Everyone is furious because we have all played fair. People haven’t been able to go to funerals, they haven’t been able to go to weddings, they haven’t been able to look after people who are dying.

“I can’t go to see my friend in Barnard Castle who is dying and yet that four-letter word goes out for a trip.

“I was born in this county. I have never come across ill-feeling like this about anything. Everyone feels it is one law for us and one law for them. That is so unfair.”

Add to these glaring examples of unchecked privilege those leaders who not only failed to follow the advice of public health officials but publicly dismissed it, leading many of their citizens to do the same. Take the current U.S. president, who refused to both wear a mask, meant to protect others in case a person is asymptomatic, and practice social distancing in public appearances, and we see more vividly than ever that the rules don’t apply to those in positions of power, from police to presidents.

With this as a frame, after watching the unchecked violence of authorities against Black Lives Matter protesters over the past week, we can’t help but remember the old saying, ‘a fish rots from the head down’. The stink has become almost unbearable.

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