The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Giuliani Unmasked

Eighteen years ago, on a terrible day every American then living remembers too well, Rudolph Giuliani earned respect for his calm, inspiring, and unifying leadership of a wounded New York City. Too much has happened since then to feel anything but disappointment in him — but on this year’s 9/11 anniversary, the man once known as “America’s Mayor” descended to a new and ominous low.

Mimicking the crude style of his client Donald Trump, Giuliani tweeted an angry video that purports to show a noble police officer arming for battle against a crowd of screaming, flag-burning protesters. Originally filmed as an advertisement for a right-wing T-shirt company, this clip was designed to incite fury against “leftists,” a term of abuse that evidently defines anyone who is not a Trump Republican.

The video’s scruffy villains brandish signs denouncing fascism and threatening to “burn it down,” an obvious reference to the Antifa activists demonized by the president and his media minions. Its hero is a police officer in riot gear who remembers 9/11 and loves America. Is that simple enough for you? It’s simple enough for Giuliani’s intended audience, including many who yearn for an excuse to assault and bloody their liberal opponents.

To justify political violence as a purifying act of nationalism is the very essence of fascist propaganda. To watch this filth promoted by a prominent Republican like Giuliani, once a presidential contender and now a close adviser to the president, is chilling indeed. It is a call to civil war.

No doubt Giuliani’s association with Trump in recent years has encouraged the most troubled aspects of his personality. His bizarre televised remarks and rants have provoked more than one observer to question his psychological condition. But it is a mistake to think that the former New York mayor suddenly curdled during this presidency, just as it is a mistake to blame Trump alone for the authoritarian streak in the Republican Party.

Giuliani’s nasty little video is a fantasy of punishing protesters who dare to burn the American flag — a form of speech, however much we may despise it, that is protected in this country by the First Amendment. As a former civil liberties lawyer, Rudy certainly understands the Constitution, and as a Justice Department official he swore to uphold it more than once. Yet his disregard for free speech became all too clear back when he was mayor. That was an important reason why Jack Newfield, the late, great journalist who knew Giuliani for two decades, shuddered at the idea that his former friend might someday enter the White House.

In The Full Rudy, his classic 2002 book examining Giuliani’s career, Newfield summarized more than two dozen “desecrations of the Bill of Rights” that had resulted in successful legal action against the city. Alarming in both volume and variety, Newfield warned, “Giuliani’s violations of the First Amendment suggest a fundamental deficit of commitment to pluralism, democracy, the rights of minorities to dissent, and ideological diversity.”

Newfield also reminded readers of an episode at the end of Giuliani’s mayoral reign that remains disturbingly relevant. In the late fall of 2001 he attempted to circumvent term limits and nullify the election of Michael Bloomberg so that he could remain in City Hall, using 9/11 as his rationale. That outrageous gambit echoes today whenever Donald Trump “jokes” about staying in the White House beyond eight years. It’s all too easy to imagine Giuliani encouraging him.

Authoritarian impulses are nothing new in the Republican Party. In the wake of 9/11, the George W. Bush administration tested the boundaries of the Constitution with the “unitary executive,” a dubious theory that conferred almost unlimited powers on the executive branch “in time of war.” Newfield believed that as Giuliani concluded his mayoralty, he had amped up the bullying to appeal to a national Republican audience.

More than a decade later, the party of Lincoln has strayed even further from his democratic legacy. Nobody who has observed a Trump rally can doubt that there is a constituency for fascism in his party.

So perhaps we should thank Giuliani for his demagogic tweet. By unmasking himself, he reminds us what we must defeat if we hope to preserve this republic.

Advertising

Start your day with National Memo Newsletter

Know first.

The opinions that matter. Delivered to your inbox every morning

Sen. Bernie Sanders, left, and President Joe Biden during 2020 presidential debate

I look at September 2019 as a month where I missed something. We began with a trip to New York to do Seth Meyers’s and Dr. Oz’s shows. Why would we go on The Dr. Oz Show? For the same reason we had gone on Joe Rogan’s podcast in August: We could reach a vast audience that wasn’t paying attention to the standard political media. On Dr. Oz, Bernie could talk about Medicare for All and his own physical fitness. While at the time we believed Bernie was uncommonly healthy for his age, he was still 78. Questions would be raised related to his age, and we needed to begin building up the case that he was completely healthy and fit. It turned out to be a spectacular interview, ending with the two of them playing basketball on a makeshift court in the studio. Bernie appeared to be on top of the world.

Yet in retrospect, I should have seen Bernie growing more fatigued. After New York, with the school year starting, we did a series of rallies at colleges and universities in Iowa; this was the kickoff of our campus organizing program in the state. We would then fly to Colorado for a large rally in Denver before heading to Boulder to prep for the third debate, to take place in Houston on September 12. In Iowa, Bernie’s voice was a little hoarse. After the rally in Denver, he had completely blown it out. He sounded terrible.

Keep reading... Show less

Rep. James Clyburn

When I interviewed House Majority Whip James Clyburn in 2014 about his memoir Blessed Experiences: Genuinely Southern, Proudly Black, the South Carolina Democrat was confident in America’s ability to find its way, no matter how extreme the political swings might appear at any given time.

“The country from its inception is like the pendulum on a clock,” the congressman told me. “It goes back and forward. It tops out to the right and starts back to the left — it tops out to the left and starts back to the right.” And remember, he said, it “spends twice as much time in the center.”

Keep reading... Show less
{{ post.roar_specific_data.api_data.analytics }}