The American Funhouse 

Within the last few weeks, in conversations I have had with well-educated American friends about the progression and treatment of the Corona virus, I have heard more than one comment about how we needed to take into account the obviously dubious quality of the Italian Health care system when seeking to understand the matter, a sentiment that was echoed by Joe Biden in his March 15th debate with Bernie Sanders.

Welcome to the American funhouse, where almost every reality about foreign cultures is seriously distorted, and where not unintelligent people, including “serious journalists”—which today is today increasingly synonymous with glib and history-challenged youngsters with expensive degrees—make blithe assumptions about  people and places they know little about.

According to virtually all available surveys, Italy’s health care system is far superior to that of the US in terms of both cost and outcomes. Indeed, one of the reasons that the Corona Virus, which preys quite disproportionally upon the elderly, is wreaking so much harm upon Italy now, is because the health care system there, like the similarly  excellent one in Spain, has done such a good job of ushering inordinate numbers of people into old age.

But among even well-educated Americans, not to mention supposedly experienced national politicians, it is taken as a given—to the point where there was no real serious pushback in the press to Biden’s ignorant slander of the Italian system—that things in other places obviously cannot be compared to the self-evident quality of things here.

And in the particular case of Italy, this general perception  goes well beyond  the issue of health care.

Everyone who knows anything “knows that the Italian political system, with the eternal tele-buffoon Berlusconi and its long history of  short-lived governmental coalitions  is a joke when compared to that of the mighty US.


Maybe so.  But to understand this history of apparent instability, it helps to know that even before World War II ended the US, through its intelligence services, was actively  intervening in the country’s politics in close coordination with the Sicilian mafia and a hardcore group of leftover Fascists, a coalition that remained very much  in force  until the early nineties, and according to some, is still quite alive today. That this was so, cannot be seriously questioned in view of available historical documentation.

The overarching goal of this power configuration was to insure that no government of the socialist or communist left, political positions that, taken together,  probably  represented a natural majority of the country’s citizens during much the time frame mentioned, would ever come to govern the country, and call into question its membership in NATO and its position within the Washington-led world capitalist order.

Pardon the metaphor, but if you had someone else’s hands constantly rustling around in your pants for four decades, my guess is that you would probably not come off,  on most occasions,   as the calmest and most stable person in the room.

And those that take the time to go beyond the official story know that a US government  that supported, or at least knowingly acquiesced,  to the use of state terrorism  —the 1980 Bologna train station bombing to give just one of the many, many examples that could be adduced—against the  populations of a valuable client state in order to insure desirable political outcomes, does not suddenly become moral and law-abiding when operating within its own borders.

State violence, especially when it proves  “successful”  in insuring desired ends as it was in Italy is a very  addictive condition.

The above musings, about clueless Italians and other tropes beloved by Americans came to me as I was watching  a panel discussion  on the 1992 murder of the Mafia-fighting judge Paolo Borsellino a few nights back on  RAI, Italy’s  public TV network.

Several people connected to the  Borsellino case  were interviewed. One of them made a long  and impassioned speech in which he stated that the judge had been killed with the connivance of important elements of the Italian state working in connection with the Mafia.  And after he did, many of  the other panelists nodded their heads  in assent.

But even more surprising—you’re never going believe this one—was the fact that no one tried to shut him and the conversation down by saying they didn’t “like his tone”, that he was a “conspiracy theorist” or “dangerous dupe” of a foreign government. They just sat there and contemplated the possibility that elements of their government were probably deeply involved in carrying out murderous dirty tricks against innocent people! And consequently,   the audience watching at home was forced to do the same!

Those Italians are so clueless and primitive when it comes to civic affairs, aren’t they?

They probably don’t  realize that when you spend your day in front of the funhouse mirrors  provided of the  “quality” US media like the NYT and NPR  you never have to hear, never mind contemplate, silly and disturbing thoughts  and  like the one expressed by that obviously misguided   panelist  on the RAI  program.


Thomas S. Harrington is a professor of Iberian Studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut and the author of the recently released  A Citizen’s Democracy in Authoritarian Times: An American View on the Catalan Drive for Independence  (University of Valencia Press, 2018).