Rudy Giuliani Has Not Gotten Worse

Rudy GiulianiSeveral people have mentioned that Rudy Giuliani sure isn’t the guy he once was. This is wrong. He’s exactly the guy he always was. It’s just that in the past, people (the media in particular) gave him a pass. He’s definitely the vile and corrupt man you see on Fox News and CNN. But there’s no reason to think this has changed.

Early Rudy

Just look at his move from Democrat to independent to Republican. He had been a Democrat — the default for someone from New York. But when he got in good with the Ford administration, he became an independent. Then, pretty much the moment that Reagan was elected president, Giuliani became a Republican. This almost certainly was due to an offer to work in the Reagan administration. The one thing you can definitely say about Giuliani is that he always does what is best for himself — as much as a man as silly and ignorant as he knows what’s best for him.

Under Reagan, Giuliani oversaw the placement of Haitian refugees. Those that weren’t put in concentration camps were sent back to Haiti because, Giuliani claimed, they weren’t actual refugees. It was the same then as now. He claimed they were just fleeing poverty and thus had no claim on asylum. This is one of countless examples that make me bristle when I hear someone say that Trump is notably worse than previous Republicans.

For all that period, Rudy Giuliani made public racist comments even while claiming that it was outrageous that anyone called him racist. And his later tough-on-crime stance — including his “broken windows” and stop-and-frisk policies are all a part of that. He ran what was basically an authoritarian administration as governor of New York. And it is not at all clear this even resulted in reduced crime.

Looking at the whole of Giuliani’s mayorship, it’s hard not to see it as a blueprint for Trump. It’s not just its base authoritarianism. It’s the belligerent tone, explicit endorsement of police violence, and comically obvious corruption.

Mayor of the World

Like most Americans, I watched a lot of news after 9/11. And I was shocked about how much good press Giuliani got. It’s not that there was anything wrong with what he was doing. It’s just that there wasn’t anything to applaud. The banalest behavior was held up as something great. It was a clear example of how people will find something to applaud about you if they are determined to applaud you.

The worst example of this was when David Letterman came back on Late Show. I wanted to vomit when I heard it. And it hasn’t aged well:

And I just want to say one other thing about Mayor Giuliani. As this began, and if you were like me, and in many respects, God, I hope you’re not. But in this one small measure, if you’re like me, and you’re watching and you’re confused and depressed and irritated and angry and full of grief, and you don’t know how to behave and you’re not sure what to do and you don’t really… Because we’ve never been through this before… All you had to do at any moment was watch the Mayor. Watch how this guy behaved, watch how this guy conducted himself, watch what this guy did. Listen to what this guy said. Rudolph Giuliani is the personification of courage.

The Narrative

Yet this is the narrative that was formed. And it reached its apex with the Time Person of the Year. They named him “Mayor of the World.” At the time, I thought it was just an indication of how craven journalists have become the last few decades.

Time spent decades noting that “Man/Person of the Year” was not necessarily laudatory. It was clear, at least from an American perspective, that the person of the year should have been Osama bin Laden. But I do understand: Americans are so ignorant and closed-minded that they would have lost it over that choice.

Just before 9/11, the narrative in New York was that Giuliani was a racist authoritarian. His career was effectively over. The attacks that day were better for Giuliani than they were even for George W Bush.

But why Rudy Giuliani?! Well, because that was the narrative. It could have been anyone. But why not the mayor of New York? And all the bad things about him were totally in line with the way that Americans was thinking and doing.

It doesn’t change things that Rudy Giuliani was still an awful person and that the narrative was just that: a narrative — a convenient fiction to be used by society. It had nothing to do with the man himself.

Death of a Narrative

The narrative didn’t die overnight after people realized that Giuliani was ranting, “I will be the hero!” No. After the crisis, Giuliani destroyed the narrative like you lose a chess game: move by move, inch by inch.

During the calm, things slowly came out that showed Giuliani wasn’t such a great protector of New York. It truly is amazing that again and again people mistake tough-talk with competence. He was widely cited for taking terrorism seriously before 9/11. But this just wasn’t true. His planning for a terrorist attack was pathetic. Most notably, it included putting the Office of Emergency Management command center in the World Trade Center over the objections of people who actually knew about this kind of stuff.

He was one of the worst Republicans when it came to explicitly politicize 9/11. And in this, no one can be surprised by who he is today. For example, he said, “We had no domestic attacks under Bush. We’ve had one under Obama.”[1]

One of Joe Biden’s best-remembered lines is, “Rudy Giuliani — there’s only three things he mentions in a sentence: a noun, a verb, and 9/11.” What was particularly crushing about the line was that it was true. If you look at his campaign for president, that is how he spoke. He tied everything to 9/11.

Rudy Hasn’t Changed

There is much more, of course. His history in the private sector over the last decade has been awful — including help to Purdue to keep selling Oxycontin. But the point is that for as long as most people have been aware of him, Rudy Giuliani has been terrible. What he’s been doing for Trump is nothing new.


[1] To be fair, this used to be common. Conservatives (publicly and in private discussions) would say, “Bush kept us safe!” The same people who just couldn’t shut up about 9/11 somehow forgot that it happened while Bush was president. And even if you give Bush a mulligan on that, there were many other deadly attacks.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

7 thoughts on “Rudy Giuliani Has Not Gotten Worse

  1. I’ve said for a while that while Trump’s values haven’t changed over the years, his presentation has. Watch video of him from the 80’s and you see he was much more coherent and focused, while these days his speech quickly veers into word salad. Giuliani seems similar. He hasn’t changed at a core level, but as he ages he’s become less able to keep the mask up.

    • I think that’s exactly it. In this article, I’m mostly trying to educate those people (including liberal friends) who somehow though Giuliani was a good guy. And strangely, every early on in his career, he built a brand as being very ethical. But once he got opportunities to move up, he not only abandoned them, he moved to the opposite side. In a just world, he would have disappeared long before now. But he still makes for great television so I’m sure we won’t see him leave any time soon.

  2. My first night in New York. Never been there before.

    I’d been out at a bar with some friends, and a guy almost knocked me over running down the sidewalk. He’d boosted some car stereo or whatever, extremely low-level crime.

    Behind me, I heard an angry voice screaming “you n—r motherf—r” and even worse. I turned to see what it was, in utter panic.

    It was a large man in a blue uniform running at full gait WITH HIS GUN OUT. I couldn’t believe it.

    The large man with the unholstered weapon slowed, patted me on the shoulder, said “excuse me, sir,” then recommenced running and screaming hideous words after some guy who’d stolen a car stereo WITH HIS GUN OUT. I mean, both arms swinging, like you see in marathon runners, except in one hand HE HAD HIS GUN OUT.

    Goddamn, even I know you don’t take a gun from it’s holster unless you have you have damn good reason to shoot it, and I’m no gun expert. (I’ve shot at beer bottles in a rock quarry with cops, but that’s a story for another day — I was better than they were at small-caliber stuff, they were better at anything above a .38, maybe because they’d watched “Dirty Harry” a gazillion times.)

    Anyhoo, that’s my memory of Giuliani’s NYC. A completely unhinged cop WITH A LOADED GUN behaving like a damn maniac, but pausing to say “excuse me” to a white pedestrian. I guess to some people that meant Rudy was “cleaning up the city.” Struck me as nuts.

    • That’s amazing! I have a positive Giuliani-period memory. When I went there in mid-1990s, there were signs everywhere saying that tourism was the number one source of income to the city and to “Change Your Attitude.” Of course, part of the appeal of New York is the attitude!

      I’m glad to hear you use the word “boosting.” I was in a meeting today and everyone was talking about “boosting” advertisements. And I thought, “That’s not how I use that word!”

      • In Paul Schrader’s script for the Scorsese movie “Bringing Out The Dead,” there’s a weird opening title explaining that the film is set in pre-Giuliani NYC. As if the story is “New York, what a hellhole!” That’s not what the novel was about — it was about the loss of youthful idealism by a guy trying to serve the city’s poorest residents. Sometimes trying to do the right thing can feel like throwing rocks at the Moon.

        No knock on Schrader or Scorsese or the film, but it was way different in tone from the book. And these are the guys who made “Taxi Driver”! Where the character saying “New York is a hellhole” is presented as crazy!

        But Giuliani-worship was pretty common back then.

        (For the record, Schrader is the only filmmaker who let me interview him for my college paper, and he was reasonably nice about my 18-year-old interviewing skills being pretty lousy.)

        • Wow! You interviewed Paul Schrader! That’s amazing. Do you have the interview that you can send me?

          I’ve seen Bringing Out the Dead many times. It’s probably my favorite Scorsese film. But I don’t remember seeing that title. You are right: the novel feels completely different. I actually prefer the film because of the Christian symbolism. “No one asked you to suffer. That was your idea.” Truthfully, I see the film as not grounded in a particular city. As in Calvary, he’s really wandering through a kind of living hell, although here’s it’s an often humorous hell — especially the brain-dead guy yelling at him.

          But you are right: in 2000, people thought better of Giuliani. Of course, right then, his star was falling. Now, he’s been a complete fool for Trump. And is currently trying to save his own skin. I don’t see how he gets out of this. But like with most conservatives, he’ll be forgiven and continue to get asked to the best parties.

          • No, I never saved anything back then. I just liked hanging around the paper after hours, particularly the actual cut-with-exacto-knife way it was laid out for the printers. (That should give you a sense of how long ago it was.)

            Besides, it really was a terrible interview, I was 18! I watched every film Schrader had directed (which was cool, he’s done some really interesting ones) and tried to ask Deep Questions that were very dumb.

            I did much better on the phone with the novelist John le Carre (I enjoyed the review copy but had never read any of his other books before). So I didn’t have any Deep Questions and had him do all the talking. I vividly remember him as being this just absolutely kind old English guy, super-nice. Incidentally, his books translate really well to film, I can think of five off the top of my head. He’s like the Stephen King of spy novels.

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