Illustration by Ahmed Bilal

Glass Ceilings & Giorgia Meloni

Italy has elected their first female Prime Minister, who sees Benito Mussolini as inspiration and is likely to form a far right coalition government. Does it matter if the ‘glass ceiling’ is broken by illiberal politicians?

Oct 2, 2022

Italy has never been a country of political stability. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the nation has lurched from one political crisis to the next, going through 20 coalition governments in a little over three decades. A year and a half after his appointment as Prime Minister, Mario Draghi, who handled the Eurozone crisis as European Central Bank leader giving him the moniker “Super Mario,” resigned as populist forces within his government refused to back an economic stimulus package.
This resignation triggered a “snap election” on the Sept. 25, the first since constitutional reforms passed through a referendum to cut the number of senators and MPs by a total of 345. These reforms had been backed by the antiestablishment Five Star Movement, which aimed to capitalize on the Italian desire for direct democracy amidst widespread corruption. In 2018, Five Star became the largest political party in the Italian parliament. Neoliberal democratic governance was failing Italians, or at least that was the perception.
Like in many other countries, the general antiestablishment sentiment emboldened a new force on the Italian right wing political scene: the Brothers of Italy party. This occurred in the wake of Five Star’s decline, which some thought was the “end of populist politics in Italy.”
Five Star’s relative political moderation and failure to generate a coherent vision led Italy to drift back towards the right. After Italy was liberated from the Allies during World War II, Giorgio Almirante founded the Italian Social Movement which only received a small percentage of the vote but reminded Italians that authoritarianism and nationalism still held a potent appeal. Giorgia Meloni joined the movement’s youth branch at a young age and then proceeded to lead it after it became the “National Alliance” in the 1990s.
Now, the movement just rose from a relatively minor force in Italian politics to earning 26 percent of the national vote, more than any other political party amidst the failure of the unity coalition led by Draghi.
The far right at least overtly stands for its principles, while the center has failed to define its vision. Meloni, while right wing, may not be overtly fascist but nonetheless she supports the isolated Orbán government in Hungary that was downgraded by the European Parliament’s classification scheme to an “electoral autocracy”.
She reiterates worldwide far right rhetoric on the dangers of an “ethnic substitution” by increased immigration and supports the same antiabortion and anti LGBTQ policy rhetoric that has gained ground in the United States and led many to flee certain states.
Meloni has shown a dangerous admiration for authoritarianism. In fact, she once told French television that “Mussolini was a good politician” who worked well for Italy. In contrast with her public moderation over the invasion of Ukraine that the EU establishment is thankful for, her 2021 book identifies Putin’s Russia as defending “European values and Christian identity”. Her party’s slogan “God, country, family” also echoes these fascist roots, with its message dating from the general secretary of the National Fascist Party in 1931, Giovanni Giuriati.
Are we making much ado of nothing? Is Meloni just another right-wing populist set to crash and burn like Donald Trump, or mirror the political dysfunction of Silvio Berlusconi’s four governments? Perhaps the left wing media has found yet another source of fuel for the outrage cycle. But celebrating the smashing of the glass ceiling by electing a woman who pledges to reinforce patriarchal structures and marginalization of disadvantaged communities proves how identity politics can distract from danger.
We can celebrate leaders coming from historically disempowered groups, but it is important to keep in mind that any movement can take advantage of neoliberal political socialization and provide a surface level veneer of inclusivity to make toxic and radical right wing policies appear more palatable.
Europe currently sits at a crossroads, facing a tough energy crisis that will force an early confrontation of the transition away from fossil fuels. Challenging economic conditions foster populism that tends to resurge and scapegoat the old political order for issues faced by everyday people.
This is not inherently problematic, but provides a vehicle for empty promises and authoritarianism disguised as support for the everyday citizen. Relatively little media coverage went to the historically low turnout of this election.
The combination of radicalization and complacency is dangerous to any democracy and it will continue to grow in strength as the former mainstream democratic parties fail to speak to the struggles that everyday people face in keeping the lights on and show what can be done within existing political systems. And making election outcomes like these about representing different identities, while ignoring their concrete implications for all groups of people including the supposedly empowered, only stands to further ingrain apathy.
Ethan Fulton is Senior Opinion Editor and Satire Columnist. Email him at
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