Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Donald as Silvio

An Italian warns Americans that, in Donald Trump, they have the makings of their very own Silvio Berlusconi.

Now that Super Tuesday has brought the Republican nomination, and possibly the White House, within the grasp of Donald Trump, my home country of Italy may have a few lessons to offer America in dealing with his particular brand of leadership. No, not from our time under Mussolini — though Il Duce’s unexpected relevance in an American presidential campaign in 2016 is indeed unsettling. I’m thinking rather of what Italian politics suffered during the 1990s and 2000s, when we elected a billionaire with an abrasive style and a populist flair to govern us. The name of our Trump was Silvio Berlusconi and — spoiler alert — he did not make Italy great again.

...Over the course of the campaign, Americans have gotten a taste of Berlusconi-like bravado. But it is nothing compared to the main course — to what the likes of Il Cavaliere and other self-avowed nonpoliticians do to their countries once they’ve actually been put in charge.

...No, the single worst thing Berlusconi has done, with his decades of dismissive — if not outright abusive — talk about everything from political parties to the judiciary to the media to the presidency (which serves a largely ceremonial role, but crucial to the nation’s cohesiveness) is that he has shattered Italians’ trust in their democratic institutions.

Last month, he called Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s government an “illegitimate regime” and the judiciary “the worst cancer of our democracy.” Over the years, he has insisted that any and all legal charges against him were “arbitrary” attempts by “totalitarian” magistrates to undermine the will of the people who elected him. He once said he was “absolutely the politician most persecuted by prosecutors in the entire history of the world throughout the ages.” He has also described journalists as “criminals” and made a habit of suing those who criticize him along with their publications, including foreign ones like the Economist. He has referred to his nemesis Romano Prodi as a “dangerous liar” and accused former Italian President Giorgio Napolitano of conspiring with European authorities to orchestrate “a coup” against him in 2011. He has described the euro as a “rip-off” that “screwed everybody.”

...Swept up by the tornado of demagoguery and conspiracy theories that was Berlusconi, Italians grew progressively more despondent and disaffected, asseen in the falling participation rate in national elections. This went from more than 86 percent of all eligible voters in 1994 to around 75 percent in 2013. Even worse is the trend for European elections, going from 75 percent in 1994 to less than 60 percent in 2014.

Today, Italy’s voters remain as apathetic and embittered as ever, prey to the facile appeal of fear-mongering, inward-looking, anti-European parties like the Northern League or the Five Star Movement.

...Americans should be alarmed by Trump’s open disregard for even the most basic political conventions, his eagerness to insult his opponents, the ease with which he overlooks the U.S. Constitution and refuses to engage with the press, and his tendency to prioritize his own interests over the interests of the country. Berlusconi has taught us that their kind leaves only ruin in its wake. America, you’ve been warned.

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