Is there a moment when a fanatical leader can be stopped before he takes a nation into the abyss? A moment when those with the moral determination to stop him can act before it is too late?
These questions are not academic. Every day Trump stress tests this republic’s defenses against a demagogue.
History has such moments. They need to be heeded.
In Italy the moment came on Aug. 16, 1924.
For more than two months, one of Benito Mussolini’s most formidable opponents, Giacomo Matteotti, a socialist member of the Italian parliament, had been missing.
Mussolini had been prime minister for 20 months. In April 1924, his power was consolidated by a landslide victory, the fascists winning more than 65 percent of the vote. Given this mandate in a democratically run national election, Mussolini hesitated to take the next step that his followers wanted and expected—to seize absolute, autocratic power.
Then, on that August day, during road works in a Roman suburb, Matteotti’s body, eviscerated by multiple stab wounds, was unearthed in a ditch.
Matteotti wasn’t a leftist rabble-rouser. He was wealthy patrician landowner with progressive views. He saw through the falsity of Mussolini’s pose as a man of the people. Mussolini, he warned, would ride to dictatorship on the backs of the masses who were being conditioned by propaganda to believe their interests were his. [Continue reading…]