Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., July 18, 19 or 20
After all, Trump seems like a hiccup in a hailstorm, historically, to many Americans. However, during 12 days in Italy, I found the most common questions from everyday Italians were about guns and Trump.
Those days were between the Orlando shootings and the European Union’s loss of the United Kingdom, so the curiosity made sense. Still, American travelers’ almost universal response was laughter – even if somewhat embarrassed amusement.
Plus, Europe has its own Right Wing resurgence, as forces in the UK, France, Poland and Hungary are growing by similarly exploiting racism, nationalism, and inequities. And some increasingly turn to violence, like when Thomas Mair apparently assassinated the young progressive UK Member of Parliament Jo Cox while we visited Siena, Italy.
However, in Spain, the progressive Podemos is now the third most popular political party, trailing the Socialists and the Popular Party but ahead of the conservative Ciudadanos. And in Italy, the progressive Five Star Movement is advancing, during our stay electing Rome’s first woman mayor, 37-year-old Virginia Raggi, whose outsider campaign supports a guaranteed income for all, environmental sustainability, and free Internet. Five Star also won mayoral seats in Livorno, Parma and Turin.
One friendly waiter in Florence, a 38 year old named Giovanni, wondered whether Donald Trump was America’s version of Italy’s former prime ministers Silvio Berlusconi or Benito Mussolini. Like Trump, Berlusconi was a multi-millionaire businessman who promised an “Italian miracle” as president from 2001-2006, but he was forced to resign amid scandals and failures.
“Italy is no longer a laughingstock,” said Giovanni, wagging his finger and asking if our water order was for “fizz” or “still.”
“Trump could be far worse than Berlusconi,” he added, smiling – somehow. “Italy could not have started a World War like Trump could.”
In Sorrento, a 47-year-old hotel bartender named Antonio pushed Campari spritz drinks and smirked and said, “Trump is your Mussolini.
“He squints and has the face of Mussolini,” he said, laughing. “He waves his arms and uses language that’s about military things, trouble between people, between nations. He’s a bully.”
Mussolini used muscle to muzzle a free press, which he loathed as much as Trump does, but Italy had previous experiences with strongmen who won power with vague claims. In the 1490s, a firebrand monk named Girolamo Savonarola upended Florence’s ruling Medici family and took over the city by promising the Renaissance equivalent of “Make Florence Great Again.” So for a few years – until people rejected him – Savonarola soiled the city of Machiavelli and Michelangelo.
The United States still has time to spurn the 21st century equivalent, according to longtime Republican operative Rick Wilson.
“Man up,” Wilson said. ”Show courage. Say what's in your hearts; he's insane. He's poison. He's doomed. He's killing the Party.”
But Trump’s wealthy benefactors – such as financiers Stephen Feinberg, Wilbur Ross and Anthony Scaramucci – are enabling Trump.
Such campaign contributors should be aware of history, not be like Renaissance patrons of power and the arts. But whether wealthy and attracted by greed, or angered by injustice and lured by promise, sometimes people are swayed to blame others or accept vague or vacuous pledges.
After walking through the Vatican, the Old Testament book of Lamentations came to mind, warning, “Your prophets had for you false and specious visions; they did not lay bare your guilt to avert your fate. They beheld for you in vision false and misleading portents.”
There may be less malice in Trump than incompetence. He seems to be burdened by vanity born of privilege, with an attitude that some people are stars and the rest of us just don’t matter much. Rather than a Mussolini or Berlusconi, Trump seems to feel like he’s a hero in some TV show or movie, not appreciating that elections – or lives – aren’t Hollywood stories. Things don’t wrap up in tidy resolutions, and there aren’t insignificant “cast members.” Everyone has a role; everyone has value.
Still, it’s best – healthiest – for Americans to consider Trump (or his Right-Wing peers in Europe and elsewhere) without condemnation, exactly. Trump can be criticized for empty-headed statements or outright meanness, but voters ultimately need to view their rejecting him as merely deciding not to “hire” him as Commander-in-Chief.
Chaos may come, but it’s hoped that it won’t be unleashed by a Yankee Berlusconi.
That’s no laughing matter.
[PICTURED: Graphic from first-draft.com.]