“Italians,” the great 20th-century Italian writer Ennio Flaiano once remarked, “always rush to the aid of the victor.” But what happens when there’s no clear victor? Or no coherent ideological line between government and opposition? Then where do you run?
Flaiano’s line has come to mind lately as we’ve watched Italy shift its tone and focus to adjust to a new reality: its recent switch from a right-wing government to a leftish one, one with the same anti-establishment party, the Five Star Movement, at its core, and the same prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, at its head.
Much has been made of how Conte has taken the time-honored Italian tradition of trasformismo—switching allegiances depending on how the wind blows—to entirely new dimensions. But it’s been particularly fascinating to observe how the press has changed its tone.
Coverage of Matteo Salvini has been instructive: The leader of the right-wing, nativist League party was riding high in the polls—and in the media—until he brought down the government last month in a bid for early elections, and failed, at least for now, after his rivals teamed up to block him. In the 15 months in which Salvini was interior minister, he had taken up all the media oxygen in the country with his constant campaigning, his Donald-Trump-inspired calls for “Italians First,” and his more-than-harsh stance on immigration—blocking ports so ships that had rescued migrants at sea couldn’t dock, and passing new security measures that further criminalized boats that rescued migrants. (The new government may roll back elements of the legislation.)