The Corner

The Donald and the Duce

Andrew Roberts, the British historian, has written a column headed “Donald Trump is the Mussolini of America with double the vulgarity.” He begins with an anecdote about Trump, having to do with Mrs. Trump (the incumbent), another woman, and table seating.

Then he writes,

It is something that would not even have been done by the statesman who most closely resembles Donald Trump in history, Benito Mussolini, who at least respected the outward appearances of marriage in his most Catholic of countries. Otherwise, Mussolini — the other master of the ludicrously bombastic speech and the deliberately jutting jaw and the impossible-to-fulfil promises — is clearly Trump’s secret template. And now the Iowa caucus looks like being the first step of the Trumpian equivalent of Mussolini’s infamous March on Rome.

That last sentence puts me in mind of a phrase — French, not Italian: Arc de Trump?

Reading Andrew made me think of something in my recent book, about the sons and daughters of dictators. Pardon the self-reference, or rather, the reference to one’s own book (a book, I won’t shrink from saying, that Andrew Roberts did me the honor of blurbing).

Mussolini had hundreds of women and an unguessable number of children. Officially, he had five (children, that is). The eldest son was Vittorio — who was just a boy when he learned of his father’s habitual adultery. “It shook me terribly,” he was later to write. It also “doubled my affection for my mother, whom I felt I must defend at all costs.”

Ultimately, Vittorio accepted his father’s adultery, on “What can you do?” grounds.

About Signora Mussolini, I wish to quote my book:

It is sometimes said that Rachele accepted her husband’s affairs nonchalantly or stoically, the good Italian wife, or dictator’s wife. This is not necessarily true: When she learned of Claretta Petacci, she swallowed bleach. A maid found her, forced her to vomit, and sent for help. Romano writes that the maid saved his mother’s life.

Romano was the Mussolinis’ youngest son, who became a jazz pianist and married Sophia Loren’s sister. But that’s another story …

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