America

Why Italy Matters in Trump’s Time

By Andrej Mrevlje |
Antonio Di Pietro, Gherardo Colombo and Francesco Saverio Borelli, members of Mani Pulite and people's heroes.

On February 1992 Italian attorney Antonio Di Pietro arrested Mario Chiesa, a member of the Italian Socialist Party, for accepting a bribe from a Milan cleaning firm. Mario Chiesa was hoping to run for mayor of Milan, the second most wealthy city in Italy, but was caught receiving an envelope filled with 7 million liras (ca $7000) which was an installment of the agreed payment between the cleaning company and the Socialist party run by then-leader Bettino Craxi. Before they arrested him, Chiesa tried to flush the cash down the toilet. There were too many banknotes. He couldn’t flush them all in time.

It was the beginning of Tangentopoli, the biggest scandal of corruption that erupted in Italy after the WWII. It ended with half of parliament being investigated and the collapse of their two major political parties,  the Christian Democrats and PSI. As judges were replacing politicians and calling the shots, they also created a political vacuum. The void was soon after filled by Silvio Berlusconi who, after the fall of Craxi and PSI, needed to protect his livelihood. Practically overnight Berlusconi-using his advertising company-created his private party Forza Italia. He needed to get into the prime minister’s office to cover up his dubious businesses. The Italians let him do it. Berlusconi seized power with the populism and demagogy similar to the one we recognize in Donald Trump today. Like Trump, Berlusconi was promising to turn Italy into a prosperous and communism free country. A Renaissance of the Roman Empire!  

More than 25 years later, Italy still suffers the consequences of Berlusconismo. High unemployment, maximum tax evasion, enormous public debt, and young people and talents that flee the country at first opportunity. These are the terrible consequences of Berlusconi’s rule over Italy. The Mani Pulite was able to uncover the deeply rooted corruption because it was the first time in Italian judiciary system’s history that investigators were able to link all collected evidence against corruption into one computerized system that traced the crimes, people, and places with connections to money in foreign banks.

Tangentopoli was a very tumultuous time for Italy. The Mani Pulite were perceived as revolutionary heroes. Despite that public opinion, the attorneys from Milan were the first to call on the rest of the politicians. They implored them to take power into their hands again, and start the reforms the country needed so badly. It never happened. Berlusconi prevented it, and for the next 20 or so years, Italy had to follow his personal scandals, demagogy, protagonism, and even his bedtime stories.

My friends always told me that America is not Italy. America is a very different country. Perhaps once America was different, but hearing and reading what is happening in the U.S. right now in addition to their worries, questions, and rage does not sound very different from what we were observing in Italy a quarter of a century ago. There may be one difference. In the early ‘90s computers were still a luxury item that few had, and without the web, the internet would not be the same as we know it today. News stories about Trump are breaking at the speed of the light. During Watergate, the political process needed an exhausting 900 days to force Nixon to resign. Twenty years later, progress was made, and the political world in Italy managed to resist justice for only a few months. Things are happening even faster in our current time and the way I see it, President Trump is fried and ready to leave after only 45 days in office.

There seem to be enough leads to go ahead with a further investigation. There is also hope that even here in America there are agencies and investigative bodies that could start exchanging data that will enable them to connect the dots, follow the money, allow the justices or legislators to make their move, and find the person who will try to flush the money. It would be for the sake of national interest.

My hint is only metaphorical, of course. I have no real evidence about the wrongdoings of the current president. What I do know is that Trump’s eventual problems with the law were his personal matters before he became president. From the moment he stepped into the White House his behavior, values, and actions became an issue for the whole nation. And since America is not Italy, it is an issue concerning the entire world. On the other hand, if the intel agencies would cooperate and coordinate their investigations, and if Congress would react in the better interest of this nation, then this country would be able to stop being a character in a real-life horror movie.

We have now seen enough evidence to confirm that this president wants to change the world order by dismantling Nato and letting Putin break apart Europe. As David Frum said recently, “What Stalin, Khrushchev, and Brezhnev could not do, Trump is doing. He will destroy the most important alliance America has in Europe by turning back to the Germany.”

I wrote earlier about the consequences canceling the TPP trade agreement may bring to America’s foreign policy in the Far East. Now that this political tool to contain China is in the trash bin, China has rewarded Trump by granting him 38 trademarks. Since American presidents do not have to comply with laws against conflict of interest, Trump will be quickly making business with China. And, apparently, for those same reasons will not begin to press China for a fairer trade relationship even though this is what he promised during his campaign and before his eventual inauguration as president of the United States.

Let us not forget the most important news story of the moment. The alleged connection and perhaps even colluded relationship between Trump’s associates and Russia goes beyond the this year’s election hacking. While most research points to common business interests and greed, last week The New Yorker’s “Trump, Putin and the Cold War” brought many insights that show an incredible complexity of the relationship that brought us to the fatal attraction between Trump and Putin:

“Andrei Kozyrev, who served as foreign minister in the Yeltsin government, now lives in Washington, D.C. He left Russia as it became increasingly authoritarian; he now sees a disturbingly similar pattern in his adopted country. “I am very concerned,” he said. “My fear is that this is probably the first time in my memory that it seems we have the same kind of people on both sides—in the Kremlin and in the White House. The same people. It’s probably why they like each other. It’s not a matter of policy, but it’s that they feel that they are alike. They care less for democracy and values, and more for personal success, however that is defined.”

This and much more inside stories revealed by The New Yorker shed more light on Russian-Trump relations. The stories cover celebrations of Trump’s victory in Moscow to the latest of Moscow’s worries that believe the U.S. president’s not the very sophisticated handling of matters are not favorable in their best interests. Those interests can be traced in The New Yorker as well as in other reports, like in this chilling story about the collusion between former Trump’s campaign chief Paul Manafort and Ukraine-Russian spy Konstantin Kilimnik as reported by the Politico yesterday.

After The New Yorker’s  insightful story that brings the reader behind the new iron curtain, editor-in-chief David Remnick went around to various networks to help make sure the message was out there, as he explained to Rachel Maddow:

“Our paper, the New Yorker will continue to investigate, as well as the New York Times and Washington Post who spent hours and hours on this as well as everybody else. But there are certain things that investigative reporters can and there a certain things that well intentioned independent investigatory body, whether the law enforcement or Congress  can do, that is quite different. Having to do with subpoena power, having to do with calling witnesses and all the rest.”

Even the best of media with all the goodwill and energy spent in the investigation cannot do more than point out the facts. The power of the media stops there since we have no executive power, Remnick seems to be saying.  

Who will do the rest? The question became crucially important a few days ago when President Trump accused his predecessor Barack Obama of wiretapping him and his associates. As you can read in this Vanity Fair interpretation, President Trump misunderstood or falsified the information that appeared many months before. Why? Perhaps the best explanation came from the former director of CIA General Hayden, who explained Donald Trump’s false accusation as a maneuver that intended to distract the public from issues he cares about. He was trying to avoid the public debate on Secretary of Justice Jeff Sessions, who lied to Congress about ever meeting the Russian ambassador.
Listen to General Hayden’s words. President Trump uses the reputation of the former president of the United States to protect his interests. It is a shocking reality to examine the planning of Mr. Donald Trump, former brand manager, who occupied the White House to secure his own business and make his family prosper. It is not at all the better from what Silvio Berlusconi did 25 years ago. Except that the TV tycoon and former entertainer of lonely ladies on the cruise ships (Berlusconi’s first profession) ruined one country, Italy. The damage Donald Trump may cause would be catastrophic and irreparable all over the world.

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