Populist Reformers Win Big In Italy’s 'Trump Election'

The people send a message to the European establishment.

​“The contours of the new regime are still unclear,” explained the Washington Post, “but an old one is certainly passing.” And the headline told the tale even better: “Italy’s election is another blow to the European establishment.”

The big loser was European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who feared a “worst scenario.” The two big winners were “the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, founded less than a decade ago by a comedian, which won about 32 percent of the vote, and the League, a far-right, anti-immigrant, Euroskeptic party.” 

In similar style, CNN headlined, “Italy’s voters choose populists, deliver stinging rebuke to Europe.” As the piece contended, “Italy was plunged into political uncertainty” with no party or coalition with enough votes to rule alone. A “right-wing coalition of parties won the most seats of any bloc in parliament with about 37% of the vote,” and the big winner in that group was “the anti-immigrant and xenophobic League.”

This result “will be met with alarm by European leaders who feared that big wins for Italy's anti-establishment parties would spell further trouble for a continent already struggling to cope with the destabilizing rise of populist and far-right movements in France, Germany and elsewhere.” CNN quoted a tweet from “French far-right leader” Marine Le Pen that  “The European Union is going to have a horrible evening.” 

In its headline, the New York Times offered “4 Takeaways From a ‘Throw the Bums Out’ Italian Election.” As the piece explained, “migration matters” and “the mainstream parties have no answer.” The Italian economic recovery has been weak and Brussels was not much help, “further harming the center-left.”

Italian elites are “considered generally corrupt and inefficient,” explained Mark Leonard of the European Council on Foreign Relations. “Few wanted to vote for mainstream parties that were the authors of the stagnation of the last decade.” For Matthew J. Goodwin of the University of Kent, the Italian election fit a common European pattern: the demise of traditional social democratic parties; the rightward shift of voters. As the Times noted, “the Italians voted largely for parties that are euroskeptic.”

The Guardian editorialized that Italian election was “a lesson for progressives.” Italian politics may be unpredictable, but “this general election is not business as usual.” As noted, “anti-establishment parties look to have won comfortably more than half the vote, an uncomfortable milestone for protest politics in a western liberal democracy.” 

According to the Guardian, when center-left parties abandon a progressive agenda, “they end up resembling the conservatives they are meant to compete with. Progressives in Europe should not fence themselves into spaces they cannot get out of and let nefarious populists occupy their territory.” 

That was pretty much the pattern for the old-line establishment media. American Greatness did better with “Apocalypse Ciao: Italy’s Trump Election.” As author Angelo Codevilla explains, Donald Trump was not on the Italian ballot and little of what Italians “think they know of him is true.” The question was whether “Trump-like popular sentiment would sweep away the cozy arrangements between old-line leftist and rightist parties that have been governing the country.” The result? “Trump won big.” 

Italy’s governing Democratic Party, which as Codevilla notes is “the Communist Party’s descendant,” was reduced to around 18 percent of the vote, “cast mostly by government-empowered limousine elites as well as Communist diehards in Tuscany and Emilia.”  The biggest loser was Democratic Party’s former prime minister Matteo Renzi, “the international Left’s Boy Wonder, the Italian Obama.” He could not stop the “populist virus” that elected Trump and has now spread to Italy. 

The vote, “changed Italian politics generationally from below. Nothing like this had happened in a century” but the result was a mixed bag. Under Italy’s parliamentary system, “the next government’s character will be the result of mostly backroom deals between mostly the usual suspects,” including a leftist president. Still, for Codevilla the lesson is clear, and it has nothing to do with any “ism” or with Donald Trump: “When voters are ruled by officials and associated corporate types who despise them, sooner or later they will find ways of returning the favor.”

The Academy Awards eclipsed coverage of the election, but so far no reports of Vladimir Putin attempting to influence the outcome through Facebook ads and fake demonstrations for all parties. No mysterious dossiers have prompted investigations, and Matteo Renzi has not announced plans for a “What Happened” book tour.  

Meanwhile, if Jean-Claude Juncker is indeed the biggest loser, that is not a bad thing. As Bruce Thornton noted, the European boss “has long been a champion of increased centralization” and his selection by the European parliament was “an affront to democratic accountability.” 

As Thornton shows, the European Union is “grounded in false assumptions about human nature and the role of the nation in creating a people’s identity,” hence the motto of “United in Diversity.” Based on the latest election, the Italians seem to prefer something like “Viva L’Italia!”