Donald Trump, America’s Silvio Berlusconi

09 March 2016 2:34 pm

The similarities between Donald Trump and former Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi are striking.

Think about it: both are wealthy demagogues who have been on the brink of bankruptcy. Both are celebrities rooted in entertainment culture and real estate. Like Trump, Berlusconi presented himself as a strongman, a political outsider selling demonstrably false promises of wealth and grandeur for all. Both have cast themselves as the only viable saviour of a nation that’s struggling. Both have had ugly divorces and brag of their sexual prowess. Trump notably defended his manhood at the debate last week, while Berlusconi once said, “Life is a matter of perspective: Think of all the women in the world who want to sleep with me but don’t know it.” Both style themselves as the ultimate anti-politician — as the super-successful entrepreneur running against bland “professional politicians” who have never worked a day in their lives.

That’s why in Italy, they see Trump as America’s version of Silvio Berlusconi.

It’s summed up nicely by Gianni Riotta, a columnist with the Italian newspaper La Stampa.

“I think that there is something that's really similar in the campaign of Donald Trump and the old campaigns of Silvio Berlusconi. It’s that the mainstream media, including the average educated news anchor or columnist, find these guys buffoonish and crass and don’t want anything to do with them, while the real Italian and the average American can bond with these guys. So of course I find the rhetoric and thespian style of Donald Trump very dangerous. I find it really unsettling that he’s managing to be so successful. Clearly Trump taps into the anger of the white middle class and very often the mainstream media fails to connect with this constituency.”

Writing in The Intercept, Alexander Stille says the deregulation of broadcast media helps explain why Italy and the US are the only major democracies in which a billionaire circus has raised its tent.

Nevertheless, as Stille says, both are very self-destructive.

“The giddiness of public adoration — the narcissistic high of constant media attention — creates a feeling of omnipotence that causes them to make mistakes, as Trump did the other day in resisting the invitation to distance himself from David Duke and the KKK. What Berlusconi did — and Trump follows the same path — is create a kind of ongoing reality show whose ratings depended on him continuing to do and say outrageous things. Berlusconi, as Trump, often overestimated himself and underestimated his opponents. Berlusconi won three times but he also lost twice to a politician (Romano Prodi) who was far duller and far more competent.”

Then again, that took 17 years. We can only hope it doesn’t take Americans 17 years to see through Trump when, or if, they elect him.