Misery Loves Company, In Life and Politics

Those Americans who believe that Donald Trump has trampled upon the law and American institutions are apt to feel just a bit of schadenfreude by looking at other countries beset by similar misfortunes.One great misfortune threatens to befall a country that Americans look at with genuine fondness, Italy. The Italian parliament, a body of politics as discombobulated as they come, is about to vote for a new president of the republic, as the term of the present holder of the mandate — Sergio Mattarella, elected in 2015 — is about to expire. One of the candidates to succeed him is a felon.

Unfortunately, his name is well known: Silvio Berlusconi, also distinguished as Signor Bunga Bunga from his sexy antics with young women who flocked to the wild parties in his villa. The disarray that rules the ornate hall of the Italian House of Deputies is such that a large enough center-right bloc, and assorted fellow travelers, are pushing the name of the former premier, notwithstanding the fact that Berlusconi has sullied Italian political life for over a quarter of a century. As a media tycoon, he achieved the premiership thanks to the power of his communication empire and served as prime minister from 1994 to 1995, 2001 to 2006 and 2008 to 2011.

His party Forza Italia (Go, Italy) was carried to the top by the conglomerate Fininvest that controlled more than 150 businesses, including a commercial television network and the Milan football team. Berlusconi’s political career is a roll call of violations of constitutional principles that he had sworn to respect when he took the helm of the government: justice, equality, dignity for women, free press, an independent judiciary, free market competition, fiscal equity, public health and last but not least, rejection of fascism.

At the end of so many turbulent years he was sentenced for a variety of financial crimes, including fraud and corruption, and expelled by the Senate as a felon. In 2013 he was convicted for soliciting sex from an underage prostitute, sentenced to seven years in prison and barred from holding public office. In the same year, Italy’s highest court upheld his conviction for tax fraud although the sentence was reduced to one year as a result of a law passed to reduce prison overcrowding.

In November 2013 the Senate voted to formally expel Berlusconi. And yet, he did not go away peacefully but continued to lead his rightist coalition that included the anti-immigrant Northern League and the neo-fascist Brothers of Italy. As the most visible face of the Italian right, Silvio Berlusconi stayed on by virtue of his membership in the European parliament since 2019, in spite of recurring health issues.

What is most notable in Signor Berlusconi’s infamous political tenure is the fact that he was able to force the Parliament to approve 60 bills ad personam, that is designed to favor and enrich his interests in the conglomerates, and — according to his accusers — those of the mafia. Incredible as it may seem, he avoided punishment for serious crimes brought in nine judicial proceedings by taking advantage of statutes of limitations. In sum, he transformed the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies into lobbies for his lawyers, his co-defendants, his caretakers, his bunga bunga girls and his dental hygienists.

This is the man who is presently driven by the ambition of becoming president of a country that he has caused to be pitied by the rest of the world. The ridicule that has accompanied his political career goes hand in hand with the corruption that his regime instituted through a host of dishonest characters, many of whom were tried and sentenced for complicity with the mafia.

It will not escape many Americans that a similar disaster has been unfolding in their country and many other nations that are in the hellish grip of autocratic regimes. This writer does not believe that Silvio Berlusconi will have enough political sycophants on his payroll to ascend to the most important institutional seat in Italy. On the other hand, Berlusconi and his hidden acolytes can do a great deal of damage, as the conspiracy of actors can wreck the delicate balance in the Parliament and compromise the one figurehead that has elevated the political standing of the country in Europe: the present Premier Mario Draghi. Like evil dragons that are so difficult to dispatch, Silvio Berlusconi is still breathing fire and threatening to once again bring down pity and ridicule on Italy when it is trying hard to hold an honorable influential place in the European Union.

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