One of the best things about power is that the rest of us can watch people fall from it. Ceausescu, for example. Who can forget the two-bit tyrant’s face as the crowd beneath his balcony told him, in worm-turning chorus, to fuck off? Incredulity, affront, rage, more incredulity, as though he’d been cheeked by his footman. Some days later he was strapped to a chair in a drably painted office in one of his own palaces, his wife beside him, waiting for the footman to shoot them both through the head.
That’s the short route. There’s a slower, less dramatic one but it’s just as riveting seen from the square below. As I write, we’re being treated to the sight of Silvio Berlusconi stumbling through the gilded corridors of Palazzo Chigi, elevated heels clicking on the marble, towards his own fatal balcony. He prides himself on being democratically elected, which is true in the academic sense that acknowledges Bush and Mugabe and Karzai to have been democratically elected. But that means nothing, because at this point his pride means nothing, or begins to, dio volendo. He’s as driven as Ceausescu was by hubris and contempt for those who don’t see things his way and, until very recently, apparently under the illusion that he no more needed to respond to his critics – other than to stigmatise them as communists and subversives – than did his Romanian predecessor. He’d jail them if he could. In the meantime, he’ll sue them into the ground.
So it’s wonderful to watch him reeling from misjudgement to misjudgement like some late Rocky, the vaudeville smile increasingly manic beneath the make-up, the off-screen scowl increasingly dark. For someone who rates his grip of the situation so highly, his feeling for the consumer and their needs so unfailingly and instinctively right, he must be wondering how so much could have gone wrong so fast. He must be wondering, drifting punch-drunk from door to door, how a flirt with an attention-greedy teenager, under the conniving eye of her pandering family, could have led to this inexplicable meltdown, where nobody understands him, nobody loves him any longer, whatever the polls might say. And even the polls. From 68% to 53% in a matter of months. Et tu, Piepoli.
Of all his friends – the Vatican, the National Alliance, the Northern League – only one has turned out not to be fair-weather, and that’s the Northern League, which has less market value abroad than the Festival di Sanremo, whose patron saints are Bernard Manning and David Irving. Propped up by a gaggle of lowbrow populists who think they live in the magical land of Padania, sustained by cut-throat journalists on his family payroll and toadies on RAI tv, raging against the communist press and the lies the world, the world, THE WORLD, is telling about him, criticised by his scheming wife and ungrateful daughter, in the echoing silence of his air-brushed son, he’s moving, step by step, towards the final light.