20

America’s Berlusconi

LONDON – For the past couple of weeks, the world has been guessing at how US President-elect Donald Trump will behave in office and what policies he will pursue, following a long campaign full of contradictory statements. America’s previous businessman-presidents – Warren G. Harding and Herbert Hoover – were around too long ago to provide much guidance. There is, however, a recent European precedent: Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi.

What Trump has achieved, Berlusconi pioneered. Like Trump, Berlusconi is a businessman who made his first fortune in real estate. When he entered politics in 1994, he was an outsider, albeit one who, also like Trump, had long been close to plenty of insiders.

The similarities don’t end there. Both Trump and Berlusconi are intimately familiar with the insides of courtrooms; Trump has moved fast since the election to settle fraud lawsuits against Trump University, but has about 70 other suits outstanding against him and his businesses. And both have an array of conflicts of interest with their role as head of government, thanks to their large business empires.

Berlusconi, like Trump, managed to present himself as a rich man and a populist. He preferred to communicate directly with the people, bypassing traditional media and party structures. His propensity for glamorous women and glitzy homes somehow enhanced his popular appeal.