Article of the Day: December 11, 2020

Giuliani’s vile admission perfectly captures the ugliness of the Trump era

Rudolph W. Giuliani in Washington in November.
Rudolph W. Giuliani in Washington in November. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Several weeks before Donald Trump’s victory in 2016, videotape surfaced in which Trump was heard boasting of committing sexual assault. As he candidly observed: “When you’re a star, they let you do it.”

Four years later, with Trump’s presidency coming to an end, his lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani has now offered a similarly blithe admission — one that’s just as wretched, but also just as revealing.

Giuliani, who was recently hospitalized with the coronavirus, seemed to acknowledge that he received special access to scarce drugs that Trump himself received during his illness, the New York Times reports. And Giuliani described his good fortune this way:

“If it wasn’t me, I wouldn’t have been put in a hospital, frankly,” Mr. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, told WABC radio in New York. “Sometimes when you’re a celebrity, they’re worried if something happens to you they’re going to examine it more carefully, and do everything right.”

Emphasis mine. In an important sense, these two quotes perfectly bookend the Trump era. Just as Trump rejoiced in his ability to abuse people with impunity, Giuliani is celebrating the fact that he’s had special access to treatment for the coronavirus that countless other sick and now-dead Americans have not enjoyed.

This, at exactly the moment when Giuliani is working to help Trump steal the election — that is, trying to ensure that Trump avoids accountability for his own role in facilitating that very same mass sickness and death.

Most obviously, Giuliani’s declaration raises profound questions about medical ethics. As Sheryl Gay Stolberg’s good piece details, with the coronavirus surging amid limited access to special treatments, health professionals face incredibly difficult questions about how to ration out those treatments, and more broadly, how to allot medical supplies in general.

Giuliani has said he received “exactly the same” cocktail of drugs that Trump did, which suggests he got antibody treatments that are in short supply. It’s still unclear exactly what he took. But Giuliani himself admits he received special care, and as Stolberg reports, even some administration officials are privately concerned that people close to the White House are getting special treatments.

Whatever did happen there, for our purposes what’s crucial is Giuliani’s description of himself as a “celebrity.”

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Why Giuliani is a ‘celebrity’

Giuliani’s current celebrity is primarily based on one thing: He has spent the past two years trying to corrupt and even steal the 2020 election to ensure that Trump does not face accountability at the hands of American voters.

First, Giuliani spent many months carrying out Trump’s corrupt scheme to strongarm a desperate ally — including withholding taxpayer-funded military aid — to secure help smearing Joe Biden. Now he’s spent recent weeks trying and failing to overturn Biden’s victory in the presidential election.

It’s true that Giuliani has long been well-known to the nation. But anyone who has followed his career closely will understand exactly where his current iteration of celebrity comes from.

As his mayoralty wound down in 2001, he was widely derided as a diminished figure — until the 9/11 attacks, which turned him into “America’s mayor.” But Giuliani’s efforts to ride that magic carpet into the White House failed spectacularly, and he faded again.

Giuliani earned some renown for his association with Trump’s 2016 win. But not much: He has since become a true star largely because the right wing made him one, precisely due to his efforts to corrupt our election on Trump’s behalf, and now, to steal it for him.

Giuliani’s current “celebrity” is very different from his “America’s mayor” stardom, which was, in fairness, rooted in a genuinely impressive act of sustained leadership at an exceptionally challenging moment for a reeling New York City.

By contrast, Giuliani is now a celebrity mainly due to his efforts to subvert U.S. democracy, all to ensure that the most corrupt president in U.S. history, one whose malevolence and incompetence probably cost tens of thousands of needless deaths, might escape judgment at the hands of the voters.

That this is grounds for “celebrity” is due in part to the fact that large swaths of the right-wing media have become hermetically, comprehensively sealed off from reality. In this place, mere assertions of mass voter fraud, no matter how plainly ridiculous or conclusively debunked, are not just automatically presumed true.

They also form the basis for the notion that trying to overturn the results constitutes heroism, a righting of injustice, a defense of democracy.

The numbers are dire. Congress must act now to save small businesses.

Enter Ted Cruz

Take, for example, the latest antics from Ted Cruz. The Republican senator’s state of Texas is asking the Supreme Court to invalidate millions of votes in four states on fictitious grounds of fraud, echoing ones already shot down by numerous courts. Cruz has reportedly agreed to “argue” this case before the high court, at Trump’s request.

Cruz knows the court will almost certainly not hear the case. But he also knows that even if he does have to argue it, the arguments he would have to make would not redound negatively on him in the slightest — that is, in the media universe he cares about.

No matter how buffoonish and corrupt those arguments might appear outside that information universe, inside it he will be feted as a hero who is fighting for Trump and saving democracy. And if the court doesn’t take the case, he will have been seen to be heroically prepared to wage this fight. It’s a win-win either way.

Trump did not single-handedly create the circumstances leading up to this political-media moment, which have complex and long running causes. But he has certainly facilitated them.

It’s the perfect coda to all this that Giuliani’s own perversely earned celebrity — mainly for trying to secure impunity for Trump after his years of wreaking so much destruction — has gained him special medical treatment not afforded to countless others who have been sickened or killed amid that destruction.