This week: Silvio Berlusconi: The Godfather of Trumpismo

Illustration by Susan Coyne

This week: a prequel from Rome of the Trump movie epic as it might play here — with NPR’s Sylvia Paggioli, author Alexander Stille, satirest Sabina Guzzanti, and journalist Bill Emmott. Listen at 2 pm on WBUR or anytime on our website

Mary McGrath: Chris came back from a family trip to Rome over Christmas with the idea and the guest list for this week’s show. People he met there told him — we’ve seen this movie before. And it kind of spooked him. The comparisons between Berlusconi and Trump are uncanny and amusing, of course — two billionaire showmen with the common touch who mowed down their establishment opposition and media with big yuuge promises of a better day. But the Berlusconi story is a dark one. Sylvia Paggioli told us he set the country back 20 years; satirist Sabina Guzzanti said Berlusconi essentially killed the culture by demeaning it and dumbing it down. “Italy is fucked!” she said, before we reminded her of our FCC rules.

Berlusconi got into politics in the first place to protect his business interests and to prevent anyone else from taking office who would restrict them. And then he elected his own employees and lawyers into Parliament to get him off the hook. Just as Italian voters said Berlusconi was too rich to be corrupted, voters here said the same thing about Trump.

All Benjamin Franklin did to trigger the Emoluments Clause in our Constitution was to accept a gilded snuff box encrusted with 408 diamonds from King Louis XVI of France. What the Trump family stands to gain from their CEO at the helm of our ship of state is mind boggling. And it doesn’t look like the maze of his conflicts of interest will be unwound anytime soon.

Bill Emmott, the Economist editor who tangled with Berlusconi over many years, advised vigilance in covering Trump. And we will be vigilant! Without fear or favor or kompromat!

To be forewarned is to be forearmed, but we may as well have some fun while we’re at it, right? You have to admit his press conference the other day was sort of fun to watch, right? If only he could sing. What a crooner that Berlusconi is!

Scenes from the Frontline: Trans and Queer Liberation March in Boston

Zach Goldhammer: This weekend, I went to the Boston Trans and Queer Liberation Rally, a Trump protest march organized by the Massachusetts ACLU, Black Lives Matter Cambridge, the queer-led prison abolition group Black and Pink, along with a wide range of other groups (you can read the full sponsor listing and event description here)

I’ve been slightly critical of similar post-Trump protests, which too often feel symbolic and repetitive, but I felt particularly inspired by this rally for some reason. For one thing, they had great music and great costumes:

But it also seemed to me one of the better representations of “intersectionality” — a term that is too often treated as a buzzword on the left rather than a valuable organizing principle.

It seems critically important now, more than ever, that if we are to grow protest movements beyond single-issue campaigns and radical sectarian groups, there needs to be broad recognition of overlapping forms of oppression and resistance that can coalesce into larger, more visible, and more powerful movement groups. The intersection between radical anti-discrimination groups and bigger-tent progressive / socialist organizations seems to me the best way to express frustrations that aren’t being voiced by either major party in the U.S

While Damon Linker believes that “liberals are drunk on a poison called intersectionality,” I think this type of organizing is a necessary remedy, and the only way to really build something to the left of liberalism here in the U.S.


Photos by Zach Goldhammers

Chris, Becca and I also went to the OurRevolution health care rally, led by the stellar senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey as well as Mayor Marty Walsh. We recorded some vox with those in attendance that will hopefully be incorporated into a health care show in the near future (stay tuned!).

For now, here are some pics from that rally at Faneuil Hall:

In Memoriam: RIP Nat Hentoff

Nat Hentoff, left, with clarinetist Edmond Hall at the Savoy club in Boston, 1948 (photo by Bobo Parent)

Christopher Lydon: Praise and thanks to the one-off Nat Hentoff, who retired to the big band of immortals last week. He was a hero for us Boston boys besotted by jazz, then lured by jazz into some glorious open secrets of African American life. Hentoff’s model was Gentleman George Frazier (another Boston Latin kid), the dandy and prose stylist who damn near invented jazz criticism. Tom Reney is another of us Irish lads who fed on Hentoff’s deep enthusiasm and became the perfect jazz DJ from New England Public Radio, and an authoritative curator of the music and the film record of jazz. Whitney Bailliett, an alchemist who very nearly reproduced the sound of the music on the glossy pages of The New Yorker, was a more lordly, almost Dukish champion of the music, but Nat Hentoff might have been an even more sensitive listener. He’d gone to graduate school, after all, in the close company of the Ellington band. The trombonist Buster Cooper told Nat of being new to the ensemble and asking Duke for a little guidance on the 8-measure solo he’d been assigned in a tune. Duke told him: “Listen, sweetie. Listen!”

Hentoff was one of those professed atheists who knew that Duke Ellington was God. Duke himself was Hentoff’s friend who taught in word and deed the perils of being pigeonholed. “He said, ‘Never get caught up in categories. That’ll imprison you,’” Hentoff remembered it all in a gadfly’s lifetime as a free-speech radical and kindly, all-purpose pain-in-the neck, “an enemy of humbug who forgives sinners,” as Anthony Lewis once wrote. It was Nat Hentoff who reported Duke’s response to being overruled for a Pulitzer Prize in 1966 for not being quite serious enough. “Fate is being kind to me,” Duke told him. “Fate doesn’t want me to be famous too young.”

There is a glimpse here of Nat Hentoff in a vanished heaven — the fellow with the dark beard and the pipe, standing around the piano as young Ahmad Jamal transform’s “Darn That Dream.” The giants of the day are all in wonder together in this moment — Ben Webster, Buck Clayton, and Jo Jones among them. This was the taste and the company that certified Nat Hentoff for all of us:

Artist Corner: Kerry James Marshall’s Mastry

Susan Coyne: There are still two weeks to catch Kerry James Marshall’s major retrospective, Mastry, at the Metropolitan Museum’s new Breuer gallery (through January 29th). Marshall (b.1955) is one of the foremost chroniclers of Black experience in America. Aside from his portrait of Nat Turner, which involves the decapitated head of a white man, every figure in Marshall’s paintings is black, and painted in a style that has now become iconic — flat, jet-black, often with inscrutable expressions.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Shadow of His Former Self, 1980

His project is, he’ll be the first to say, political: “You can’t be born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1955 and grow up in South Central [Los Angeles] near the Black Panthers headquarters, and not feel like you’ve got some kind of social responsibility. You can’t move to Watts in 1963 and not speak about it.”

Souvenir I, 1997
Souvenir I, detail, 1997
Better Homes, Better Gardens, 1994

I particularly enjoy Marshall’s works because they have a forthright narrative quality and a clear political engagement that’s hard to find in most postmodern work. Many fine artists shy away from the figure, and from representational work at all, out of fear that their work will be dismissed as pure “craft,” but Marshall appears to be unencumbered by any of these anxieties. (The name of the retrospective itself is based on the idea of craftsmanship). That, coupled with his clear desire to ground his work in political and social realities, makes Marshall a treasure in the American fine arts landscape.

Accompanying the retrospective is Kerry James Marshall Selects, an exhibition he curated of the most personally influential pieces within the Met’s collection. It includes work from the sixteenth century to the present, including Ingres, Seurat, and Japanese woodblock prints, among others.

Watch: The Best and Most Beautiful Things

Mary McGrath: Also filed under: when good things happen to good people. The director of this terrific film, (available on Netflix) Garrett Zevgetis, is an old and special friend. He says he found his voice working with us and writing comments on the website. Garrett follows a young woman who is legally blind and on the autism spectrum as she navigates her life from Bangor, Maine to the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, MA, back to Bangor and then finally to living on her own in Maine. The title comes from Hellen Keller’s quote: the best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.”

From one of favorite online commenters, “Potter,” a loyal fan

Open Source t-shirts are spreading the news. Red ones just arrived! Become an open sourcerer!


Mary, Zach and the gang

An American conversation with global attitude, on the arts, humanities, and global affairs, hosted by Christopher Lydon.