Colson: Italians had a laugh; now they’re worried
I’ve been reading in the news that Italy has long been laughing at us.
At the U.S., I mean, which is us.
And the reason they’re laughing is that they’ve had their bout with a monomaniacal, socially ignorant, vulgar and fabulously arrogant rich guy as prime minister, and they’re gleeful that we in this country seem close to making a similar bad call, electorally speaking.
This international yuk-fest has been going on at least a year, as Italians have compared their former leader, Silvio Berlusconi, with our yet-to-be president, Donald Trump, and have found the comparison both valid and hilarious.
Though, according to at least one commentator, Frank Bruni of the New York Times, the glee has slowly turned to alarm as the Italians have realized that The Donald has a chance of actually winning the job of the most powerful government official on the planet.
And they know, as those of “us” with any sense have known for some time, that the prospect of a Trump presidency is frightening in so many ways they can’t easily be counted.
As I have contemplated this source of Italian humor-cum-horror, I reminded myself that this ridicule was coming from a country so inept at building complex machinery that for years its chief export was a car with the uncomplimentary nickname, “Fix It Again Tony.” That’s a Fiat, for those who have difficulty with acronyms.
Anyway, the Italians have thought it was pretty funny that our current presidential battle includes a presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump, who is just as outlandish, childish and lacking in good judgement as Berlusconi ever was (he was ousted in 2013).
But the Italians are worldly enough to recognize that the U.S. has a very different place in the world than Italy, and that a maniac in the White House would be far more dangerous than one in Rome.
For one thing, we have the world’s largest nuclear arsenal (OK, the Russians may have about the same number, but who’s counting them?), and the idea of a petulant bully-boy like Trump with his finger on that fabled button is enough to make even some Republicans nervous.
But there are other ways in which Trump could, to use Bruni’s interpretation of Italian anxiety, “muck up the world” were he somehow to win the presidency.
As unnamed Italians are quoted as arguing, Italy has never been seen by anyone as the “watchdog of the world,” or the “world’s policeman,” but the U.S. has long had just that role.
Can you imagine how Trump might react if, say, China puts even more muscle and armament into its ongoing efforts to expand its territorial reach into the southern Pacific region also claimed by other countries?
For years China has been building such things as airstrips and refueling facilities on existing reefs and atolls, as well as on islands that the Chinese built around what once were little more than rocks sticking up out of the sea, in a bid to expand its area of influence.
The region, known as the South China Sea, has been the scene of numerous near-disastrous confrontations among ships plying the region. If it should erupt into some kind of fight, we might be obliged to step in.
Trump already has threatened to initiate a trade war with China over his mistaken assumption that the Chinese are ruining the U.S. economy — when, in fact, Chinese investment is helping to prop up the U.S. economy. What kind of panicked reaction could we expect from him in response to an overt military act by China against a neighbor?
Trump’s infantile view of the world, much like his views on women and minorities, would pose a much greater hazard to world peace and stability than anything Berlusconi might have done.
Like Trump, Berlusconi started out developing real estate, graduated to television magnate-hood, and used his celebrity and his wealth to tantalize people with the idea that he, and he alone, could trash the political status quo and miraculously fix the country’s problems.
Like Trump, Berlusconi managed to convince a lot of people that he was one of them, when in fact he was one of the wealthiest men in Italy and probably had no more idea of the life of average men and women than does Trump.
And, despite serving three terms as prime minister, Berlusconi failed to fix Italy — just as Trump could not possibly fulfill his promise to “make America great again” even if he bothered to try.
Right now, it seems to me that Trump’s supporters are like those hapless fools who signed up with Trump University to learn how to become billionaires and then sued him when it didn’t work.
Trump U. was nothing but a fraudulent way to pick people’s pockets and walk away laughing, and Trump’s presidential campaign is nothing but another, very similar, game to him.
But this time, rather than ruining a few hapless victims of his lies and fakery, Trump stands to leave a much greater mess behind him when he walks away.