Since 1999, Chris Mathews has hosted "Hardball with Chris Matthews" on MSNBC. All those years as a centerpiece of the liberal-leaning cable news network have, however, left Mr. Matthews none the wiser when it comes to historical reality. A recent comment on-air by Mr. Matthews is a glaring example of this.
In the June 29 airing of "Hardball with Chris Matthews," the host pursued one of his favorite themes since Donald Trump was sworn in as America's 45th president; nepotism and allegations that Trump is creating a family dynasty akin to the Romanovs of Imperial Russia. However, in pursuing his obsession, particularly in relation to the president's son-in-law Jared Kushner, Mr. Matthews' words ran way ahead of him. Referring to Kushner, Mr. Matthews said, "So the son-in-law, you know, one good thing Mussolini did was execute his son-in-law."
Putting aside the poor taste of at least creating the impression that Mr. Matthews thinks it might be doing "one good thing" for President Trump to have his son-in-law executed, the comment reveals a dismal lack of historical knowledge, particularly for a long-time political commentator who has built a reputation for sophisticated insights.
Regarding the "one good thing" Mussolini did, here is the historical context. The son-in-law in question was Count Galeazzo Ciano, who married Mussolini's daughter Edda. In 1936, he was appointed foreign minister of Fascist Italy by his father-in-law.
Ciano was initially an ardent fascist, and supported Mussolini's worst excesses, such as the invasion of Ethiopia and support of Franco in the Spanish Civil War. However, when Ciano was assigned the role of representing Mussolini in negotiations with Hitler over the developing Axis alliance between the two totalitarian states, the young foreign minister (he was only 33 years old when appointed to his post) began to change his views. Over time, he came to see the evil in Hitler, and when Nazi Germany invaded Poland, he did everything humanly possible to keep his country out of the Second World War. He argued vociferously with his father-in-law that entering the war would be a disaster for Italy, and for nine months succeeded in at least delaying Mussolini's declaration of war.
We know a great deal about Ciano's transformation in his attitude towards Mussolini and his Nazi allies because he kept a detailed diary recording his candid observations, especially about the leaders of Nazi Germany and the warmongers in his own country. The Ciano diaries would become an important source document for historians of the Second World War. On the day Mussolini overruled his son-in-law and decided to enter the war as Nazi Germany's ally, Ciano wrote in his diary, "I am sad, very sad. The adventure begins. May God help Italy!"
As far as the execution Mussolini ordered for his son-in-law, the act that Chris Matthews highlighted as the "one good thing" Mussolini did, here are the facts. In mid-1943, Ciano was one of the members of the Fascist Grand Council who voted to depose Mussolini, believing only through the dictator's removal could Italy be spared from becoming a bloody battlefield. Unfortunately, German military intervention rescued Mussolini, and ensured that Italy would become a major battlefield in the Second World War. Ciano was taken into custody by Mussolini's rump fascist state and its German protectors. Seeking revenge, Mussolini arranged for a show trial that would condemn to death all the members of the Fascist Grand Council who voted for his removal. Ciano was at the top of the list of "traitors," not only for his opposition to Mussolini, but also because the Nazi leadership knew Ciano was an enemy, and encouraged Mussolini to have his son-in-law killed.
In prison awaiting death, Ciano arranged with his wife having his diaries smuggled out of Italy. The last entry of the diary is deeply moving. Ciano condemns Mussolini, marking his final break with the fascist regime, then writes, "Within a few days a sham tribunal will make public a sentence which has already been decided by Mussolini…It is hard to think that I shall not be able to gaze into the eyes of my three children or to press my mother to my heart, or my wife, who in my hours of sorrow has revealed herself a strong, sure, and faithful companion. But I must bow to the will of God, and a great calm is descending upon my soul. I am preparing myself for the Supreme Judgment."
And so, Mr. Matthews, explain again how the execution of this man was the one good thing Mussolini did, and why this is an example that President Donald Trump should emulate?