Trumpism: America’s Berlusconi Moment
An old joke—that in heaven, the Italians do the cooking; in hell, they run the government—feels a lot darker now that American politics are taking an Italian turn.
Since the fall of Il Duce, Italy has had a staggering 62 governments, and while American doesn’t have that problem yet, our political system is showing all the signs of decline—an inability to come to any consensus, the increased vulgarity of discourse, the utter incompetence of an impenetrable bureaucracy and the growth of extra-constitutional fascist and Mob-like “familial” —run modes of governance—with which Italians have long and unhappy familiarity.
Let’s start with Donald Trump, who the American left now routinely deems an American fascist in the mold of Benito Mussolini. Like Trump, Mussolini (a former journalist) rose rapidly to power as his country was disintegrating from within. Then, too, nationalist resentments were reaching a fever pitch as a large part of the populace—and especially the middle and working classes—lost its remaining faith in the system as economic conditions decayed.
In 1919, for example, there were “cost of living” riots throughout the peninsula as the old governing class lost its grip on the state. Fascism, as Mussolini himself suggested, was predicated on strength—on the use and threat of violence. The disruptive hooliganism of Trump supporters at his rallies evokes the frenzied, violent environment in which Il Duce claimed power in the 1922 “March on Rome,” and held it he was finally ousted and arrested in 1943.
As the Financial Times’ Martin Wolff wrote, Trump follows a pattern that “embodies how great republics meet their end.”
But past results, as the fine print says, are no indicator of future ones and the comparisons between Trump and Mussolini seem overdrawn. Take a breath and recall that Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, too, were widely dismissed as “fascists” or even Nazis in their time.
Trump clearly has an authoritarian personality , and he appeals to those with that bent, but he’s hardly a true heir to Mussolini. For one thing, Mussolini, like Hitler, was not born into money; they emerged from the life-or-death struggles of the Great War. Unlike those two, Trump does not boast an organized paramilitary black or brown shirt movement.
It is in the nature of his appeal where Trump does resemble the fascist leaders. His followers, like theirs, are people who feel left out of the calculations of the political class in both parties.
In this sense, he shares much with the nationalist parties on the rise across Europe, drawing support from the middle class disgusted by politicians kowtowing to identity and radical green politics, from voters who feel the ruling parties serve not their interests but their donors and well-heeled interests, and who, despite their protestations of comity with their concerns, actually hold their electorate in various shades of contempt.tired of being told that changes they can feel hurting them, are actually helping them, tired of electing politicians who then ask them: “Who are you going to be believe: Me or your lying eyes?”
Members of America’s white working and middle classes, argues Michael Lind, have become an outsiders, even pariahs in their own county: “Lacking any establishment advocates and sympathetic intellectuals, on left, right or center, many white working class Americans have therefore turned to demagogic outsiders like Trump. Where else are they to go?”
The Donald speaks not only to the their fears haunting the middle class, but also their pride: he wants them to be proud of the country’s past. Some insist the real Italian model may not Mussolini but a more contemporary figure, former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Like Trump Berlusconi was a successful entrepreneur and also a loudmouth. who appealed to Italians by denouncing “political correctness” as well as the weakness and corruption endemic to the Italian state.
If so, there’s some room for hope. Unlike Mussolini, Berlusconi never succeeded in overturning the constitutional order.
Whichever comparison is more apt, there’s little doubt that iIn the run-up to the seemingly inevitable, horribly depressing face-off with Trump, we can count on Hillary Clinton and her reliable press minions to keep raising these Italianesque models. Trump will be dressed as a fascist, or even a Nazi, for breaking with the politically correct consensus. Like Berlusconi, he will be investigated for his numerous moral lapses—both personal and business—and, by November, will be about as attractive to much of the electorate as Mitt Romney without his noblesse oblige or respectability.
If Trump is tarnished, that’s a good thing. But ihis political demise would sadly t’s one that opens the door to another ugly Italian model, the less public but arguably more effective one followed by Hillary Clinton and much of the Democratic Party.
Clinton, notes journalist Jamelle Bouie reflects a machine model, with control of the party itself as a goal. Rather than an ideological figure, she “appeals to stalwarts and interest groups (like banks and industry) far more than voters who choose on ideology and belief.”
This approach approximates, more than anything, the structure—though not the actual violence—of the Mafia, with “families.” .These groups that represent distinct, sometimes interlocking, interests, each functioning with almost total dominion over its respective turf but able to process competing demands through a central “commission” like the New York based one founded in 1931—when organized crime, incidentally, was under assault by fascist Italy.
Under a second President Clinton, the Democrats will operate under a similar system, with Wall Street, tech oligarchs, greens, feminists, gays, African-Americans, public sector unions, universities, Latinos, urban land speculators sitting around the table and her as il capo di tutti capi.
She won’t have much patience for legal niceties, having already pledged to circumvent Congress if they won’t do her bidding. What drives progressives crazy. about the former Secretary of State is not centralism – they generally supported Barack Obama’s rule by decree – but the very pragmatism that grows naturally out of this kind of familial structure.
These “families” have already played a critical role in helping bankroll the Clinton machine, both in the form of the family Foundation, whose donations have reached close to $3 billion, and her campaign. Raising money from the oligarchy, as Bernie Sanders has noted, makes it much less likely she will challenge their vital interests in a concerted fashion.go after their influence.
Under a Hillary Clinton Administration, the Commission will be far more important than either under her husband or Barack Obama. Unlike these two articulate and charismatic leaders, Clinton inspires little loyalty outside of the “families.” She will not, for example, tackle entrenched interests like the teachers’ unions, which, to his credit, President Obama has been willing to do.
To be sure, a Commission-style government may not seem as scary as one run by an unpredictable and vulgar billionaire. Yet it could prove, in its own way, even more effectively authoritarian. Already critical Democratic “families” such as the universities, the tech world and even the media have become centers of censorship and ideological conformity. Their cultural influence, already pervasive, is likely to become even greater.
And in choosing a Mafia model, Clinton is adopting a system that lasted longer than the fascisti and thrived through systematic intimidation of its rivals. A Clinton Commission may not cause sleepless nights, as a prospective Trump Administration might , but it hardly represents an edifying future for this most, at least to date, successful of republics.