NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Walking Back “America was never that great”

Dear Commons Community,

On Friday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo walked back his controversial comments about American greatness from earlier in the week, calling them “inartful” and saying he believes the country “has always been great.”  Cuomo faced backlashed from a wide spectrum of political figures especially adversaries such as Donald Trump after saying America “was never that great” while taking a jab at Trump’s campaign slogan during a speech on women’s rights in Manhattan.  Cuomo’s initial comments came on Wednesday, when he tried to make the case that Trump’s campaign slogan — Make America Great Again — suggests bringing the country back to earlier times when discrimination, misogyny and racism were rampant.

During a conference call with reporters Friday, Cuomo dialed it back, saying he does not, in fact, question the country’s greatness. As reported by various media:

“The expression I used the other day was inartful, so I want to be very clear,” Cuomo said. “Of course America is great and of course America has always been great. No one questions that.”

He continued: “As you know, my family is evidence of American greatness. My grandparents came to this country as poor immigrants and their son became governor and his son became governor. That’s never been a question.”

Trump has continued to knock Cuomo for his remark on Wednesday, tweeting three times about it Friday morning alone.

“Big pushback on Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York for his really dumb statement about America’s lack of greatness,” Trump tweeted. “I have already MADE America Great Again, just look at the markets, jobs, military- setting records, and we will do even better. Andrew ‘choked’ badly, mistake!”

What Trump believes is American greatness “is not greatness at all,” said Cuomo, who went on to list a number of issues — abortion rights, immigration policy, Trump’s response to Charlottesville  — where he disagrees with the president. 

“His philosophy is not just repugnant to New York,” Cuomo said. “His philosophy is anti-American. His vision of America isn’t great at all. Taking children from the arms of their mothers is anti-American. Americans don’t believe in family separation.”

My take on this is that as a governor running for office, Cuomo was indeed “inartful” in his comments and they will probably come back to haunt him in the future especially if he seeks national office.  But what he said or meant to say is not entirely inaccurate.  While most people in most countries have great national pride, when looking honestly at their history will see episodes when their countries were not so great. Here in the United States, we can point to our Civil War when because of regional differences and the issue of slavery, more than 620,000 people were killed by their fellow Americans.  We can point to the popularity of the Ku Klux Klan in the early 20th century with its doctrine of hate against blacks, immigrants, Catholics, and Jews.  We can point to the McCarthy era Red Scare tactics in the 1950s.  We can point to the Vietnam War when we sent 58,000 soldiers to their deaths for a conflict we never really understood.  We can point to the Great Recession of 2008 when greed on the part of our financial institutions sent the country into an economic tailspin that caused millions of people to lose their homes and livelihoods.  We can point to our present-day immigration policies that separate young children from their mothers and fathers. On the other hand, we can also point to our country’s significant contributions and finest hours.  Our foundational concepts of democracy and freedom as embodied in the U.S. Constitution while not perfect, are something to be proud of.   We can point to our contributions to victories against Fascism and dictatorships in World War I and World War II.  We can point to accomplishments such as sending men to the moon and developing vaccines against polio and other diseases.  Our country is indeed great but we must also recognized that we have had and will continue to have episodes that are not so great.


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