The tragedy of Rudy Giuliani: From America's Mayor to bumbling conspiracy theorist

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Oedipus put his own eyes out. Lacking similar self awareness, the best Rudy Giuliani could do was drip hair dye. Yet in the chain of sordid events that have played out since Election Day 2020, he remains the enigma, the one — maybe the only one — capable of being seen in a tragic light.

Of the others, what is there to say? They are a confederacy of dunces, misfits and glory seekers. But unlike them, Giuliani was someone. He was a respected crime fighter, a popular Republican mayor of a Democratic city. He was the face of the response to 9/11. Even if you were a Democrat in the first few years of the 21st century, you could, under certain circumstances, see yourself voting for him.

When the Twin Towers came down, there was Rudy, walking out of the fire and smoke like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, rallying the city and the nation from one of its lowest points — a direct attack on American soil.

Tim Rowland
Tim Rowland

Before that, he had prosecuted mob bosses and was widely credited with cleaning up and lowering crime in New York, a once-proud city that had become a soiled incubator of muggings, drug dealing and squeegee shakedowns.

Following 9/11, he was Time Magazine’s Man of the Year, and received an honorary knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II. How do you go from that to reaching into your pants in a hotel room in the company of a Borat-film actress?

Twenty years later, the pugnacious puncher has become a punchline, the evil nongenius behind the bumbling — and at times, comic — Stop the Steal farce, dripping hair dye, mistaking garden centers for hotels and hanging out with a dim cast of incoherent characters that, in his glory years, he never would have afforded the time of day.

This week Georgia prosecutors notified Giuliani that he is a target of a criminal probe into election tampering, which is code for “start picking out which personal effects you want to bring to your cell.”

So, what happened? And, if we can discover where he went off the rails, can we diagnose and treat other societal dysfunctions, most notably that a quarter of the population is hooked on conspiracy, that will believe anything they are told by their authoritarian idols and believe that violence and the overturning of democracy are acceptable avenues to achieve a set of ill-defined goals?

Some have blamed dementia or booze, which is the easy way out. If he’s losing his marbles, perhaps he truly believes in this fantasy world of his creation and in the righteousness of his cause.

But at times he appears quite collected and in control of his faculties, which would indicate that he has consciously chosen the path upon which he is walking. So why continue? Surely by now he knows that even his own side views him as a farce and he will never again be celebrated as a conquering hero.

And maybe that’s it. It’s the disrespected who feel they have nothing to lose. It is then that accumulated grievances become motivation for personal score-settling, at which point facts and truth become irrelevant because the damage you have been done by others, real or imagined, is all that counts.

Giuliani, as a young Kennedy supporter, once condemned a John Bircher as possessing “a mind warped by fear and bigotry.” Yet those close to him say he was deeply affected by a loss to David Dinkins in a 1993 race for New York City mayor. He felt he had been a friend to Black communities, and got repaid with a drubbing at the polls. So, too, did 9/11 descend from a patriotic rallying point into a gully of pointless wars, and even more loss of American life. Rudy’s shining moment had spoiled.

Some, the truly great, have the grace and dignity to let go, and strive even harder to back up rhetoric about racial equality with deeds. Giuliani didn’t. His tragic flaw was a dark searing vengeance that metastasized in 2020 when, in Trump, he saw a metaphor for his own misfortunes.

How many others have been driven to do wild things, such as storm the United States Capitol or make fools of themselves on social media, not because they necessarily believe the election was stolen, but because they relate it to all the times life has treated them unfairly?

How many have been fired from their jobs by corporate raiders? How many were not favored with sober, attentive parents? How many have seen their good deeds go unrecognized?

We wonder how a B-list celebrity like Trump can captivate a nation and convince a sizable swath of the public that an American election was stolen. The truth, for them and Giuliani, is that it’s not about a “stolen election” at all.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

This article originally appeared on The Herald-Mail: Of all Trump loyalists, only Giuliani can be seen in a tragic light