The Thing Scaramucci Gets Right
by Benjamin Studebaker
From time to time, we get famous speakers at Cambridge. Yesterday brought us Anthony “The Mooch” Scaramucci–President Trump’s briefly tenured communications director. The Mooch had some low points. When asked about climate change, Scaramucci claimed that the phenomenon is 60% human caused, but 40% caused by “natural cycles” which affect “the earth’s position relative to the sun.” This drew audible laughter from the audience. I learned in middle school about the Milankovitch cycles–the problem for the Mooch is that they take tens of thousands of years and move much too slowly to account in any significant way for changes in the climate that occur over just a couple hundred years. But while the man has his flaws, he did make one point that bears repeating–for some reason, it’s still okay in American politics to pick on Italian-Americans.
See, the Mooch pointed something out to us, and once you see it you can’t unsee it. Most of the jokes made at his expense references his ethnicity. Here’s a Colbert monologue from the beginning of Scaramucci’s tenure:
Let’s count all the jokes and attacks Colbert makes at the Mooch’s expense:
- “Former lawyer whose ad is above the urinal”
- “Scaramucci’s like adding Scrappy Doo or Cha Chee to happy days”
- In an Italian accent: “The Mooch! Ayyyy it’s the Mooch. Ayyyy baby can we get another round over here for the Mooch, please!”
- Scaramucci’s “resume” includes “Being a joke, Trump hanging-on, and whacking stoolies”
- Repeatedly saying “hey” in an Italian accent throughout the monologue.
- In an Italian accent: “Yeah, I love you Spicey, you’re a tremendous guy, you’re gonna make a tremendous amount of money while I take your paycheck. Now take your *expletive* shinebox and get outta here!”
- In an Italian accent: “And you could smile more, would that hurt you so much if you smile, you’re so pretty when you smile.”
- Reads all Scaramucci quotes in the Italian accent.
- Makes fun of the way Scaramucci handles an interview about the Russia scandal: “Why are we wasting this guy on communications, he should be the head of national security.”
- In an Italian accent: “Tell you what, do your dirtiest, I’m never gonna tell you our launch codes. Okay, how about 379562.”
- Again in the accent: “Baby can we get another round? Can we get another round please? I’ve been waiting. What’s taking it? Can we get some bottle service for this table or what?”
- Points out that the Mooch called Trump “a hack politician” during the primaries.
- But then back to the accent: “Yeah, bring it Donald. Okay? Bring it. Specifically those sweet butt cheeks cuz the Mooch is ready to smooch.”
- Quotes an article Scaramucci wrote which implicitly attacks Trump.
- Throws up an old tweet in which Scaramucci misquotes Mark Twain.
- In an Italian accent: “Yeah, I saw him, I saw this guy win a game of Connect Four with just three pieces. I once saw this guy, he’s on the green, okay? Pebble beach. I saw him hit a hole in none. I once saw him eat a whole taco bowl and then jump straight into the pool, no cramps. I mean, this man is a primo athlete, I mean just look at him. Look at that guy. Oh, the Mooch likes what he sees. It’s smooching time!”
Of the sixteen I noticed, 10 of the 16 reference the fact that Scaramucci is Italian. Of those 10, about half are merely doing an Italian accent and half are clearly referencing Italian-American stereotypes. The two worst offences:
- Colbert plays up the sexism angle by insinuating that Italian-Americans are sexist. The “ayyy baby” jokes and “could you smile more” are not Scaramucci quotations, they are things Colbert imagines Scaramucci probably says or has said because he is Italian-American.
- Colbert invokes the dumb mobster stereotype–“whacking stoolies”, “win a game of Connect Four with just three pieces,” and “take your *expletive shinebox,” the last of which directly references Goodfellas:
Catholic Americans–including both Irish and Italian-Americans–used to face substantial economic discrimination in the United States. In the past, Italian-Americans were sometimes targeted by the KKK, even lynched, and Catholics of all stripes often faced employment and wage discrimination. This began changing during the New Deal Era. In an effort to placate Southern Democrats, FDR’s programs often excluded African-Americans from benefits, but they included the Irish and the Italians. By 1961, we had a Catholic president, and today Catholics are economically smack dab in the middle of the pack:
Few would now claim that Catholics–especially non-Hispanic Irish or Italian Catholics–are materially oppressed in the United States. But in spite of this, we sometimes still stereotype these groups and make jokes at their expense. The status inequality between mainline Protestants and Catholics in the United States hasn’t quite yet been wholly resolved. Many of the contemporary stereotypes are tied to the history of Italian-American mob activity during the prohibition era, when many low income Italian-Americans found that the best economic opportunities available to them were in the rum-running industry. Those mob stereotypes–perpetuated in movies and TV and by comedians like Colbert–continue to unfairly socially penalize Italian-Americans for having been economically disadvantaged at the wrong moment in American history, even though today the mob is a shell of its former self, with only an estimated 3,000 members left in the United States.
There are so many good reasons to criticize someone like Scaramucci. His comments on climate change were deeply ignorant, and he has a history of supporting union-crushing tax-cutters, like Mitt Romney and Scott Walker. But the American left has consistently found it easier to just slap him with old, tired mob stereotypes. Surely we can do better?