After his release from the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Monday, October 5, President Donald Trump staged a stoic appearance on the White House balcony. Many have since likened the photo-op to the famous balcony speeches of the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.
Heavily medicated, Trump stepped out of the Marine One helicopter on the White House lawn and climbed the stairs leading to the Truman balcony, where he removed his mask and held two thumbs up to the press. While still considered contagious, he saluted stately to the air force crew that transported him as a White House photographer was in his close vicinity.
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“This is a Mussolini moment,” an MSNBC commentator stated on air, adding that Trump “looks like he has makeup on, which means someone had to get close enough to make up his face with his favorite orange patina.”
Despite Trump’s attempt to embody the image of a strong, recovered leader who has beaten the “China virus,” he was visibly gasping for breath on the balcony. Still maskless, he later tweeted a video address from inside the White House in which he downplayed the virus again, saying, “Don’t let it dominate you. Don’t be afraid of it.”
Mussolini, also known as Il Duce, carried out many of his historic speeches from a balcony overlooking Piazza Venezia in Rome. That is where he announced the Italian Empire in 1936 and declared war on France and Britain in 1940.
Anthony Scaramucci, who served as the White House Director of Communications for a brief period of 10 days in July of 2017, said on CNN: “And you’ve got, I don’t know, the American Mussolini, standing on the balcony … we’ve never had a president stand on that balcony and do what he just did.”
Journalist and filmmaker Matt Danzico found eerie similarities between the White House’s dramatic video of Trump’s “heroic” return from the hospital and shots from Leni Riefenstahl’s 1935 Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will. Danzico edited a sequence that showcases similarities between scenes of Trump and Adolf Hitler descending from an aircraft, waving at supporters, and saluting from a balcony.
What’s more, Trump has stated many times that he might not agree to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the elections. That, historians say, is a clear warning sign of the potential rise of a fascist leader in the United States.
“You want to go into history to look for something like this? Go into Italian history and look at Mussolini,” said historian Michael Beschloss, the author of nine books on American presidents, in an interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. “This is the way dictators come to power,” he added.