Benedict Cosgrove is a Brooklyn-based writer and editor.
The longer Rudy Giuliani serves as U.S. President Donald Trump’s pinstriped pit bull, the more uncomfortable many New Yorkers feel. Part of that unease, of course, is stoked by the President and his lawyer’s relentless attacks on decency, the U.S. Constitution and the truth. But almost as alarming is the awful possibility that people around the globe might actually buy the lie that Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Trump are typical New Yorkers.
Journalists and gossip columnists have relied on the phrase “brash New Yorker” as shorthand for the rhetoric and behaviour of Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani ever since both men blundered onto the national stage in the 1980s. In that most venal of decades, Mr. Trump desperately courted the spotlight as a silver-spoon, rent-a-supermodel doofus while Mr. Giuliani got his first real taste of fame as a high-profile U.S. attorney prosecuting mobsters and Wall Street crooks.
In recent decades, as Mr. Trump’s and Mr. Giuliani’s paths have crossed again and again, the parallels in certain aspects of their lives have only grown starker. Each has left broken marriages in his wake; each has embraced, and been embraced by, their country’s conspiracy-addled, white-nationalist far right; and – although neither will admit it – each is now largely despised in the city where he first made his mark. (Examples: Mr. Giuliani was recently resoundingly booed by countless fans at Yankee Stadium – on his 74th birthday. In the 2016 election, Mr. Trump managed only 65,000 votes in the entire borough of Manhattan; Hillary Clinton received 580,000.)
It’s true that both are native New Yorkers: Mr. Trump was born in Queens, Mr. Giuliani in Brooklyn – but any moron knows that accidents of birth don’t automatically convey merit.
It’s also true that Mr. Trump’s name adorns crass properties all over the city, while Mr. Giuliani still wraps himself in the fraying mantle of “America’s Mayor” that he donned in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. (New Yorkers with plenty of reasons to dislike and distrust Mr. Giuliani will always be grateful for the courage and grace he showed in leading the city after those terror attacks. What happened to that Rudy Giuliani is anyone’s guess.)
Still, despite their deep connections to the city, Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani are “typical” New Yorkers in much the same way that the Looney Tunes cartoon rooster, Foghorn Leghorn, is a typical Southerner: that’s to say, blustering, bumptious and literally grotesque.
Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani are not brash. They’re just jerks.
Broadly speaking, New Yorkers do share certain characteristics. Many are laughably impatient. Most walk fast, talk fast and think fast (not always critically, or well – but fast). Quite a few are insufferably smug about living in what they are certain is the greatest city in the world.
But other defining aspects of New Yorkers rarely appear in, say, Hollywood depictions of the city, mainly because most New York traits don’t fit a convenient narrative about “brash” Big Apple blowhards. For instance, New Yorkers are both friendly and brusque – a balancing act that non-New Yorkers perceive as rude but is, in truth, a survival technique in a city of eight million people with strong opinions and sharp elbows.
Despite myths to the contrary, New Yorkers will go out of their way to help others. New Yorkers know their neighbours – and sometimes even like them.
New Yorkers speak hundreds of languages; worship countless gods (or cheerfully renounce religion entirely); enjoy a gobsmacking variety of cuisines; and in the midst of this thrilling, head-spinning diversity are still generally able to get through each day without assaulting or abusing one another.
As it turns out, though, few New Yorkers are draft-dodging serial bankrupts, accused sexual assaulters and famously compulsive liars. Hardly any New Yorkers are reality-TV clowns or hawkers of gaudy crap emblazoned with their own names. Almost no New Yorkers are public figures praised by neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan, and one would be hard-pressed to find a single New Yorker who believes that Canada (Canada!) poses a national security threat to the United States.
A positively minuscule number of New Yorkers are currently despoiling the Oval Office, and by all accounts there is only one New Yorker adored by the Christian right who blithely pays porn stars to keep quiet about his (alleged) extramarital affairs.
And that’s just the President.
Has anyone ever met a New Yorker who made his name in law enforcement and went on to publicly compare FBI agents to Nazi storm troopers, the way Mr. Giuliani has?
Has anyone ever known a New York attorney willing to appear on TV and confirm the very worst suspicions about his client’s depravity, dishonesty and sleaze the way Mr. Giuliani routinely does?
Only two New Yorkers match any of those descriptions. One is an unprincipled demagogue and BFF to autocrats everywhere; the other is a guy who used to matter but now resembles a seething, discombobulated ghost of his former self.
So, please: Let’s stop referring to Mr.Trump and Mr. Giuliani as “brash New Yorkers” or citing them as exemplars of the city at its rough-and-tumble best.
Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani are outliers; walking, trash-talking assaults on the dignity and security of the United States, and clear and present dangers to the foundational notion of the rule of law. They are unfunny cartoons. In fact, of all the possible types of New Yorkers, they’re the absolute worst.