Tragedy, they say, returns as farce and so it is with Rudolph Giuliani – former New York City prosecutor and “America’s mayor” – who in defending his new client President Donald J. Trumpet to “Fox News’” Sean Hannity contradicted him on the Stormy Daniels matter, perhaps putting him in legal jeopardy. More tellingly, Rudy Two Shoes told Hannity he might have “to get on my charger and go into (Robert Mueller’s) offices with a lance” to defend his damsel in distress, his Dulcinea – Ivanka Trump. (I think I speak for women everywhere when I say Ivanka can take care of herself.)
But then, Rudy has always been someone in search of a windmill to tilt at – real or imagined – a Don Quixote de la Mancha. Call him Don Rodolfo. Many people’s understanding of “Don Quixote” comes not from Miguel de Cervantes’ satiric seminal novel (published in two volumes in 1605 and ’15) but from the 1965 musical “Man of La Mancha,” which became a Broadway phenomenon in the early days of the Vietnam War.
Context really does drive perception. The musical is about idealism no matter what the cost. And the end, in which the imprisoned Spaniards – who have played out the story of Don Quixote that the Cervantes character has been unspooling – sing “The Impossible Dream” as the author and his trusty sidekick go off to face the Inquisition is truly one of the most moving, thrilling moments in theater. But the musical is the opposite of the novel, which makes fun of all that medieval derring-do that had become old hat in Cervantes’ time.
Mocked and misunderstood, Don Quixote then becomes a useful metaphor for Rudy – a man who had a moment and has been trying to recapture it ever since. Like President Andrew Jackson and the wartime heroine of David Hare’s play “Plenty,” Rudy was “born for the storm.” History and mythology will tell you that he cleaned up New York City in the 1990s, but he did so by using a tank to kill a mosquito as it were at a time when cities across the country were undergoing a Disneyfication anyway. I think he was right that if you let small things slide, bigger problems will fester. Hence, his abolition of the squeegee guys who extorted money from you at red traffic lights by cleaning your car windows – whether you wanted them to do so or not. His handling of the black community and, in particular, Rev. Al Sharpton – then in full Gandhi mode on a hunger strike to protest the U.S. Navy’s bombing of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques for military training – showed insensitivity at best and racism at worst. Rudy hit bottom in announcing his divorce from TV journalist Donna Hanover, the mother of his two children, before he told her. (The irony: At the time he was dating the adoring Judith Nathan. They’re now divorcing. Why wasn’t Hanover Rudy’s Dulcinea?)
Then came 9/11. It was as if the angry mayor finally found the vessel into which he could pore all his anger, aggression and showboating – and make them work. Yes, he built the Command Center at 7 World Trade Center against the police department’s advice – which hampered recovery when the whole complex came tumbling down. But give him his due: He was Churchillian, quoting the man himself, Winston Churchill; comforting and exhorting on the talk shows and at the funerals; emoting at Yankee Stadium as his beloved Yankees won the American League pennant and lifted the city and a nation; pitch-perfect on the return of “Saturday Night Live,” responding to executive producer Lorne Michaels’ question “Can we be funny again?” with a question of his own “Why start now?”
In looking back, we must not let the present prejudice our view of the past. But neither should we let the present prevent us from seeing the past anew. Rudy made mistakes. But he also made the most of his moment. The problem is that like many “heroes,” he never understood that a moment is just that. You have to move on. (I think of Robert O’Connell, the paramedic who rescued Jessica McClure when she fell down a Texas well as a baby in 1987, then couldn’t adjust when the media circus died and killed himself.) Like the heroine in “Plenty,” Rudy proved lousy at peacetime. In a sense, he’s been in search of not only a spotlight but a purpose ever since.
And so to The Donald and Cervantes’ “Don Quixote.” Speaking of Dulcinea’s hubby, Jared Kushner, on Hannity, he said that he might be “a fine man…But men are, you know, disposable.”
He might as well have been talking about himself.