Italians watching Donald Trump’s first press conference since his election were struck with a strong sense of déjà vu. The performance of the business man turned politician strikingly resembled those of former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Yet the performance was not the only link between the two, Russian President Vladimir Putin is the third partner of a unique and unorthodox trio.
Divide and conquer
Italians did not need to know English to be able to understand #Donald Trump’s press conference.
His body language, gestures, and facial expressions were identical to Berlusconi’s. The stage management and the attention-grabbing stunts were copies of how politics was transformed in Italy by the property and media magnate. Yet two other tactics were indicative that the inspiration for the performance came from Rome and not from Moscow.
The Romans called it “Divide et impera” and has been translated into English into as “Divide and conquer.” Berlusconi would target specific members of the press for criticism and blame them for bad or inaccurate reporting, as happened yesterday with the CNN journalist broke an exclusive story. Yesterday this achieved part of its intention with the public feud between CNN and Buzzfeed that then followed. The tactic also had the aim of directing the public’s attention away from the message and towards the messengers..
In a famous television interview on Italian national television, #Silvio Berlusconi stage managed a signing ceremony of a “Contract with the public.” Seated at an ornate oak desk, he committed his government to specific aims within a fixed time period, much like Trump’s contracts to apparently resolve his issues of conflicts of interest. The contracts have little legal weight as the behavior of the signatory will be the final deciding factor on the issues, but the ostensible display was meant for a wide general public and not for the public authorities which may eventually question his behavior.
The common Russian element
The American intelligence services had deep suspicions about the friendly relations between Silvio Berlusconi and #Vladimir Putin which were linked to possible investments in Russia natural resources. For this reason, yesterday’s press conference further strengthened the parallels between Donald Trump and the now disgraced political leader..
The press conference was held under the shadow of the allegations of Russian interference in American politics and the release of an as yet unsubstantiated report regarding the alleged relations between the Trump Team and the Russian government. For these reasons the conference began with a statement addressing some aspects of the allegations, but which did not provide specific answers.
This theme continued during the questions to Trump which were answered with quick phrases that gave no real explanation and in the case of the CNN reporter with Trump’s the refusal to address his question. Again this sort of refusal regularly happened during Berlusconi’s press conferences in regards to journalists from newspapers considered as hostile to his political agenda.
Quo Vadis, or Where to now?
The parallels with Berlusconi can only give us a limited understanding of what to expect under the Trump Presidency beginning on January 20th. Italy is not regarded as the Leader of the free world, and the allegations of interference are of a level that the Italian former director never had to face. But we can expect to see the future POTUS continue to use show business like tactics rather than the traditional conservative political approach to handling any uncomfortable situations.
Yet there is one element in Trump’s situation that Berlusconi did not experience. The open opposition of prominent members of the Republican Party as we have seen from John McCain and particularly Mark Rubio in questioning the nomination of Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State. Is this the prelude to an eventual showdown between Trump and his own Party?