I sense this has gotten little attention given all that’s happened in the news today. But it seems both a revealing and embarrassing nugget of news. So I wanted to share it with you. Last week Rudy Giuliani gave a speech at an awards dinner for a financial services trade group in New York City. The event was the 40 under 40 Dinner hosted by the Commercial Finance Association at the Waldorf Astoria hotel. So far nothing too surprising. But on Monday the CFA felt compelled to send out an email to attendees and members apologizing for Giuliani’s “unscripted personal opinions.” Less delicately, the apology was required because what CFA CEO Bob Trojan delicately termed ‘unscripted personal opinions’ would more frankly be called racist digressions, jokes and jabs.
First, a bit of credit where it’s due. As far as I can tell, the only mention of this incident comes in The New York Observer, which is of course owned by Donald Trump’s son-in-law and is now wildly pro-Trump. It also has as its Chief Editor, Ken Kurson, who had a long professional association with Giuliani prior to taking over The Observer. It’s not where I would have expected to see this story. Maybe in the old Observer; not this Observer. In any case, back to our story.
Part of the apology email read like this: “At CFA’s 40 Under 40 Awards last Thursday night, keynote speaker Rudolph Giuliani veered sharply off course from the leadership message he agreed to deliver and presented unscripted personal opinions which were independent of CFA’s political position or core values. While we, the event organizers, made every attempt to direct Mr. Giuliani’s remarks ahead of time to focus on leadership, for which he is renowned and has authored a book, there is always the possibility of such a surprise at a live event.”
Translation: Sorry that got weird and racist.
The article doesn’t say precisely what Giuliani said. But these three paragraphs give some flavor.
The remarks Giuliani made to the Commercial Finance Association Thursday have not been publicly reported. But an attendee told the Observer the crowd was “shocked” by Giuliani’s comments and that some people began complaining about his speech almost immediately after it was over.
“Rudy talked about immigration and made a really, really inappropriate comment about the quote-unquote Mexicans in the kitchen at the Waldorf,” the attendee said. “It was bad. You could hear a pin drop. I think he was looking for applause.”
A second person in attendance also recalled a remark about Mexicans coming to the country to work illegally in kitchens.
Most of the rest of the email was devoted to expressing the organization’s abhorrence of racism in all forms. So presumably they got an earful that Rudy was pretty racist.
So what happened here? Giuliani’s tenure as Mayor was coursed through with racial polarization and division. Some of that was the era in the city’s life when he was Mayor. But a huge amount of it came from him. With a few exceptions, Rudy was a polarizer and a divider. So maybe this is just Rudy being Rudy.
But I sense it’s not quite that or at least not just that.
For a couple weeks I’ve been picking away at a piece on the radicalization of Donald Trump. Yes, Trump’s racism and sexism go back decades. He literally launched his campaign with a tirade against Mexicans as rapists and killers. But he’s not the guy he started out as eighteen months ago. We’ve heard many times how – before his teleprompter phase – he seldom went into speeches with any particular idea of what he was going to say. He casted about, got a feel for what the audience liked and then gave them more of it. He fed of the crowd’s frenzy and in turn fed it. We can see this pattern in the campaign writ large. In a sense I believe that is the Trump campaign writ large. Trump has been in a feedback loop with his most radical backers, intuiting their hunger for transgression and aggression and then reaching to satisfy it. The cycle of radicalization and affirmation has been addictive like a drug. He and his supporters have been in a feedback loop of radicalization.
I think Rudy’s incident at The Waldorf is an emanation of this. I’ve seen some of Rudy’s speeches on the stump with Trump. And he’s not the same guy. He’s been swept into the same Trumpian frenzy. Rudy was always a divider. But there are different varieties of racism and grievance politics. Rudy’s from the 1980s and 90s is akin to the revolt against busing in Boston chronicled by J. Anthony Lucas in Common Ground. It may be neither better nor worse. But it’s different from Trumpism. To put it bluntly, he’s been out there on the campaign trail talking to feral Trumpers, riffing on the racist jokes and taunts call and response. Then he brings it back into Manhattan with the Wall Street richies and like the anonymous attendee put it you could here a pin drop. Remember that one line: “It was bad. You could hear a pin drop. I think he was looking for applause.”
That last part is the key. He was expecting an ovation but everyone was aghast. Now, this is not to idealize New York’s money barons. They are sinners in a million ways. But this is not how they roll. They don’t like hearing angry rants about Mexican hordes pouring over the border with devious plans to wash your dishes or nanny your children. Immigrants, documented or not are at home, caring for their children. But that’s not where Rudy lives anymore. He’s gone full Trumper. Damn the Torpedoes, Stormfront ahead.