Christopher Livesay, Rome Based Correspondent - Italy Changes Governments Again

Christopher Livesay, Rome Based Correspondent
Italy Changes Governments Again

 

Is this a question you can’t get out of your head?  “What happens to America when a decisively ousted one-term president Donald Trump presides over an angry, no longer powerfully-represented base of something like a third-of the voting public?”

Gotta say, the potential ugliness of ex-President Trump’s legacy politics worries the heck out of me.

So, I say look to Italy which has a one-year head start on this kind of crisis.  Since August, the man who would take, in his own words “full powers” in Italy has been tossed out on his ass, and he’s mad as Hell and stirring up his base.

Matteo Salvini runs a political party called The League, in both the most recent national election – for seats in the European Parliament – and in most recent polls, the most popular party in Italy, with support from about one-third of voters.  Salvini’s party used to call itself The Northern League.  But that was when Salvini spewed hatred and contempt at Italians from South of Rome, before he broadened his base by turning his rhetoric specifically racist and aiming it at immigrants streaming into Italy from North Africa and the Middle East.

Salvini had been one of a pair of deputy prime ministers and the immigrant-bashing interior minister in a coalition government with the welfare-populist 5 Star Movement. Over the 14 months the coalition held together, The League and Salvini grew more popular, and the 5 Stars, their deputy prime minister and labor minister Luigi Di Maio lost support.

Then, in August, Salvini quit the government, destroyed the coalition and waited for a new election to flex his growing political muscles.

But the election isn’t happening, instead Prime Minister Giuseppi Conte has put together a different coalition of the 5 Stars with the left-center Democratic Party, the party the 5 Stars used to especially love to hate.

That the anti-establishment DiMaio could get into political bed with the Democrats, whose former prime minister Matteo Renzi was the piñata the 5 Stars won power by pounding to pieces is something of a surprise, but much less so than that DiMaio, Renzi and the current leader of the Democrats Nicola Zingaretti are signing on as subordinates to Conte, who was an obscure law professor when he was first named figurehead prime minister simply to referee the inevitable fights between DiMaio and Salvini.

It turns out Conte’s role of “the adult in the room” filled with ambitious political blowhards may have been a perfect preparation to return Italy to adult governance.

Those who laugh at the oxymoron of “adult governance” in Italy and wonder what mythical golden age just a competently governed Italy would “return” to, are betting Conte 2, the government in which Giuseppi Conte is a fully-empowered Prime Minister will last about as long as Conte 1, when his job was to look the part, while Government did little more than bar and beat up on immigrants and tell the European Union to get lost.

If Conte 2 does last 14 months, it will beat the historic average of Italian government since World War 2…65 in 73 years, one every 13 months.

 

READING ROOM

Christopher Livesay is an award-winning correspondent based in Rome. His recent work for NBC, PBS, and NPR focuses on populism, priest sex abuse, and protests in Hong Kong.

In 2018 he was the first American TV correspondent to report from Libya in almost one year, and had to flee the country amid government threats for shedding light on migrant trafficking, torture, and abuse.

In 2016, he was among the first journalists to report from Mosul, on the battle to uproot ISIS.

The same year he was among the first reporters on the scene of a powerful earthquake that killed hundreds outside Rome.

He holds a master’s degree (highest honors) from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism in New York City.

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