Yesterday, Miles Coleman of the University of Virginia Center for Politics tweeted a photo of an old newspaper with the headline “Effort Being Made to Impeach Gov. Long.” The article refers to Huey Long, the governor and US Senator of Louisiana who ruled the state with an iron hand during the Depression. The Louisiana House impeached him but his trial in the state senate was suspended when a third of the senators signed a petition saying that they would not vote to convict.
I’ve long thought that Donald Trump and Long had similarities. Long was a left-leaning populist with authoritarian instincts while Trump is right-leaning strongman wannabe. Long had more of a political agenda than Trump, but both men used political theater to rally a base of working class voters. Both also fought with the press. Long set up his own newspaper to counter the negative media coverage he received. Trump has adopted Fox News as his state propaganda vehicle.
The smell of corruption surrounded Long and surrounds Trump today. Long handed out contracts to political allies to build roads, schools and hospitals. Much of Trump’s inner circle has been indicted or convicted of crimes and he’s refused to divest himself from business interests like the Trump Hotel just down the street from the White House.
But Trump is even more like former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, another center-right populist . Berlusconi is a billionaire media mogul who became prime minister with no political background. Despite a long string of corruption allegations, sex scandals and racist remarks, he’s remained on the Italian political scene for twenty-five years. Today, he’s a member of the European Parliament.
Berlusconi is dismissive of criticism just like Trump. And like Trump, he uses accusations against him to rally his base. His supporters will overlook blatant corruption, boorish behavior and bigoted remarks. He was elected to the European parliament after he was convicted of tax fraud.
Berlusconi and Long offer insights to a post-Trump America. Long was assassinated in 1935 as sitting US Senator but his machine long out-lived him. His brother, Earl, served several terms as governor and his son, Russell, was in the US Senate for almost 40 years. Berlusconi’s still popular in Italy today. Nothing Trump does will change his base’s perception of him. He has transformed the GOP as much as Reagan did, changing it from a traditional conservative party to right-leaning populist one.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >