Italians Have Already Seen the Ending to the Donald Trump Movie
It does not involve America being “great again”.
I have never voted for Silvio Berlusconi. I turned 22 in 1994, the year of his first successful run: I had been an active voter for nearly four years and I already qualified — if somewhat timidly — as a left-winger. My mistrust of Berlusconi was immediate and visceral, equally tied to my political views and the feeling that the shady entrepreneur speaking against the backdrop of a library full of allegedly fake books did not, could not speak for me. At a time when Italy was rocked by the scandal caused by the (partial, we would find out in time) uncovering of the massive network of corruption and bribery known as Tangentopoli, Berlusconi lashed out against public figures “bound hand and feet to a failed political past”. He was new, he was real, he wasn’t a politician but a good company manager who knew how to drag Italy out of the deep funk it had been sinking into for decades. He was also a man who wore a grey suit and a grey tie and sported a ridiculous combover that spoke of male insecurity and gentlemen’s clubs.
Much of it is probably hindsight, and as a twentysomething I had no idea how bad things were going to get over the years. Berlusconi promised a country of centre-right conservatives the kind of liberal revolution that would breathe new life into the wilting middle class and propel Italy towards modernity. In fact, Berlusconi was an old-school entrepreneur who was already pushing 60 at the time of his first run, and was unprepared to face the change ignited by the tech revolution. He was, to quote his own words, bound hands and feet to a failing economic system, and unable to deal with the challenges ahead. It should be also noted that it is unclear how he came into the money that he used as startup capital for his first enterprises, and many suspect ties to the Sicilian Mafia. He also once bragged that evading tax was “the right thing to do”.
Berlusconi’s misogyny wasn’t immediately apparent. Steeped as it is in sexism, Italy failed to recognise that Berlusconi had a hand in cementing the objectification of women in popular culture. Drive-In, a comedy show created by Antonio Ricci that was a massive success from 1983 to 1988, aired on Berlusconi’s TV channels and at one point also featured his eldest son, Piersilvio (in a woefully unfunny recurring role). During its run, the show featured (by my count) a total of five female comedians, one of whom was a male comedian’s sidekick; the rest of the women were a group of scantily-clad, bodacious showgirls known as “Fast Food” (the metaphor escaped us at the time) headed by saucy Tinì Cansino, along with busty dancer Carmen Russo and a young Lory Del Santo as the booth girl, perpetually bent over to highlight her best feature. Most of the relevant female characters were played by male comedian Gianfranco D’Angelo. (When I pointed out the above in an article for the Italian edition of Marie Claire, I received a pointed letter from Ricci’s press office, insinuating that I was probably too young to remember Drive-In correctly. I turned eleven years old in 1983, and I watched every single season of Drive-In.)
Colpo grosso (literally, “big heist”) was a game show, but I’d be hard pressed to tell you what the format actually was: the reason it built a cult following was the posse of pretty, smiling girls known as the Cin-Cin (“Cheers”), whose job was to dance awkwardly and take their top off.
Eighties TV provided key insight into Berlusconi’s worldview, one in which women counted only as long as they were young and pretty and unobtrusive and looked like they appreciated being around men with a lot of money. Does that sound familiar?
Sexism is not without consequence. Studies show that countries where women enjoy relative equality fare better economically than those where women’s rights are systematically disregarded. It is not uncommon for female workers in Italy to have to sign an undated resignation letter that may be used to fire them if they get pregnant or face long-term illness. Former Minister of Labour Livia Turco had outlawed the practice, but Berlusconi’s Minister of Labour Sacconi overturned the law, making it legal again. It has gone untouched ever since.
No country will be great (now, again, or ever) if it refuses to acknowledge the value of its female citizens regardless of their ties to powerful men. Berlusconi has made a habit of humiliating and insulting women who stood up to him or that he could not otherwise control. He has a well-documented history of paying for sex, which is not illegal per se, but definitely questionable, particularly in light of the fact that in the twenty years of his on-again, but never quite off-again rule he failed to support women’s right to self-determination, instead choosing to let his cabinet enforce punitive practices and damaging, humiliating laws (above all, law 40, which regulates IVF and has since been ruled unconstitutional). Berlusconi has stated repeatedly that he respects women: in fact, he only respects women who are willing to work for him, or women whose company he can buy.
Berlusconi’s history of racism is only less visible due to the fact that Italy is still a largely white country, but it is what we would expect from a cis straight male born in the ’30s. Americans might recall the time he joked about Obama being “tanned”; a joke he must’ve been quite fond of, since he reprised it in a recently leaked conversation with high-end escort Marysthell Polanco, in which he vented his disgust towards Raffaella Fico, former partner of football player Mario Balotelli: “I don’t like girls who sleep with negri” he said. When Polanco pointed out that she is also black, he replied “No, dear, you’re tanned”.
Over the course of his career, Balotelli — who at one point also played for Milan, which Berlusconi owned until recently — was the target of repeated racist attacks. Berlusconi once referred to him as “negretto di famiglia” (“little family negro”).
In spite of the fact that he was among the few (if not the only) Prime Minister to bring his mandate to term, Berlusconi’s liberal revolution never happened. Italy is not a richer country, or a freer country, or a greater country because of him. Whatever prosperity Italy briefly enjoyed in the mid-Nineties is largely due to the work of Berlusconi’s arch-enemy Romano Prodi, one we never thought we’d miss.
So if you’re American, and you’re planning to vote for Trump for one of the following reasons:
- that he’s a successful businessman, not a politician
- that you believe that a successful businessman knows how to run a country
- that you believe that lack of political experience is a pro, not a con
- that he professes himself to be free and unconnected to the establishment
- that you believe that his apparent disregard for women is just “locker room banter”
- that you’re a middle-class white person who doesn’t care for the rights of non-white, non-middle class, non-straight people
I’m telling you: you’re fooling yourself. Trump won’t give you the America you want: he won’t make you richer, he won’t make you safer, and he definitely won’t make you greater. But he will definitely make you sicker, poorer, and — if you’re a woman, or gay, or trans, or brown — less empowered. And then he’ll blame somebody else: the blacks, the latinos, the immigrants, the liberal media, those who can’t defend themselves. He’ll never be held accountable for the damage done.
So do not vote for him.