24/07/2022

Commedia dell'arte or the Art of Comedy

3 min
Commedia dell'arte or the art of comedy

Commedia dell'arte: improvised street performance. Arte here means a profession and commedia is what actors improvise on stage at they perform. Each piece is different, the authors of the play are the same people who perform it and the characters are more or less always the same.

Every day politics becomes more and more like the Commedia dell'arte and the show is losing the necessary credibility for society to identify with it or take it seriously, and this paves the way for anti-politics and populism. We do not learn: the sum of economic crises, political discredit and polarisation already gave sinister results last century against which, stupidly, we do not seem to have immunised ourselves.

The week has been particularly bloody for the defenders of the art of politics, not of comedy, understood as public action in a commitment to improve citizens' living.

In Italy, Colombina, Harlequin, Pedrolino and Pantaleon have performed an icy autopsy on the coalition government led by Mario Draghi. The country is sinking into uncertainty after elections were called for September 25 in an atomised scenario and without tempered leaderships at a delicate moment. The differences between the government partners on economic reforms and Draghi's position in favour of the sale of arms to Ukraine have killed a unity government which acted as a dam holding back the neo-fascist Brothers of Italy, led by the radical Giorgia Meloni.

Executive Draghi inspired more trust in European partners than in Italy itself, but pressure from the European Union and the United States to save the former president of the European Central Bank's premiereship has not been enough. Draghi refused to adopt an accommodative discourse that would disguise the medium and long-term policies that have social costs and did not fit with parties that prefer to tell voters what they want to hear.

The era of the spectacle demands far higher quotas of gesticulation and dishonesty than Draghi has been willing to accept.

Draghi's destabilisation has coincided with Boris Johnson's agitated farewell over different reasons, but neither is a good sign for the maintenance of the joint European strategy against Russian encroachment. Both governments have fallen, but, for once, the one in London has fallen more spectacularly than the one in Rome.

The departures of Draghi and Johnson affect the power of the institutions and the exercise of authority in two countries critical for the future of Ukraine and also the allies.

When politics is only the ability to be obeyed by subordinates (potestas) and does not earn the auctoritas, it is easy for the house of cards that is the always difficult social contract to collapse. An agreement which, today, with the social ladder missing so many rungs, is agonising in many democratic countries.

Prestige and reputation are achieved when admiration or at least respect and trust are won.

When it is the leader who breaks the rules of the game, as in the USA, society is fractured and the consequences are profound and unpredictable.

The investigation into Donald Trump's responsibility in the assault on the Capitol is an example of the consequences of populism's access to the levers of power.

In Catalonia we are not exempt from the dangers of opportunistic leadership. There is no vaccine beyond accountability, transparency and a press that does the job of explaining what some want to be left unexplained. Ant this stands above all in the public media, which are not a tool at the disposal of short-term individual interests, and where we will soon see if the opportunity to elect its leaders with a transparent and meritocratic competition is taken.

Catalan politics is late in terms of accountability, and the distance between what our representatives say in public and in private is huge. For example, more than one Catalan minister opposes JxCat eventually leaving the coalition government and expects a gesture from Speaker Laura Borràs to avoid the degradation of the institution before she is subpoenaed. But most are silent in public and uncomfortable in private. They know that part of the justice system acts as the political arm of the Spanish right wing, but also that favouring a friend with public contracts should be a red line for good governance regardless of anyone's ideology.

Democratic quality is built through big decisions and small gestures. The question is whether to fight the battle or to give up. Whether the aim is to look good on social media or to do what is necessary with high standards.