Trump’s Italian Doppelgänger survived COVID-19. An encouraging example for the President, perhaps. Though more visibly fit, recidivist former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is actually ten years older than Trump. Still, he emerged from Milan’s San Raffaele hospital on September 14 after a 10-day stay, seemingly not much the worse for wear.
Other populist leaders have survived the virus. We hear a lot about Boris Johnson. Secondarily about Jair Bolsonaro. But Berlusconi’s COVID story has an especially Trumpian arc.
Trump’s Italian Doppelgänger seemingly was exposed to the virus while on vacation in beautiful Sardinia with his youthful girlfriend and his children Barbara and Luigi. Then, while visiting Provence, he infected daughter Marina, her husband, and their two children. In less Trumpian fashion, admittedly, upon leaving the hospital, Berlusconi called on Italian students, who were returning to school, to show respect for their friends, teachers, parents, and grandparents by “rigorously observing the rules.”
Berlusconi is a somewhat neglected Trump pathfinder. But an important one. Both are businessman politicians, used to running small but lucrative family businesses in very personalistic style. They have had difficulty applying their private sector management styles in government. Both ran effectively against supposedly entrenched liberal elites. They have flamboyant personal styles and are obsessed with their physical image. And questionable business practices and self-dealing have been political problems for them.
Berlusconi no longer wields political power and influence comparable to Trump’s. The Five Star Movement and the League have occupied the populist sector of the Italian body politic. But Berlusconi was unquestionably a harbinger of the politics that Trump is practicing. And he remains an important symbol of the political disruption that has been roiling liberal democracies for the last thirty years.