Context — November 25, 2016, 11:26 am

A Fate Worse Than Bush

Rudolph Giuliani and the politics of personality

Published in the August 2007 issue of Harper’s Magazine, “A Fate Worse Than Bush” profiles Rudolph Giuliani, former New York mayor and current candidate for secretary of state. Read the full story here.


From a New York Times article, published November 24, 2016, on Donald Trump’s candidates for secretary of state.

The debate inside Mr. Trump’s wide circle of formal and informal advisers — pitting supporters of one leading contender, Mitt Romney, against those of another, Rudolph W. Giuliani — has led to the kind of dramatic airing of differences that characterized Mr. Trump’s unconventional and often squabbling campaign team.

In retrospect, it is clear that Giuliani’s handling of the attack on September 11, 2001, and its aftermath was largely a debacle. Our image of “Rudy” as the hero of that day—as “America’s mayor”—is the residue of the uncharacteristic gravitas and responsibility he displayed in those first few days, the grace note he struck when he stood before the television cameras and told the world that the “number of casualties will be more than any of us can bear,” but that “New York is still here,” and that we “should act bravely, we should act in a tolerant way.”

Giuliani himself was fortunate to still be there. Against the advice of numerous security experts, he had insisted on situating a lavish, $61 million emergency “command bunker” on the twenty-third floor of the forty-seven-story 7 World Trade Center tower. The tower contained no fewer than sixteen different emergency generators and sat over 109,000 gallons of oil in a Con Ed substation; the command bunker added another, unprotected, 6,000- gallon fuel tank suspended above the mezzanine. When burning debris from the twin towers fell on 7 World Trade, it went up like “a blowtorch,” in the words of investigative reporters Wayne Barrett and Dan Collins, who note in Grand Illusion, The Untold Story of Rudy Giuliani and 9/11 that Giuliani’s defenseless fuel tank acted as a giant fuse.

The Office of Emergency Management that Giuliani created failed utterly to coordinate rescue efforts between the city’s Police and Fire Departments. Even worse, it also failed to ensure that the New York Fire Department had an effective system for communicating with itself—a deficiency that had been exposed by the original 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, and one that led eight years later to hundreds of firefighters being cut off in the towers, without any way of receiving word that the buildings were about to collapse. Giuliani, onsite throughout the disaster, made no attempt to devise any other means to keep the firefighters informed. In 2004, as New York Times reporters Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn make clear in their book 102 Minutes, Giuliani lied against the memory of these men, falsely testifying before a fawning 9/11 Commission that they had refused orders to evacuate.

In the days and weeks after the attack, Giuliani failed to ensure that the workers digging out Ground Zero had adequate protection against hazardous waste, an oversight that it now seems may have led to serious, long-term health consequences for thousands; proposed that his term in office be arbitrarily extended for an indefinite period in order to deal with the recovery from the attack; and placed his mistress and future third wife, Judith Nathan, on the board of a charitable fund for families of the attack’s victims. Giuliani would later urge his police commissioner at the time of 9/11, Bernard Kerik, to accept a job training the new Iraqi police force, a task he failed at dismally before scurrying back to New York. Kerik was then nominated on Giuliani’s recommendation to become the new head of Homeland Security, before background probes uncovered a thicket of legal and ethical improprieties. These included Kerik’s appropriation of an apartment designated a rest area for exhausted World Trade Center excavators as a trysting place for his affair with his publisher, Judith Regan.

Yet the indelible political image of 9/11 remains that of the heroic Rudy. All of the ugliness, all of the racial divisiveness and the relentless bullying, was buried under the rubble of the twin towers, granting Giuliani a remark- able new lease on life. In the wake of the terrorist attack, the whole issue of race would be more deeply repressed in the American consciousness than it had been in at least the past sixty years. Giuliani himself could be safely “relaunched,” rebranded as the very embodiment of post-ideological strength, competence, and heroism. What was more, the entire city he led, one that often had been the focus of Americans’ most profound suspicions and prejudices in the past, could be reborn with him, as the object of not only our deepest sympathies but also our greatest desires.

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Rebirth of a Nation

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The Tragedy of Ted Cruz

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Rebirth of a Nation·

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Donald Trump’s presidency signals a profound but inchoate realignment of American politics. On the one hand, his administration may represent the consolidation of minority control by a Republican-dominated Senate under the leadership of a president who came to office after losing the popular vote by almost 3 million ballots. Such an imbalance of power could lead to a second civil war—indeed, the nation’s first and only great fraternal conflagration was sparked off in part for precisely this reason. On the other hand, Trump’s reign may be merely an interregnum, in which the old white power structure of the Republican Party is dying and a new oppositional coalition struggles to be born.

Illustration by Taylor Callery (detail)
Blood Money·

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Over the past three years, the city of South Tucson, Arizona, a largely Latino enclave nestled inside metropolitan Tucson, came close to abolishing its fire and police departments. It did sell off the library and cut back fire-truck crews from four to three people—whereupon two thirds of the fire department quit—and slashed the police force to just sixteen employees. “We’re a small city, just one square mile, surrounded by a larger city,” the finance director, Lourdes Aguirre, explained to me. “We have small-town dollars and big-city problems.”

Illustration by John Ritter (detail)
The Tragedy of Ted Cruz·

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When I saw Ted Cruz speak, in early August, it was at Underwood’s Cafeteria in Brownwood. He was on a weeklong swing through rural central Texas, hitting small towns and military bases that ensured him friendly, if not always entirely enthusiastic, crowds. In Brownwood, some in the audience of two hundred were still nibbling on peach cobbler as Cruz began with an anecdote about his win in a charity basketball game against ABC’s late-night host Jimmy Kimmel. They rewarded him with smug chuckles when he pointed out that “Hollywood celebrities” would be hurting over the defeat “for the next fifty years.” His pitch for votes was still an off-the-rack Tea Party platform, complete with warnings about the menace of creeping progressivism, delivered at a slightly mechanical pace but with lots of punch. The woman next to me remarked, “This is the fire in the gut! Like he had the first time!” referring to Cruz’s successful long-shot run in the 2011 Texas Republican Senate primary. And it’s true—the speech was exactly like one Cruz would have delivered in 2011, right down to one specific detail: he never mentioned Donald Trump by name.

Cruz recited almost verbatim the same things Trump lists as the administration’s accomplishments: the new tax legislation, reduced African-American unemployment, repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, and Neil Gorsuch’s appointment to the Supreme Court. But, in a mirror image of those in the #Resistance who refuse to ennoble Trump with the title “president,” Cruz only called him that.

Photograph of Ted Cruz © Ben Helton (detail)
Wrong Object·

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e is a nondescript man.

I’d never used that adjective about a client. Not until this one. My seventeenth. He’d requested an evening time and came Tuesdays at six-thirty. For months he didn’t tell me what he did.

The first session I said what I often said to begin: How can I help you?

I still think of what I do as a helping profession. And I liked the way the phrase echoed down my years; in my first job I’d been a salesgirl at a department store counter.

I want to work on my marriage, he said. I’m the problem.

His complaint was familiar. But I preferred a self-critical patient to a blamer.

It’s me, he said. My wife is a thoroughly good person.

Yawn, I thought, but said, Tell me more.

I don’t feel what I should for her.

What do you feel?

Photograph © Joseph S. Giacalone (detail)

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Happiness Is a Worn Gun


Illustration by Stan Fellows

Illustration by Stan Fellows

“Nowadays, most states let just about anybody who wants a concealed-handgun permit have one; in seventeen states, you don’t even have to be a resident. Nobody knows exactly how many Americans carry guns, because not all states release their numbers, and even if they did, not all permit holders carry all the time. But it’s safe to assume that as many as 6 million Americans are walking around with firearms under their clothes.”

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