Politics

Behold, MAGA Man

On Dec. 13, an election worker named Ruby Freeman took the stand in a Georgia courtroom and told the story of how her world was turned upside down by Rudy Giuliani. Three Decembers earlier, Giuliani shared a routine surveillance video of Ms. Freeman and her daughter, Shaye Moss, doing the routine yet vital work of counting 2020 presidential ballots at State Farm Arena in Atlanta.

But Giuliani’s description of the video was anything but routine. He falsely claimed that the footage was evidence of vote fraud. In that moment, everything changed for Freeman. As she said in her testimony, “Giuliani just messed me up, you know.” That’s a polite way of describing the horrors that followed. She faced an avalanche of threats, racist attacks and harassment at work and home. She had to leave her house — and then, after law enforcement officials found her name on a death list, the house of the friend she’d been staying with. Even now she’s afraid to walk in public without a mask.

The purpose of Freeman’s courtroom testimony was simple: to describe in detail how Giuliani’s lies had profoundly damaged her life. And make no mistake, Giuliani lied. He admitted that his statements were false back in July, and in August the court entered a default judgment against him, holding him liable for those falsehoods. The only question left for the jury was the amount of the damages. And Friday, the jury gave its answer: Giuliani now owes Freeman and Moss $148 million to compensate them for his cruel and obvious lies.

The verdict is against Giuliani alone. But make no mistake, MAGA was on trial in the courtroom — its methods, its morality and the means it uses to escape the consequences of its dreadful acts. That’s because Rudy Giuliani isn’t truly Rudy Giuliani any longer. In his long descent from a post-9/11 American hero to a mocked, derided and embattled criminal defendant (he has also been indicted in Fani Willis’s sprawling Georgia case), he became something else entirely. He became a MAGA Man.

I’m reminded of Sigourney Weaver’s famous line in “Ghostbusters”: “There is no Dana, only Zuul.” There is no Giuliani now, only Donald Trump.

There are many MAGA Men and MAGA Women in the modern G.O.P. To meet one is, in significant respects, to meet them all. The names roll off the tongue. Mark Meadows, Jim Jordan, Kari Lake, Roger Stone, Marjorie Taylor Greene, John Eastman — the list could go on and on. And while they all have different stories before Trump, they share variations of the same story after Trump. Giuliani’s story, MAGA’s story, is theirs as well.

That’s what was most significant about his trial. It wasn’t the damage award, as substantial as it was. It’s the story, the tale that lays bare what a MAGA Man is.

The first thing you need to know about a MAGA Man like Giuliani is that he’s dishonest. Truthfulness is incompatible with Trumpism. Trump is a liar, and he demands fealty to his lies. So Giuliani’s task, as Trump’s lawyer, was to lie on his behalf, and lie he did. He even repeated his lies about Freeman and Moss — the same lies to which he’d already confessed — outside the courthouse during his trial.

A MAGA Man such as Giuliani supplements his lies with rage. To watch him pushing Trump’s election lies was to watch a man become unglued with anger. The rage merged with the lie. The rage helped make the lie stick. Why would a man like Giuliani, former prosecutor and hero mayor, be so angry if he hadn’t discovered true injustice? MAGA Men and Women are very good at using their credibility from the past to cover their lies in the present.

Amid the lies and rage, however, a MAGA Man like Giuliani also finds religion. But not in the way you might expect. No, MAGA Man is not sorry for what he’s done. Instead, he feels biblically persecuted. Freeman and Moss aren’t the real victims; he is. Moreover, he also knows that the base is religious and likes to hear its politicians talk about God.

Giuliani learned that lesson well. So during the trial, he compared himself to Christians in the Colosseum, battling the lions like the martyrs of old. He’s not alone in this, of course. Trump shared an image of Jesus sitting by his side as he stood trial. Stone got so religious that he claimed to see supernatural sights, including, he said, a “demonic portal” that’s “swirling like a cauldron” about the Biden White House.

One of the persistent debates in American life centers on how strictly we should judge the sins of our national past. Were those people who owned slaves or broke faith with Native Americans or passed the Chinese Exclusion Act merely products of their time? MAGA Men and MAGA Women will not have that excuse. They know there is a different way. Before Trump, many of them — whatever their flaws — lived very different lives. And few of them more so than Giuliani.

His trial and verdict write another page in the volume of truth that tells the real story of MAGA America. Every voter should know exactly who Trump is and what his movement is like. They should know what happened to Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss. We should remember their names. But if a MAGA Man remembers, he does not care. Whoever he once was is gone. He serves a new master now.

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