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.

[Lede]

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.

Share
Single Page

More from Kevin Baker:

From the May 2019 issue

Where Our New World Begins

Politics, power, and the Green New Deal

Get access to 169 years of
Harper’s for only $23.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

September 2019

The Wood Chipper

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Common Ground

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Love and Acid

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Black Axe

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Common Ground·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Thirty miles from the coast, on a desert plateau in the Judaean Mountains without natural resources or protection, Jerusalem is not a promising site for one of the world’s great cities, which partly explains why it has been burned to the ground twice and besieged or attacked more than seventy times. Much of the Old City that draws millions of tourists and Holy Land pilgrims dates back two thousand years, but the area ­likely served as the seat of the Judaean monarchy a full millennium before that. According to the Bible, King David conquered the Canaanite city and established it as his capital, but over centuries of destruction and rebuilding all traces of that period were lost. In 1867, a British military officer named Charles Warren set out to find the remnants of David’s kingdom. He expected to search below the famed Temple Mount, known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif, but the Ottoman authorities denied his request to excavate there. Warren decided to dig instead on a slope outside the Old City walls, observing that the Psalms describe Jerusalem as lying in a valley surrounded by hills, not on top of one.

On a Monday morning earlier this year, I walked from the Old City’s Muslim Quarter to the archaeological site that Warren unearthed, the ancient core of Jerusalem now known as the City of David. In the alleys of the Old City, stone insulated the air and awnings blocked the sun, so the streets were cold and dark and the mood was somber. Only the pilgrims were up this early. American church groups filed along the Via Dolorosa, holding thin wooden crosses and singing a hymn based on a line from the Gospel of Luke: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Narrow shops sold gardenia, musk, and amber incense alongside sweatshirts promoting the Israel Defense Forces.

I passed through the Western Wall Plaza to the Dung Gate, popularly believed to mark the ancient route along which red heifers were led to the Temple for sacrifice. Outside the Old City walls, in the open air, I found light and heat and noise. Tour buses lined up like train cars along the ridge. Monday is the day when bar and bat mitzvahs are held in Israel, and drumbeats from distant celebrations mixed with the pounding of jackhammers from construction sites nearby. When I arrived at the City of David, workmen were refinishing the wooden deck at the site’s entrance and laying down a marble mosaic by the ticket window.

Post
.TV·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A documentary about climate change, domain names, and capital

Article
The Black Axe·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Eleven years ago, on a bitter January night, dozens of young men, dressed in a uniform of black berets, white T-­shirts, and black pants, gathered on a hill overlooking the Nigerian city of Jos, shouting, dancing, and shooting guns into the black sky. A drummer pounded a rhythmic beat. Amid the roiling crowd, five men crawled toward a candlelit dais, where a white-­robed priest stood holding an axe. Leading them was John, a sophomore at the local college, powerfully built and baby-faced. Over the past six hours, he had been beaten and burned, trampled and taunted. He was exhausted. John looked out at the landscape beyond the priest. It was the harmattan season, when Saharan sand blots out the sky, and the city lights in the distance blurred in John’s eyes as if he were underwater.

John had been raised by a single mother in Kaduna, a hardscrabble city in Nigeria’s arid north. She’d worked all hours as a construction supplier, but the family still struggled to get by. Her three boys were left alone for long stretches, and they killed time hunting at a nearby lake while listening to American rap. At seventeen, John had enrolled at the University of Jos to study business. Four hours southeast of his native Kaduna, Jos was another world, temperate and green. John’s mother sent him an allowance, and he made cash on the side rearing guard dogs for sale in Port Harcourt, the perilous capital of Nigeria’s oil industry. But it wasn’t much. John’s older brother, also studying in Jos, hung around with a group of Axemen—members of the Black Axe fraternity—who partied hard and bought drugs and cars. Local media reported a flood of crimes that Axemen had allegedly committed, but his brother’s friends promised John that, were he to join the group, he wouldn’t be forced into anything illegal. He could just come to the parties, help out at the odd charity drive, and enjoy himself. It was up to him.

John knew that the Black Axe was into some “risky” stuff. But he thought it was worth it. Axemen were treated with respect and had connections to important people. Without a network, John’s chances of getting a good job post-­degree were almost nil. In his second year, he decided to join, or “bam.” On the day of the initiation, John was given a shopping list: candles, bug spray, a kola nut (a caffeinated nut native to West Africa), razor blades, and 10,000 Nigerian naira (around thirty dollars)—his bamming fee. He carried it all to the top of the hill. Once night fell, Axemen made John and the other four initiates lie on their stomachs in the dirt, pressed toge­ther shoulder to shoulder, and hurled insults at them. They reeked like goats, some Axemen screamed. Others lashed them with sticks. Each Axeman walked over their backs four times. Somebody lit the bug spray on fire, and ran the flames across them, “burning that goat stink from us,” John recalled.

Article
Who Is She?·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

I couldn’t leave. I couldn’t get up—­just couldn’t get up, couldn’t get up or leave. All day lying in that median, unable. Was this misery or joy?

It’s happened to you, too, hasn’t it? A habit or phase, a marriage, a disease, children or drugs, money or debt—­something you believed inescapable, something that had been going on for so long that you’d forgotten any and every step taken to lead your life here. What did you do? How did this happen? When you try to solve the crossword, someone keeps adding clues.

It’s happened to us all. The impossible knowledge is the one we all want—­the big why, the big how. Who among us won’t buy that lotto ticket? This is where stories come from and, believe me, there are only two kinds: ­one, naked lies, and two, pot holders, gas masks, condoms—­something you must carefully place between yourself and a truth too dangerous to touch.

Article
Murder Italian Style·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Catholic School, by Edoardo Albinati. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 1,280 pages. $40.

In a quiet northern suburb of Rome, a woman hears noises in the street and sends her son to investigate. Someone is locked in the trunk of a Fiat 127. The police arrive and find one girl seriously injured, together with the corpse of a second. Both have been raped, tortured, and left for dead. The survivor speaks of three young aggressors and a villa by the sea. Within hours two of the men have been arrested. The other will never be found.

Cost of renting a giant panda from the Chinese government, per day:

$1,500

A recent earthquake in Chile was found to have shifted the city of Concepción ten feet to the west, shortened Earth’s days by 1.26 microseconds, and shifted the planet’s axis by nearly three inches.

A federal judge in South Carolina ruled in favor of personal-injury lawyer George Sink Sr., who had sued his son, George Sink Jr., for using his own name at his competing law firm.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Happiness Is a Worn Gun

By

“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.”

Subscribe Today