Trump vs. Conte: Here in Italy our pasta isn’t the only thing that’s better than in U.S.

Italy prime minister Giuseppe Conte, right, was a law professor just two years ago. The Local Italy photo

Both came from nowhere to lead their countries. Both lead the countries with the most Covid-19 deaths in the world. Both address their nations on TV.

Both have a pulse — although I’m not sure both have hearts.

The similarities between Italy prime minister Giuseppe Conte and U.S. president Fuckface von Clownstick pretty much end there. As Italy’s coronavirus curve flattens and the United States’, until recently, followed the trajectory of Apollo 13, it’s time to compare the two leaders.

This is Day 52 in my Italy lockdown in Rome. I’ve left my neighborhood three times in seven weeks. I’ve cancelled three vacations. I’ve gone through every cookbook — in two languages — twice. I have severe dishpan hands. I’ve watched as the Lombardy region in my adopted country piles up bodies like it’s World War II. I’ve seen businesses in my beautiful city wither and die as well.

But I’ve also seen a man in Conte who calms me. He soothes me. He gives me confidence that we’ll get through this. He also tells me what to do, what we all must do, and only in that way can we get back to la dolce vita.

He has never used his pulpit to campaign for the next election. I don’t even know if he’s going to run. He has never patted himself on the back for a job well done. He has never lied, denied, taken credit for something he didn’t do then taken no responsibility for things that went wrong. And he sure never suggested we inject disinfectants. 

Italians inject wine, not Lemon Gard.

Sunday night Conte got on national TV as his Phase 1 plan comes to an end with encouraging results. Italy’s number of actual positives (virus cases minus deaths and recovered) has been in negative numbers for eight of the last nine days. The number of people in intensive care units has trended down for three straight weeks. The percentage of new cases compared to the previous day’s total has been under 2 percent for 10 straight days and the percentage of deaths has been under 2 percent nine of the last 10 days.

Granted, world scientists warn that official numbers are likely much lower than reality, considering many infected people without symptoms have not been tested and many die without getting tested. This is why when Conte got on TV Sunday to introduce Phase 2, he came across optimistic but cautious.

Phase 2 begins

Beginning Monday, factories and parks will open and restaurants will be available for takeaway. On May 18, museums and retail businesses will open and soccer teams can begin training (although the season has not been rescheduled yet). Masks must be worn on public transportation. Schools will open in September. By Monday, he will have more specifics about loosening the restrictions of individual movement.

About 24 hours earlier, Mango Mussolini blew off his daily press briefing in Washington, whining in a tweet with the same level of grammar as his functionally illiterate cult following, “What is the purpose of having White House News Conferences when the Lamestream Media asks nothing but hostile questions, & then refuses to report the truth or facts accurately.”

Meanwhile, the Center for Disease Control had to make a statement telling people not to inject bleach, although buying stock in Clorox would be advisable.

From a country with a political history as fractured and unstable as a jigsaw puzzle, Conte is Caesar Augustus to Hair Hitler’s Dennis the Menace.

Irene Caratelli of the American University of Rome

“(Conte) was the first leader of a democratic country to impose measures,” said Irene Caratelli, program director of International Relations and Global Politics at the American University of Rome. “Then the measures became a template.”

Who is Giuseppe Conte? Who is this man who just two years ago was a law professor and now is the prime minister with a 73-percent approval rating amidst Italy’s worst crisis since World War II? How’d this mid-level bureaucrat with an expansive vocabulary become a sex symbol and the subject of a movement called Le Bimbe di Giuseppe Conte (The Babes for Giuseppe Conte)?

Unlike Genghis Can’t, Conte, 55, wasn’t born with a silver cappuccino spoon in his mouth. He was born into a middle-class family in the tiny village of Volturara Appula, Puglia, (pop. 467) in the heel of Italy’s boot. His father was a public employee of a municipality and his mom an elementary school teacher.

Law professor

Conte studied law at the Sapienza University of Rome’s law school and became a professor of private law at the University of Florence and LUISS, one of Rome’s private universities. He’s on the board of trustees at John Cabot University of Rome.

In February 2018 he was selected as a possible future minister of public administration in the Five Star Movement (M5S), a populist party that was gaining a major foothold in Italian politics. He’d take the position after the general election in March.

However, the March general election resulted in a hung parliament with M5S and the right-wing League party sharing power. After weeks of getting little done, Italy president Sergio Mattarella demanded the two parties appoint a neutral caretaker leader of the new government. The two parties tried working out a coalition but couldn’t come to agreement. On May 21, the two parties recommended Conte to be the new prime minister.

Conte was a safe choice. He was independent. He was neutral. He had no strong following. After his appointment he said he would be a “defense lawyer of the Italian people.” 

And he was. He reformed the Italian tax system by introducing a flat tax for businesses and individuals and required no tax for low-income households. In September he introduced the Green New Deal to address climate change and economic inequality. He publicly praised students protesting climate change.

Freelance journalist Eric J. Lyman

“What I think the challenge Conte has is not just to balance the health needs of Italians and the economic needs of the country but he’s pulling together a contentious coalition,” said American freelance journalist Eric J. Lyman, who writes frequently about Italian politics from Rome. “He’s really doing a high-wire act.”

Conte remained under the international gaze except in July when the Cheeto-Faced Cumtrumpet called him “my new friend” for his strong anti-immigration policy. Of course, New York Pork Dork even butchered that comment by spelling Conte’s name in the tweet “Giuseppi.” My baristas in my corner coffee bar write better English than the U.S. president.

Conte’s anonymity, however, evaporated quickly when the coronavirus hit Italy like an acid storm. France had the first coronavirus case in Europe but Italy was the first to get a major wave and Conte laid down the hammer. The first cases in Italy were two Chinese tourists in Rome on Jan. 31. That same day Conte suspended all flights to and from China.

On Feb. 21, 16 cases emerged in small towns in Lombardy and the next day came 60 more and the first death. Conte quarantined 11 towns around the outbreak’s epicenter and on March 8 quarantined all of Lombardy. On March 9, in a national address, he became the first leader to lock down an entire country.

Mistakes were made

He did make mistakes. On Jan. 21, Italy hosted a Chinese delegation for a concert at the National Academy of Santa Cecilia to inaugurate the year of an Italy-China Culture and Tourism. Early on he blamed Italy’s high numbers on aggressive testing. His shutdown strategy was always two steps behind the spread of the virus and critics say he didn’t communicate rules of isolation strong enough.

However, excuse Conte and Italy for never having faced a pandemic like this. 

“I don’t think that the majority was his fault,” Lyman said. “He was listening to his advisors and nobody knew what they were dealing with at the beginning. Also, everybody made a mistake at the beginning. He did make some missteps and I was one of the people to write that from the very beginning. His message has been unclear sometimes but these seem to be very minor sins compared to other stuff we see from other countries.

“It’s hard for me to believe that Conte was in there listening to his doctors saying, ‘This is a big deal’ and he’s saying, ‘No, it’s not.’”

And when this started to roil into a catastrophe he didn’t get much help.

“Nobody was supporting,” Caratelli said. “France and the UK were very skeptical. Italy was left alone at the very beginning of the Covid-19 crisis. Europe was completely absent. Excuses and apologies came much later.”

Conte served as the guiding light for the rest of the world as the virus spread to every corner of the globe. Besides wearing masks, Conte emphasized the greater importance of isolation and social distancing. Except for my girlfriend, I haven’t touched another human being — or been within a meter of one — since early March.

Italy isn’t China where the government can tell 1.4 billion people to do something and they do it purely based on fear.

“I give Conte the biggest credit, the biggest feather in his cap, for taking what the cliche says is an ‘undisciplined population’ and convinced them to largely obey these rules,” Lyman said. “He’s done it by giving them the proof that there’s competent leadership, that what can be done is being done and what can’t be done they’re trying to figure out how to make it be done and they’re doing all the right steps based on science. They’re not making political calculations or emotional calculations. 

“This is why for the most part 99 percent of Italians are obeying the rules. I never would’ve thought this at the beginning. I’d be like, National lockdown? For 50 days? Good luck.”

Caratelli does point out flaws in Conte’s Phase 2 message. People can go to funerals but not churches. Unlike in Germany which requires masks, Conte only strongly recommends it on the streets. Some doubt remains about schools actually opening in September. Some confusion remains.

WHO, EU at fault

Her biggest beefs are with more established organizations than Italy’s two-year-old government.

“We have institutions that are meant to prevent these crises, namely the World Health Organization and the World Health Organization has really not been doing its job,” she said. “If the World Health Organization had done its job we wouldn’t be where we are.”

She said the WHO waited until China invited it after the outbreak before investigating. She also said after Italy closed flights from China (“and were very strongly criticized for that”), the EU still allowed flights to go from Beijing to Berlin to Rome. 

“What a stupid idea, to close your flights and keep flights within the European Union,” she said. “So the European Union didn’t do its job. The European Union should take a coordinated, collective response to what was happening, establishing a level of threat altogether and measures altogether.”

Hey, it could be worse. I could be living in the U.S. where the Fascist Carnival Barker saw what Italy was doing and instead of following suit and learning from Conte’s mistakes, he worked on his short game. From Jan. 31, when Italy banned flights from China, to March 8 Groper in Chief held six political rallies and played golf four times.

Look at Moneydiaper McStupid’s coronavirus timeline and it reads like the script of a bad sit-com:

Jan. 15 — First virus case hits U.S.

Jan. 30 — WHO declares a global health emergency.

Jan. 31 — U.S. puts restrictions on flights from China, barring entry from foreign nationals who had recently visited China and put some American travelers under quarantine.

Feb. 24 — Cheddar Boy tweets, “The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA … Stock Market starting to look very good to me.”

March 9 — Sack of Gilded Lunchmeat tweets: “Last year 31,000 Americans died from the common flu … At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!”

March 13 — Unhinged Taco Truck declares national emergency.

March 16 — Teflon Don advises self isolation for 15 days.

March 17 — Short-Fingered Vulgarian says, “I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.”

March 26 — U.S. takes over world lead in coronavirus cases.

March 29 — Lord Dampnut extends social distancing to April 30.

April 11 — U.S. overtakes Italy for most deaths in the world with 19,877.

U.S. passing Italy in per capita

Unfair to compare the U.S. with Italy? OK. The U.S. has 3,151 cases per 1 million people to Italy’s 3,333 but at its rate will pass Italy this weekend. As of Wednesday, the U.S., with 4 percent of the world’s population, has 33 percent (1,035,765) of the world’s total coronavirus cases and 27 percent (59,266) of the world’s deaths. 

About a dozen state capitals have had protests from mobs demanding looser restrictions in light of 26 million unemployed, meaning American’s second wave of coronavirus may be just around the nearest gravestone.

Unlike Conte, nothing the Decomposing Jack O’Lantern has done has instilled confidence, hope or guidance to anyone except blind cultists more interested in his brand than human lives. He is quickly catching James Buchanan as the worst president in U.S. history and if his public meltdown continues, by next fall what Joe Biden will face in debates will be a big pile of orange, hairy goo.

It saddens me to watch my old country circle the drain into economic armageddon with bodies piling up all over New York. But Italy is my home, forever more, and watching Conte on TV reassures me that the bel paese will return intact. 

It’s what leadership does. Long before the U.S. lost its first life to this pandemic, it lost its leadership, too.