ROME—Steve Bannon, U.S. President Donald Trump’s former advisor, stood in front of a lush red velvet curtain wearing an ill-fitting black suit to tell Italians something they already knew. “Italy is in crisis,” he said to an audience of about 50 business men and women and about twice as many members of the press, who had come to hear what the self-styled great disruptor said about the populist movement he so strongly supports.
Bannon’s talk was meant to be one of celebration. After all, Italy experienced an astonishing populist victory in parliamentary elections last March. But the failure since then to form a government is no credit to components of Italy’s legislature, with one part, the League, built on blatant racism and xenophobia, and the other, the Five Star Movement, founded on the phrase “vaffanculo,” meaning “fuck you.”
So Bannon resorted to name calling and blame gaming of his own.
Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella had just vetoed the populists’ choice for economy minister, an 80-year-old eurosceptic by the name of Paolo Savona who had campaigned for Brexit and had theorized more than once that Italy might be better off outside the eurozone.
Bannon wanted people to know he was indignant. How could Italy’s president defy the will of the people that Bannon wants to take over the country and destroy the European Union?
“This is not brought on by the Italian people, this is brought on by foreign powers, the foreign capital and foreign media,” said the former Goldman Sachs guy. “Because if it works in Italy, it is going to work everywhere. If it works in Italy it shows that it is going to break the backs of the globalist.”
He then went on to rant about how Mattarella’s choice to veto a controversial minister put forth by elected parties undermined democracy, and how “they” call “us” the barbarians at the gate, throwing in digs about the liberal left. He told the little crowd, “That’s what they think of you. That’s what they think of us.” Some people clapped.
“The barbarians are over the gate,” he said. “That’s what they think of you. They hold you in as much contempt as they hold the ‘deplorables’ that brought Donald trump to power.”
Then he went one step further and suggested that it was Mattarella who was exercising fascist tendencies.”They have the chutzpah to put in another technocrat,” he said, referring to the appointment of Carlo Cottarelli, an IMF bean counter and budget slasher known as Mr. Scissors. “What is more fascist than taking away 60 percent or more of what the people voted for?”
“It’s disgusting but it shows you if you need any other evidence of how anti-democratic it is, when they sit there and in their media talk about oh, this is fascism, oh, this is going to take us back to the 1930s, this is anti-democratic…,” he said. “Look at how they roll. Foreign powers, foreign capital, foreign media took from the Italian people its sovereignty.”
Bannon, quite an outsider himself, said he didn’t have a horse in Italy’s race for a government. “I am not Italian,” he said. (His slovenly attire would have given that away.) “I have only one stake. This populist movement is a global movement. It is to show the world that every day men and women can take control of their lives.”
The erstwhile Trump advisor mused that perhaps if Bernie Sanders had joined with Trump under what would have clearly been a different electoral system, they might have also had success. Or, as happened in Italy, where the two dominant parties reflect a similar disparity, similar failure.
“Italy matters,” said Bannon. “Italy matters on a global stage. You are the focus of world politics because the little guy everywhere is going to see if their elected representatives can stand up to foreign powers and foreign capital and the foreign party propaganda media.”
Much of what Bannon said pleased most of those in the room, but at least one man was offended, interrupting Bannon mid-sentence to scold him for “insulting our president.” And some of what Bannon said was completely lost on those who weren’t native English speakers, including a rant about the deep state. “It’s not the deep state,” he said. “It’s the in your face state.” Many in the crowd looked at each other and shrugged.