Italians Know What a European “Trump” Would Look Like

Silvio Berlusconi was brash, politically incorrect and did lasting damage to Italians’ trust in the political class.

Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi arrives for a European Council meeting in Brussels, June 24, 2011
Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi arrives for a European Council meeting in Brussels, June 24, 2011 (European Council)

Italians may have a unique perspective on the presidential election in the United States. You might say they know what a Donald Trump presidency would be like. They had Silvio Berlusconi.

Berlusconi is and was a successful businessman who used that as the foundation for his political career, leveraging his status as an outsider to win support.

When he first ran for office in the 1990s, Berlusconi was greeted with a fair amount of ridicule and derision. But he launched his conservative party, Forza Italia, when the country was in the middle of its biggest postwar political shakeup, which gave him an opening.

Sound familiar?

There’s more. Both men are brash and pride themselves on their political incorrectness. They marshal this to win over compatriots who feel left out in the prevailing political climate.

Lasting damage

Berlusconi went on to win not once but three times and dominated Italian politics for two decades. Throughout, he brought the establishment into disrepute, allegedly engaged in deals with organized crime and presided over the near-bankruptcy of his country.

Mafia connections, a litany of sex scandals, tax evasion and the euro crisis eventually forced Berlusconi out of office. But not before he had done lasting damage to Italians’ trust in their political system.

Win or lose, could Trump do the same?