SEPTEMBER 14: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the American Airlines Center on September 14, 2015 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
By Daniel Sherman / 12.14.2016
To the long list of ways in which Italians can teach us to live better, let us add this: how to live a happy life when your nation’s leader is an utter buffoon.
First, expect it will happen from time to time. It is a widely held position of faith in the United States that whatever our leaders’ and governments’ shortfalls, somehow deep down inside The Right Thing is bound to come out and Virtue shall prevail. Inherent Goodness is woven right into the fiber of our Constitution.
From Italy’s view, this is a charming affectation of young empires: of course they all believe they’re special. But when a society continuously occupies an easily-invaded peninsula for several thousand years it is subjected to a long roster of charlatans, the mentally ill, the preening, and an occasional vainglorious psychopath. Italy was ruled for one-third of the 20th Century by two from that list, and yet at the end of it a resource-poor nation of 60 million was the 8th largest economy in the world. Most Italians believe that their politicians are thieving, cretinous, or at best hapless.
Yet every year grapes are made into wine and olives get pressed into oil. After a long Sunday lunch in the countryside, children play in the vineyard and adults shovel crumbs across the tablecloth and pour nips of grappa. Between memories of the last vacation and plans for the next, they reflect on the lack of a single good politician in Rome. And 20 years later, slightly grayer but improbably thin, they’ll be at the same table pushing crumbs around, drinking grappa and complaining about the incapable dolts in government.
Second, unless the World Cup is on, Italian patriotism and faith in government carries the sort of esteem generally reserved for financial audits and the boll weevil. In contrast, it is a matter of dogma to the American Left, long the stable of well-meaning marms, nags, and scolds, that robust patriotism and faith that government can work is what actually makes government work. Admittedly this seems logical: how can we improve our institutions if we believe they will fail?
Yet, by every measure that counts the people of Italy are treated far, far better by their government than Americans are theirs. To placate the perpetually displeased, Italy lavishes eight weeks paid vacation, generous family leave, guaranteed health care, robust privacy protection, and for half a century has avoided pointless wars of adventure. Step off the plane in any major city and note the sorry state of the Italian flag if you can find one: tattered, greased with diesel fumes, faded colors.
Arrive at any American city and you are welcomed by a proud row of starchy flags snapping in the breeze. Our car dealerships have better flags than their military bases do. In return for Americans’ unfailing patriotism and faith in government, we are executed at traffic stops, mustered into quixotic wars, tossed into the clink for decades on arbitrary and racist grounds, snooped and poked and prodded without due cause, then told health care sure would be nice but, shucks, all the money got spent. Maybe later. There is something of the abused spouse, insisting after beatings and maltreatment that deep down inside, they know their love wants the best for them.
Yes, but you don’t understand, Americans are serious and decent folk, Trump will make a mockery of us! What will the world think?
Perhaps that we should take ourselves less seriously. The descendants of Julius Caesar, Dante, and Galileo hardly cottoned to Silvio Berlusconi, a figure they had to watch cavorting about as Prime Minister for nine years. Nine years of massive corruption, bunga bunga parties, making obscene gestures behind a head of state to impress Boy Scouts, pushing through a raft of dangerous and regressive policies, alleged Mafia ties, ticking off his wife so much she had to publish a letter in a national newspaper demanding an apology, and finally, the cherry on top, paying an under-age, illegal immigrant prostitute for sex. He was convicted in a court of law for bribing a senator as well.
Berlusconi’s hair wasn’t coiffed as badly as Trump’s, but in the range of leaders with problematic hairstyling, he was up there with Kim Jong Un or a Boris Johnson. Rather than going tightly styled or keeping a messy shock, Italy’s prime minister fought a pitched battle for his hairline on the national stage, sometimes taking ground, sometimes forced into retreat, resorting to surgeries and mysterious colorants. The front advanced towards the brow, then fell back for total rout at the top of the cranium. The cycle repeated
How did Italians deal with that? They took vacations abroad and had a blast. As Italians do, they went around the world looking for what’s right and interesting about other places. I realize this is not an option for all Americans, but the college-educated segment that is most aghast at a Trump presidency is also most able to find the time and resources to leave. I’m willing to bet it was the population of U.S. passport holders that woke up November 9th to the deepest sense of dread and horror.
Let Trump invite Berlusconi to the White House, they can arrange a bunga bunga party in the Lincoln Room. Get a flight to a remote location, climb a mountain with a temple or castle on top, and for sure you’ll find Italians already there. You’ll spot them by their classy shoes, Invicta backpacks, and weather-regardless the men are wearing scarves. Perhaps you’ll make friends and wangle an invitation to visit them in Italy. You could wind up at that farmhouse table, enjoy a delicious meal, and hear a long recitation from your hosts about how Italy is subjected to leadership of the moronic and money-grubbing. Keep the friendship, twenty years and countless vacations later they’ll still be there.