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Having lived two years in Italy decades ago, I fell in love with European programming when I discovered MHz a few years back. Naturally, I watched lots of French and German and Swedish shows too, but mostly I loved watching everything Italian I could find. And while it was as rejuvenating as a cold aranciata during ferragosto, watching the shows was unsettling, too.

Italy had changed a great deal in forty years.

My reaction helps me understand what so many white Americans chanting “Make America Great Again!” are feeling.

The Italy I knew was full of corruption. The streets of Rome were dirty, those in Naples filthy beyond description. Two of my friends lived in a one-room apartment without a bathroom. They had a bucket behind a curtain. Once, I inadvertently walked into a Camorra gang war. Another time, a middle-aged woman pulled me into her apartment to watch the news—the Pope had just been shot.

The Italy I knew was far from perfect. Very, very far.

But while there I discovered the practicality of public transit—buses, metros, light rail, trams, ferries, even a funicolare.

I discovered friendly strangers who welcomed me to their dinner table after only a two-minute chat. I discovered fresh mozzarella, real bread, Nutella.

A middle-aged woman gave me a sweater on a cold winter day. A destitute elderly woman shared her last bit of sour milk. A heterosexual Italian roommate held my hand and kissed me goodnight.

When we hear mostly white Americans say they want to Make America Great Again, we assume they want Jim Crow laws, they want LGBTQ folks back in the closet or even prison, they want women pregnant and trapped in their marriages. Perhaps they even long for a return of slavery.

And I think a certain portion of these folks do.

But I think many others just want a return to familiarity, despite a full awareness of its failings.

When I watch Italian TV shows, I see Livia and Salvo mourn the death of a Tunisian boy they almost adopted. I watch Sophia Loren in The Life Ahead as a Jewish Holocaust survivor who takes in a Senegalese orphan. Don Matteo in a charming mountain village proves one Filipino immigrant innocent of attempted murder while urging another Filipino immigrant to confess. Song of Napoli shows the Napoli I know…but with a female African-Italian police officer. Lampedusa reveals the absolute horrors of illegal immigration and its impact on everyone involved.

This isn’t the Italy I knew!

I miss gettoni to make phone calls. I miss lire. I miss the life I led forty years ago that wasn’t anchored to cell phones and computers.

But you know what? That life doesn’t exist anymore. Not for Italians, not for Americans, not for folks in any developed nation or even for many folks in developing nations.

I’m diabetic now and can’t even eat Nutella anymore. Or bread. Or pasta.

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When I lived in Italy for two years, I was a Mormon missionary. My experience of the country was never representative.

But that can really be said of what many conservative white Christian Americans are experiencing now. They were always only a portion of this nation. When I was a missionary, missionary life was the norm, regardless of what my neighbors were doing.

When I watch another episode of Imma Tataranni or The Bastards of Pizzofalcone, I simultaneously feel a deep longing to exist in that world and recognize it as a world I never knew, nothing like the culture and life I experienced at the time.

These new cultural realities in Italy are problematic for everyone. It’s easy to see the new problems as worse than the old problems. Both sets of problems, of course, were and are awful. The answer isn’t to deport every immigrant, ban cell phones, and pretend the last forty years never happened.

At best, we’d just end up with the horrific problems of forty years ago.

But even that morally questionable goal simply isn’t feasible.

Even in what is my 1980 nostalgic Italy, there were Italians longing for pre-1966 Italy before Mormons were allowed to proselytize.

Life goes on.

Culture changes.

People immigrate.

Wars and famine and climate change happen.

So…how do we deal with all the cultural changes around us in our own country? We see some folks acting like cornered animals, raging against anyone who approaches even to help. It’s an honest reaction we can’t dismiss without getting bit.

But when we can, let’s point out better solutions. Most of the economic fears generated by demographic changes can be addressed by establishing universal healthcare, tuition-free college and vocational training, fare-free public transit, subsidized childcare, and immediate action to begin adapting to what is now inevitable climate disruption.

Pretending that punishing people, depriving others of their rights, and making life miserable for those we don’t like will in any way recreate an imperfect past that has come and gone is a losing strategy.

The only workable solution is to use taxpayer money and government power to ensure a well-educated, well-trained population with full access to healthcare, housing, and food. Anything less gives us Fontamara and The Bicycle Thief.

And that’s not a world any of us should want, anywhere.