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American politicians hide behind the palace walls

“Quit crying and looking for a handout” doesn’t have quite the same ring as “let them eat cake,” though perhaps it’s a little unfair to expect the mayor of a West Texas town to have the same lofty wordcraft as “a great princess.”

Still, Tim Boyd got his point across this week. In a typo-ridden rant, the mayor of Colorado City told his freezing constituents (or his former constituents, as he resigned either shortly before or after the Facebook post) that “no one owes you [or] your family anything.” He added that in the aftermath of the historically devastating Texas winter storm, “only the strong will survive and the weak will [perish]” — which would be a callous dismissal, even by French monarchical standards.

But this has really been the week for out-of-touch politicians, hasn’t it? And it’s not limited to the situation in Texas and ill-timed trips to Cancún, either. On both the right and the left, America is full of leaders who are acting like royalty while their constituents are suffering or dead.

Texas, though, is the obvious place to start, because the crisis is still very much unfolding. It’s also a perfect illustration of how an inexcusable failure of leadership can result in an urgent situation, where elected officials are so far removed from the horrific suffering of their constituents that they can’t sympathize with their plight, much less act productively on it. Most egregiously, Sen. Ted Cruz (R) decided to leave his “FREEZING” home in Houston for a $300-a-night room in the Cancún Ritz Carlton — never mind the ethical dubiousness of taking an international trip to a country where infrastructure is already buckling from the pandemic. There is the Colorado City mayor who called the residents of his city “lazy” for not “think[ing] outside of the box” about how to secure themselves drinkable water. Even former Texas Gov. Rick Perry still has “political class brain,” suggesting that winter storm victims preferred not having power to federal energy regulations; meanwhile, more than 500 cases of carbon monoxide poisoning have been reported in Houston alone.

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But look also at Democratic states, like New York, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo reportedly threw a royal tantrum over being criticized in the ongoing nursing home scandal. Apparently believing himself to be above scrutiny, Cuomo allegedly threatened to “destroy” a less-powerful politician that had the nerve to speak out against him. “Nobody is surprised by this,” Republican congresswoman Nicole Malliotakis told Fox News. “This is a governor who is very vindictive … Even [New York City] Mayor [Bill] de Blasio said this morning this is common practice by somebody like Governor Cuomo.” The condemnation is indeed bipartisan: A former Democratic elected official told Politico, “Anybody who knows the Cuomo administration knows that threats are what they consider their charm.” Jumaane Williams, the New York City public advocate, called Cuomo’s thin-skinned behavior “Trump-like.”

Speaking of Donald Trump, the former president has also picked now of all times to make his voice heard from his literal “American castle.” Trump this week broke his relative silence since Inauguration Day to further his lies about the election — lies that, just a few weeks ago, stoked the deadly violence at the Capitol. “I have a funny feeling we’re going to be hearing a lot more from Donald Trump,” Fox News host Sean Hannity mused during their recent interview, which the Los Angeles Times reports was the third of Trump’s day. There has always been a sense of Trump being an emperor with no clothes on, surrounded as he is by sycophants. But it’s also true that people who fancy themselves to be royalty like hearing themselves talk, and don’t bother with reading the room.

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Even President Biden isn’t immune from finding his ivory tower comfortable. The commander-in-chief last weekend enjoyed a relaxing retreat at Camp David, where he played Mario Kart with his granddaughter — a little R&R, before walking back his campaign promises about student loans and minimum wage hikes this week. Such policies could offer life-changing opportunities to many suffering Americans, but Biden ruled on them quietly. Likewise, the president’s new guidelines for Immigration and Customs Enforcement focus on targeted deportations, earning a scathing reprimand from the ACLU, which called the move a “step backwards” due to it giving ICE wide latitude over who to target and deport. More families, as a result, are doomed to suffer.

Not all transgressions this week are equal; it’s far worse for a sitting elected leader to be disengaged than it is for former politicians to ignorantly run their mouths. But the leaders that fall along this unfortunate spectrum share a quality of preferring to be safely out-of-reach of the people they’re ostensibly fighting for. Perhaps if we normalized the process of impeachment and recall elections — processes designed to hold leaders accountable mid-term, not just during election seasons — politicians would not be so quick to seal themselves away, or so hasty to exploit the entitled position that voters bestowed on them.

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Moreover, mid-disaster, it wouldn’t leave citizens relying on, say, a senator who sees himself as being so exceptional that he is worthy of fleeing his cold house for a beach resort while the un-quenched masses suffer on. It’s really the politicians who ought to quit crying and looking for a handout of popular favor. Let them eat bread.