By Emanuel L. Paparella, Ph.D.
“It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep. My fellow-Italians we do not win any more. We must restore the Roman Empire: march on Rome, invade Ethiopia, revive law and order, make the trains run on time, stop the Bolshevists threat, close the borders to foreign influences on our Latin culture, restore Roman discipline and authority as symbolized by the bundle of wheat bound to an ax (the glorious fascist party), suppress strikes and social unrest, institute racial laws, take care of the people who have no voice, punish the crimes of the capitalistic class, restore discipline, in short make Italy great again, never mind constitutional guarantees and respect for human rights, never mind a free press or free speech, never mind political correctness!
We will insure all this through our elite praetorian guards, the Blackshirts. We must become winners again. I am destined to be the man who will restore the lost honor and the glory of Italy. Together we will construct an Italy which is commensurate to its great artistic achievements.”
If the above statements by Dictator Benito Mussolini sound slightly familiar, it is because we just heard them loud and clear at the RNC’s acceptance speech by Donald Trump. All that needs to be done is tweak them a bit. The very first quote about lions and sheep was actually tweeted by Trump only a few weeks ago. Then there is the quote about “we do not win any more” and “make America great again” propagandistically and mindlessly repeated time and again. “Fellow Italians” of course needs to be tweaked to “fellow-Americans,” closing the borders tweaked to Trump’s anti-Moslem immigration proposals, the anti-racial laws by some of the outrageous bigoted statements against Mexican-Americans, Moslem-Americans, women, people with disabilities, naturalized American citizens. Suppression of free speech can be tweaked by his anti-media statements, the Black-shirts advocacy can be replaced by his proposals that dissidents and protesters at his rallies be taken out on a stretcher. And of course “We must make Italy great again” gets replaced by “Make American Great Again.”
What has not escaped notice is that not only the rhetoric sounded familiar but even the body language and the gestures that appeared during the one hour plus speech were uncanningly and familiarly Mussolinesques. That raising of the chin with a firmly clenched mouth and a raised finger, that pose of determination and intransigence affirming one’s superiority. All that was needed was a war helmet and the resemblance would have been perfect. Some have gone as far as suggesting that we were witnessing a veritable reincarnation or rebirth of the infamous dictator.
For those who not know or do not wish to know much about modern history and believe that what happened in Italy between 1922 and 1945 could not possibly happen here, we have too many constitutional guarantees and checks and balances of power, it may be useful to be reminded that a majority of Americans actually supported Mussolini, at least his frightening rhetoric, for most of his dictatorship. They felt that he was molding a new race of patriotic nationalistic Italians who would be different from what they considered the undisciplined, impoverished, illiterate Italians arriving to the US from Southern Italy (among whom my own grandfather who arrived in American at the turn of the 20th century in his twenties). Mussolini, after all, was a different kind of Italian, with “high energy” (another Trumpian slogan), resolute, a man who built things, of few words, a man of action, even if slightly ridiculous at times. After all, he was making Italy great again and it would take nothing short then a dictator to accomplish such a feat, just as Trump is now posed to make America great again, after eight years of occupation of the White House by somebody descendent from an inferior non-while race, who was not even born in America and is therefore illegitimate.
One may ask: what are the characteristics which both Mussolini and Trump seem to have in common and which are found so appealing by so many Americans? Let me enumerate a few: xenophobia, ultra-nationalism parading as patriotism, anti-media and anti-free speech, the stressing of old-fashioned hierarchies such as authority, obedience, militarism, hard-work and discipline, the restoration of glory and greatness, ideological purity, the redressing of perceived social injustices, populism. Useful to remember too that Mussolini began his career not as a fascist but as a socialist in sympathy with the plight of the disadvantaged but then opportunistically changed direction when the political winds changed; something hat Trump has also done, for he began as a pro-choice democrat who is now a pro-life republican. The appeal to the gay community, trying to blame its persecution not on native bigotry but on international terrorism (hence the Orlando outrage prominently mentioned), is also intriguing. In any case, those who insist on declaring “that it cannot happen here” will perhaps have second thoughts now. At least one can hope so; for it rationality has already left our body politics, then God help us.
It may also be worthwhile to examine what the Europeans are thinking as we speak. After all Europe is the place where Fascism and Nazism took root. Europe is, after all, a place where the excesses of America are promptly denounced. It is safe to say that their sense of superior political sophistication is giving way to alarm and dismay. Europeans know quite well that democracies can collapse all of a sudden. They painfully experienced that phenomenon: that in times of fear and anger and economic hardship, stoked by those who would wrestle power, the demagogue appears promising the moon in the well and a restoration of law and order. He will point out everything that is corrupt in the polity; corrupted by money, that is. He knows it well since he is part of it; he had to become rich and famous and successful, as Trump in fact announced to his audience. The public interest is the least thing on his mind, although he makes pious pronouncements to it. What is at work, rather is a show-business parading as a political campaign. The crowd is entertained by circuses galore while the Empire disintegrates.
Enter the head-clown who promises a restored lost greatness with the bully’s penchant for the jugular. He attacks political correctness and takes over a Republican party which has prepared the way for him with bigotry, obstruction of the legislative process, and a racially tinged attitude toward the current US president. As previously mentioned, this is the Frankenstein monster coming to devour its maker. He is usually underestimated by its belittlers till it is too late; he may be anti-rational but he is not stupid; he is a master at deal-making and rabble rousing; a master at capturing resentments and a desire to reclaim something: power, confidence, vague unexpressed hopes and frustrations, and creating the right feelings and vibrations dissembling the fact that in reality he is a thug trafficking in contradictions fueled by hatred, but presenting himself as a savior of sorts; hence Mussolini redivisus.
This is something that is not seen very often. The closest we have seen it in contemporary Europe is Silvio Berlusconi’s political performance. The ones who most admire this Mussolini redivivus are politicians of the ilk of Le Pen, Putin, the Russian oligarchs, and just about all the right-wing populist leaders of the EU. No wonder Europe is alarmed. For the power of the Oval Office and the character of a bully necessarily make for an extremely dangerous combination, when combined with contempt for the media, a taste for the language of violence, a tremendous ego which swaggers as above the law. Indeed, as the likes of Adam, and Churchill have already warned, democracies do die at times; or as Socrates’ trial also teaches us, they are at times midwife to their own demise. Once dead, they usually stay dead and the best the bereft people can hope for is the patient waiting for a new Renaissance.
Source: This article appeared at Modern Diplomacy