After half a century that I have lived in America, let me explain to you why Italian-Americans sympathize with Trump. For them the platinum blond Donald has what they have never had, but have always dreamed of having. It’s a snapshot of their interpretation of the “American Dream.” A bit as it was for Berlusconi in Italy. And Donald Trump has also another affinity with Silvio Berlusconi: Vladimir Putin. But neither the Italians, nor the Americans, want to know about this.
Many years ago, in one of my trips to discover the United States, I ended up by chance ( and because I was tired) in a village north of Tulsa in Oklahoma. I had started late by car from Little Rock, Arkansas and by night I was too tired to make it to Kansas City so I stopped at a motel along the way. There was really very little in that village in the middle of nowhere. The unique local attraction was Will Roger’s Tomb, at least so it stated in a brochure in the motel lobby.
I knew nothing of this American actor, writer and journalist. The face in the brochure seemed vaguely familiar to me and I associated him with cowboy movies that I had seen in my adolescence in school. The description in the brochure struck me; it described him as “the spokesperson of the common man.” And the next morning, before starting out for Kansas City, moved by curiosity, I went to visit the museum-garden where he was buried and thus I discovered this great, and little known, writer.
He was a “native American” born on a Cherokee Indian reservation, son of the head of a tribe. With much humor he wrote during the Roaring Twenties, spoke of the political events after World War One, of Prohibitionism, isolationism, social tensions, of individual success, and of the “self made men” and their cult of personality, of self-improvement, and of the narcissism of the leaders. A Ralph Waldo Emerson of the poor. But all of this I discovered after my return to New York. I found out that for 13 years he had had a daily column in the New York Times from 1923 to 1935, and that he wrote for the Saturday Evening Post and on Sunday night he had a one hour radio program: 40 million Americans hung from lips and from his pen. He always spoke of the success of the underprivileged, of the underdog, and of the possibilities of overcoming moments of difficulty. He injected hope in the changes and in the improvement of life. He told tales to an America thirsty for goodness.
Rogers pretended that he would run for the presidential election under the motto, “If you elect me I will retire the next day.” He wrote that, “The Democrats are never in agreement on anything. If they were, they would be Republicans.” Obviously, he was just joking, but on Election Day 1932 voters did not find his name on the ballots and went home without voting. A Groucho Marx of politics who proved even then how in American elections everything was possible, where appearance is more important than reality. Where reality and “alternative facts” get mixed up, confused and are both accepted by a segment of the electorate that wants to see with the heart and not with the eyes. Where sympathy and witticism are arguments preferred by the voters instead of content.
Today this vision of the strong man has become darker. The selfishness of a successful entrepreneur-showman wins out over the complaints of the weaker ones. The “blue collars” of America are with him. They are tired of seeing their taxes used to attempt to uplift a segment of society that for two hundred years has barely been able to stand on its own feet; they have now joined a president who does not hide his contempt for them. There is the resentment for the benefits given to the poorer ones, for low price housing, for the implementation of Affirmative Action (rules to support the weaker echelon of the society that take into consideration ethnicity, religion, sex) for college admission and more; for medical assistance for the poorer ones; for indigence allowances. The president fuels these resentments and stokes the lower instincts of the “blue collars,” instigates them against the weak, the African-Americans, the Hispanics. the Chinese. For years he has been perpetuating the hoax that Obama had been elected illegally because he was born in Africa. “Not only was he born in Africa, but he was also a Muslim” maintains to this day Michael Savage, the radio journalist and great supporter of the President during the transmissions of “Savage Nation.”
Even the Ku Klux Klan supports Trump, affirms Savage. Who knows how many Italian-Americans know what has been the KKK for the Italian community of America. Who knows if they have ever heard about the lynching in the Parish Prison of New Orleans in 1891? Who knows if they know how the the Italians were treated in the Monongah Mines? Or if they have ever heard talk about the Sunnyside Plantation in Arkansas where hundreds of poor Italians were held in slavery inside the plantation. But politics, we all know it, sees and hears only what is convenient to it.
Let’s build the wall, affirms the President, and all follow him. Yes, yes, build the wall and then who is going to pick the lettuce and the tomatoes, the grapes and the melons? And who is going to wash the dishes and clean the tables in the restaurants. In three months of Covid-19 the prices of fresh vegetables have tripled, simply because there is no workforce to pick them. As far as I am concerned, I understood exactly why there is such profound resentment towards minorities when I was speaking to my gardener. “And they want to be paid just like everybody else,” he affirmed, screaming at the workers from his automobile which had a ‘Trump 2016’ sticker on the bumper —”before I used to pay them 50 dollars a day for 8 hours of work. Now they want a regular salary, like the Americans.”
Translation by Salvatore Rotella