Luigi Barzini, my old pal and the author of so many fine books all written from his aerie above Rome -- his finest of which, The Italians, he wrote in English -- once jolted me by saying, "You Americans talk too much." Of course, he said it with affection. Back in the days of the Cold War, he was one of the few European intellectuals who really understood and admired America. What provoked him, however, was the famous euphuism of American politicians.
He objected to the empty bombast of our political wizards as they pursued one or another of their noble projects, say, ending world hunger or getting re-elected or leaving jail unencumbered by leg irons. I thought of Luigi when I read of the White House's newest, though apparently short-lived, communications director. His rant to The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza was memorable, but did it represent more empty bombast? I think he was in earnest, if X-rated.
His name is Anthony Scaramucci, and he goes by the nickname "the Mooch." Actually, I believe he chose the wrong syllable from his surname for a moniker. I would have chosen, at least for his latest project, "the Scar." If he were to carry out the president's orders, he would have had to play rough. His short-lived mission was supposedly to shut down the White House leaks and expose the perpetrators. To succeed in such a vast and complicated endeavor, he would have had to leave many scars and even more black-and-blue marks. I was cheering for him over the weekend, though at the outset he was going to have to turn his guns on none other than the White House staff. It is, according to my web of secret agents, filled with die-hard never-Trumpers and concealed agents of what the president has felicitously called "the swamp." President Donald Trump was too conciliatory toward them. They are all around him.
The Scar, as I shall remember him, obviously wanted to get everyone's attention, and his obscenity-laced tirade certainly accomplished that. At first when I heard his early F-bombs, as they say, I thought President Trump had invited a leading Democrat to serve as White House communications director, say, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel or Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez or even Hillary Clinton. But no -- it was an Italian guy from Long Island. That certainly would have pleased Luigi, and I think he would have forgiven the Scar's crudeness. America, whether governed by Republicans or Democrats, has changed in its cultural tastes since Luigi's days. And so, when one speaks menacingly of one's intentions, one had best use strong language in one's threats. My guess is that Luigi would have found nothing empty in the Scar's fortissimos. He would wince, but in the end, he would have approved.
In The Italians, Luigi spoke of his country's "ingovernabilita," or ungovernability. So rampant are the leaks in American government today that we are approaching ingovernabilita here on these fruited plains. Something has to be done. The leaks are coming from every corner of the government, especially the intelligence community. Recently, the former head of the FBI admitted to orchestrating a leak while testifying before Congress. He thought no one would object. The president has left so many empty seats open -- some needing Senate confirmation, some not -- that it is as though Clinton won the 2016 election. It all calls for Action this Day, whether from the Scar or a successor.
The new chief of staff, John F. Kelly, must recognize this. A former Marine general, he is a straight shooter. There may be bombast on Capitol Hill, but there will be none in the White House. And if it continues to be heard from the outer reaches of government, my guess is the general will know how to take care of it. He will not employ empty profanity. Kelly has the benefit of a secret shadowing him: He earned the uniform that he wore. Trump puts great stock in that uniform. Anyone who has heard Trump talk of it knows he recognizes that it means competence, duty and even heroism. My guess is the president has finally found his chief of staff.