What the left can learn from Italy

There are few who will deny the similarities between Donald Trump and former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Both grew their fortunes on allegedly mafia-linked real-estate developments, transitioned into successful careers as media moguls, and, against all odds, ascended to the helm of their respective national governments. Then there’s the common penchant for vitriol, misogyny, philandry, aggressive tanning, and pompous neckwear.

That's just the start. You could also include scapegoating immigrants, corruption, fake populism, attacks on the news media, etc.
There is also another similarity that is on the verge of repeating: The left's failed response to a corrupt demagogue.

Back in November, an Italian gave this advice.

Political opposition: ‘Stop crying and try to understand his voters’

For years, Berlusconi’s boorish behaviour was a gift to political opponents and journalists who were free to ridicule him. But ultimately they did not prove an effective opposition.

Opposing Berlusconi by ridiculing him, Orsina said, was a way to preach to the converted, as were attempts to warn that Berlusconi’s rule represented the end of Italian democracy.
“The most powerful way to oppose him, but it was never really done seriously, was to try and understand what his voters want and try to address the need of his voters. No jokes, stop shouting, stop crying, stop saying: ‘It is a horror and disaster’; try and seriously understand what his voters want, and the left was never really successful in doing that,” Orsina said.

Democrats were already preaching to the choir inside their bubble before the election. It didn't start with Hillary's 'deplorables' comment.
It seems to be getting worse.

“The question neither Maloney nor Luján will answer is whether they should recruit moderate to conservative candidates in rural districts or just abandon them altogether,” reported The Washington Post in an article titled, “Should House Democrats write off rural congressional districts?” This piece, and the DCCC strategies it outlines, embodies what is wrong with the Democratic Party: Their elitist arrogance is why Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election and why the Democratic Party is in the position it is in now.

This elitism and arrogance is on display almost every night on cable TV.
Trevor Noah’s Daily Show, Samantha Bee’s Full Frontal, and John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight are full-throated liberal polemics against Trump. Fair 'nuff. Trump is an easy target and much deserving of the abuse, even if it does devolve into childish name-calling at times.
That isn't the problem.

But somewhere along the way, the hosts of the late-night shows decided that they had carte blanche to insult not just the people within this administration, but also the ordinary citizens who support Trump, and even those who merely identify as conservatives....
Though aimed at blue-state sophisticates, late-night comedy shows are an unintended but powerful form of propaganda for conservatives.

This is the end result of a belief system built upon moral superiority. It only works if it is unquestionably morally superior (which it isn't), and even then the lack of humility is a huge turn-off.
Liberals can't see it because they are too busy signaling their virtue to each other.

Jacobin Magazine has a great article describing how the left in Italy has already gone down this road and completely failed. Can we learn from their mistakes?

Faced with a non-politician turning public life into the stage for his crass performances, the center-left, however, proved unable to propose a political alternative that went beyond decrying Berlusconi and his malign associates.
Moreover, given the Democrats of the Left’s open embrace of the Blairite-Clintonian Third Way, with the party’s former Communist leaders now abandoning the legacy of Antonio Gramsci in favor of managerial neoliberalism, they had no basis to oppose him with an alternative economic agenda...
As the powerful but brief surges of anticapitalist and antiwar mobilization dissipated over the 2000s, Italian liberalism increasingly settled into its own moralistic-judicial battle against Berlusconi, devoid of any wider social content. This was true not only of the Democrats but also of separate so-called “citizens” movements’ against Berlusconi such as the girotondi (“human chains”) protests starting in 2002, or, from 2009 Il Popolo Viola.

Sound familiar?

To persist in the “offended liberal defends institutional values” approach to politics is to disregard everything we see all around us, from Brexit to Duterte to Le Pen to Trump. It is to imagine that the attempt arbitrarily to define the boundaries of “legitimate” political discourse can dam a wave of populist reaction.
In this regard the Italian case presents a dire warning, even despite Berlusconi’s ultimate ejection from office. Today as the Democratic Party-led coalition continues its program of tearing up postwar labor rights, detaching his party from any vestigial attachment to the Left, the mass opposition to him comes not from social movements or Rifondazione Comunista, but an individualist and often ugly populist reaction, winning huge support even in the historic “red” bastions of Northern Italy.

Where the Democrats have moved to occupy the centrist and center-right political space now left by Berlusconi’s ailing party, the leftists who joined their anti-Berlusconi crusade now lie in ruins...
The Left’s alignment with neoliberal centrists against Berlusconi did nothing to thwart right-wing populism or keep racism out of politics.
It guaranteed these forces’ unchallenged hold over millions of voters, while destroying its own alternative voice. Looking over the wreckage of the 2016 campaign, the US left must avoid making a similar mistake.

The neoliberal wing of the Democratic Party must be defeated, and it must be defeated soon.

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Comments

OzoneTom's picture

Watching an old film recently, and seeing the "Silvio Berlusconi" production screen come up, I thought -- he really was Italy's Trump!

So started seeing more and more similarities. And I had only come up with a drop compared to your bucket-full. Thanks again.

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19 users have voted.

nut job psychotic fuckers are everywhere.
There are signs, there are similarities.

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CB's picture

Trump-Clinton1.jpg

Republicans vs Democrats: Two Neoliberal War Parties With the same Economic and Foreign Policies
Perhaps it is time to step back a bit from the immediacy of this electoral moment to take in the broader picture. Emotional responses to the prospect of a Trump presidency may offer a needed level of catharsis for some, but they certainly won’t help us understand how we got here. A couple of questions are in order. How is it that our two political parties engage in essentially the same economic and foreign policies, offering differentiation only in the realm of identity politics? What are the dynamics of mass psychology and propaganda that have made this reality invisible to so many for so long?

If we hope to understand what is happening politically in this country today we must look beyond the obvious surface level of events. We must examine how our perceptions, thoughts and behavior have been manipulated in ways most Americans are not consciously aware of. During the presidencies of Bill Clinton and Barak Obama we have watched a continuous and rather exquisitely choreographed media dance between our two parties, brought to us, of course, by the corporations of our oligarchy.

If we allow corporate media to create the post-election narrative that is unfolding, we will remain as bewildered as we have been, all while surveying a dangerous strange new terrain. The propaganda machine of our duopoly has kept us blind for too long. Perhaps a little trip down memory lane can help.
...
If anyone is still harboring thoughts that include the possibility of “fixing” this neoliberal dumpster fire that is the Democratic Party, there is really little more to say. First, the oligarchs aren’t going to put their cash cow up for sale because it’s too valuable to ensuring their interests. Second, the Democratic base is a bit too cash strapped given all those profits going to the top 1% to really make a competitive bid now anyway, isn’t it? Accepting reality at this point means accepting that the Democratic Party of many people’s fantasies or youth simply no longer exists. Period. Sorry, but the oligarchs aren’t going to get out of the way and let folks do a radical makeover so they can lose money on the deal.

It appears we’re going to have to actually work, sacrifice, organize, educate ourselves and each other, suffer, and resist, as hard and painful as all of that is going to be. The alternative is exactly what we’ve gotten for the last 24 years – a count down to oblivion during which we all watch Tweedledum and Tweedledee mud wrestle each other on our video screens, 24/7, while much of the world is left to hope, desperately, that we will finally collectively wake up.

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@CB
especially when I know that the Democratic Party was reformed once before.

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CB's picture

@gjohnsit
Democratic Party we have zero chance. These people will destroy any internal competition before they will go against the Repubs. They would rather lose an election then lose their power. The entire apparatus needs to be thrown out - the baby, the bathwater AND the fucking tub they came in - it's all contaminated.

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@CB great article. Lays it out so nice and succinct. I sent that one on.

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Mark from Queens's picture

"The Right Way to Resist Trump" is a pretty potent piece, appearing Nov. 18, 2016 as an OpEd in the NY Times.

Five years ago, I warned about the risk of a Donald J. Trump presidency. Most people laughed. They thought it inconceivable.

I was not particularly prescient; I come from Italy, and I had already seen this movie, starring Silvio Berlusconi, who led the Italian government as prime minister for a total of nine years between 1994 and 2011. I knew how it could unfold.

Now that Mr. Trump has been elected president, the Berlusconi parallel could offer an important lesson in how to avoid transforming a razor-thin victory into a two-decade affair. If you think presidential term limits and Mr. Trump’s age could save the country from that fate, think again. His tenure could easily turn into a Trump dynasty.

Mr. Berlusconi was able to govern Italy for as long as he did mostly thanks to the incompetence of his opposition. It was so rabidly obsessed with his personality that any substantive political debate disappeared; it focused only on personal attacks, the effect of which was to increase Mr. Berlusconi’s popularity. His secret was an ability to set off a Pavlovian reaction among his leftist opponents, which engendered instantaneous sympathy in most moderate voters. Mr. Trump is no different.

The whole piece is worth reading. Another snippet:

Shortly after Mr. Trump gave his acceptance speech, protests sprang up all over America. What are these people protesting against? Whether we like it or not, Mr. Trump won legitimately. Denying that only feeds the perception that there are “legitimate” candidates and “illegitimate” ones, and a small elite decides which is which. If that’s true, elections are just a beauty contest among candidates blessed by the Guardian Council of clerics, just like in Iran.

These protests are also counterproductive. There will be plenty of reasons to complain during the Trump presidency, when really awful decisions are made. Why complain now, when no decision has been made? It delegitimizes the future protests and exposes the bias of the opposition.

Of course, like everything else they touch, the Democratic Party is blowing this too.

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29 users have voted.

(thirty three and a third at TOP)

"If I should ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph:

THE ONLY PROOF HE NEEDED
FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD
WAS MUSIC"

- Kurt Vonnegut

gulfgal98's picture

I have actually had similar discussions with some of my Democratic friends who voted for Hillary and refuse to accept Trump as President. They simply cannot understand why mocking him or protesting him personally is counterproductive. Unfortunately, I doubt they would accept this essay and the links you provided.

Instead, we must fight Trump on substantive policy and push for real issues that gave us Trump to be addressed.

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14 users have voted.

"I don't want to run the empire, I want to bring it down!" ~Dr. Cornel West "...isn't the problem here that the government takes on, arbitrarily and without justification, an adversarial attitude towards its citizenry?" ~CantStopthe Signal

@gulfgal98
It didn't work.
A lot of liberals haven't bothered to wonder why it didn't work.

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gulfgal98's picture

@gjohnsit and suffered the worst losses in recent history. Now Markos is saying the only thing the Dems need to run on is "No!" What the f*ck? These people in the Democratic party and their public mouth pieces are either totally clueless or totally corrupt. My vote is for the latter.

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13 users have voted.

"I don't want to run the empire, I want to bring it down!" ~Dr. Cornel West "...isn't the problem here that the government takes on, arbitrarily and without justification, an adversarial attitude towards its citizenry?" ~CantStopthe Signal

shaharazade's picture

@gjohnsit the Democratic voters who haven't bothered to wonder why it didn't work, liberals? They are not even left on any scale other then the skewed revised one the tea leaf data readers have constructed. The Third Way bills themselves on their website as radical centrists. In what universe are these powerful inevitable global thugs including the Clinton's or even Bernie the center or moderate middle of any democratic governance? There not and they have no intention any of them rolling back the carefully constructed anti-democratic world they have created.

How can a party that despises all liberal, democratic, populist or progressive principles of governance including the rule of law ever be reformed. The Democratic party may have in the past been responsive to democratic/progressive policy and reform when confronted with populist movements that threatened their grip on power but not now. 'The pump don't work as the Vandals took the handle'

The ruling class is a duopoly and both parties are complicit in removing all democratic impediments to their fascistic global agenda. When winning is has no connection to anything other then keeping the run amok oligarchical collectivist's in power and the world on fire there is no way to turn around the corrupt puppet pols who have the same agenda as the worst evil.

Getting all deranged about Trump seems pointless when since the 80's when Poppy's other son was selected by Al From's DLC to turn the right into left and call it The Third Way. Trump's insane agenda is a neoliberal/neocon wet dream come true. When I don my tin foil hat I believe that like Obama, he was the fall back option if the people balked at electing the Democratic crime family candidate. If you won't vote for the Demorat's you'll get the crude insane scary clown who will continue to implement the same global madness as the smooth articulate talking 'civil' Oboomber and the jive ass pussy grabbing big dog two fer.

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dkmich's picture

Political parties, and hence their partisans, are such easy shots. If it worked, Hillary would be President instead of Trump.

The take away is the confirmation that enemy #1 is the neoliberal wing of the Democratic Party. I do not believe that "the left" is moral, smart, or disciplined enough to wage that fight. This is why I think the voices of people and places like C99 are so vital. They are alive and well, but I don't know if they are overwhelming enough to make up for the veal pen.

Thanks for all of your work and sharing it with us. I am doing my best to grow your audience on Twitter and FB. You do have fans.

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gulfgal98's picture

@dkmich with a comment.

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9 users have voted.

"I don't want to run the empire, I want to bring it down!" ~Dr. Cornel West "...isn't the problem here that the government takes on, arbitrarily and without justification, an adversarial attitude towards its citizenry?" ~CantStopthe Signal

Big Al's picture

I guess that's it.

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eyo's picture

@Big Al Yeah I guess so, yeah. Bomb the world in to peace.

"I guess that's it." {mushroom cloud}

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On a blog.

CB's picture

@Big Al
the moment they showed their true colors. The DNC only wants sycophants that play their game.

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PriceRip's picture

@Big Al

          Even good people can be corrupted in that cesspit called politics. We must be ever vigilant, the price of freedom ... y'all know.

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10 users have voted.

"I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant."
Robert J. McCloskey, U.S. State Department spokesman. From a press briefing during the Vietnam war.

Big Al's picture

@PriceRip @PriceRip exasperated surrender. Although I won't vote for them, it appears inevitable the game will go on.

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PriceRip's picture

@Big Al

          Been there, done that, won't go that route again:

          exasperated surrender ... it appears inevitable

          There are better ways to handle the frustration, that's what this place is about.

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8 users have voted.

"I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant."
Robert J. McCloskey, U.S. State Department spokesman. From a press briefing during the Vietnam war.

Big Al's picture

@PriceRip that's what I'm talking about.

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shaharazade's picture

@PriceRip was about 'better ways to handle the frustration'. Do you mean frustration with the Democratic party or frustration with the entire phony electoral system? I did not come here to piss and moan about the Demorat's. By 2009-10 it was crystal clear to me that they had nothing to offer but legitimizing/normalizing the same damn lawless global insanity the Bushies and the Repugs have been implementing since Raygun or Nixon. The Demorat's followed suit.

Actually I think Big Al's response is a sane, honest assessment and response of where we stand politically in this tragic farce. A bag o'rats the lot of them no matter which color red or blue they fly under. The way to madness is accepting this unbelievable made up of whole cloth political story line. My one ray of hope is the fact that people were not bamboozled this time around by either party. How anyone who watched what went down in 2014-2016 and still thinks it possible to resuscitate (or even wants to) the Democratic party including the useless blowhard progressive's is beyond my comprehension.

As for the Bernie wing of Demorat's get a grip he's just another Joseph looking for a manger. I have no interest in the Dem. pols of fake socialist intentions. They are not good as they are hooked to the bogus fear of other story lines that tells me that the Russian's are coming or that all people globally grievances cannot be addressed because ???? Terrorists? Hypocritical social liberalism that makes you feel so good, or maybe the joker in our pack the dreaded pig ignorant crazed theological right wig. Why? heh? this way lies madness or just a cold blooded anti-humanist global agenda.

It's not apathy that makes ordinary people stop voting. They care not at all about all this political posturing and internecine carrying on. It belies the world they are forced to live in where robots and Russians are coming and the data says this is it, you better believe it, it's factual. According to the binary reality, peer reviewed numbers we must believe as they do not lie. And yet they tell no truths other then measuring the extent and effectiveness of the assault on humans and the planet. The truth is out there but you won't find it by listening or believing in the Joseph pols who protect the status quo and call it reform you can believe in.

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TheOtherMaven's picture

back when the chattering class was still screaming "Hitler!" and "Mussolini!"

So now, how did the Italians finally get rid of Berlusconi, and can we do a better job faster of getting rid of our mutant Berlusconi-clone? Worth studying....

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There is no justice. There can be no peace.