Scaramucci’s Profane Tirade Is No “Italian Thing”

scaramucciBelow is my column in USA Today on the profane and shocking statements by the new White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci.  The staements were later defended as “an Italian thing.”  The suggestion was that this was just a form of Italian venting.  It was not.  First, as someone raised in a Sicilian family, I would not have been able to sit for a month if I ever spoke like that to anyone.  Indeed, we just celebrated the 90th birthday of my mother, Angela Piazza Turley,  in Chicago. If she read such statements by me in the press, I would have been met with a cane at the door.  Second, this was not venting. It was raving and seriously undermined both Scaramucci and the Administration.

Here is the column:


After the new White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci went on a profanity laced tiradein a conversation with New Yorker writer Ryan Lizza, Scaramucci explained that he sometimes uses “colorful language,” and many noted that this was part of his Italian heritage. Indeed, Italians are known for their passionate speech, but there are a couple of useful lessons in this scandal. Consider it my own Rosetta Stone language program for those who want to understand casual Italian.

More: President Trump could be contemplating Jeff Sessions doomsday scenario: Jonathan Turley

Like Scaramucci, I come from a large Italian family. Both of our grandfathers came to this country around the same time. My grandfather and grandmother on my mother’s side were from the same village in Sicily (my name is from the Irish side of my father). There is indeed a “problem of translation” that occurs when outsiders come into an Italian family. When I first took my wife Leslie to meet my family in Chicago, she witnessed a fight between my mother and one of my sisters in which my sister told her kids to “say goodbye to your grandmother,” since they would never see her again. Leslie was almost in tears and asked me to “do something.”

At first I was confused and realized she was referring to the argument. I explained that by evening they would be at the kitchen table having coffee. They were.

The point is that Italians do speak to each other in ways that can shock people. When my Irish family says that you are dead to them, they mean it. They will next see you at your funeral. When Italians say it, it could last until … dinner.

That does not mean that there are not red lines. When one of my sisters was going out with a guy that my Mom opposed, the two had a full cathartic scream session. However, when my other sister moved toward the door, my mother met her with a broom and said “I gave you life and I can take it away.”  My sister knew better than to argue the legal point of premeditated homicide.  She turned around and went upstairs. My mother then collapsed on the couch. As my father and I comforted her, I turned to my Dad and said that we had witnessed perhaps the greatest moment of maternal Italian history: my mother had succeeded in actually hyperventilating in arguing with one of her daughters. It was the equivalent of Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary reaching the top of Everest or Roger Bannister breaking the four-minute mile. It was perfection — pure passion driving an athlete past her physical abilities.

The point is that these comments reflect both a depth of love and vulnerability among Italian family members. The problem is that the same comment can make you look like an unchained lunatic if you say the same thing in a subway … or to a reporter.

Scaramucci, however, forgot a few unwritten rules for Italian venting.

First, we actually do not speak this way to non-Italians. Even relatives like Leslie in my family are viewed as non-combatants. Years of conditioning prepare us for understanding that being told as a kid that your Mom will cut off your hand if you take another cookie means simply that you have had enough. So when Scaramucci said he wanted to “kill” staffers, it sent staffers to the media saying that they felt unsafe. Of course it did. Telling someone you will cut off their hand if they take another roll at a restaurant is taken not as maternal but homicidal.

Second, we never do this in public, except in controlled and entertaining environments like weddings, where there are contextual warnings of the cultural content, like Italian bunting or a majority of guys named Dominick and Tony. Telling a stranger that your co-worker likes to engage in self-fellatio tends to confuse non-Italians who try to determine if that is physically possible and legally permissible. They don’t get it.

Third, Italian venting is a matter of focus even when it seems indiscriminate. While most people who have witnessed an Italian tirade can be shocked or even fearful, they are actually controlled explosions by experts bred for such displays. This is why the best firework companies are Italians like Zambellis, Gruccis, Parentes, Fazzonis, Rozzis, Cartianos, de Sousas and others. They were raised in environments of controlled explosions and know how to use them safely. Now Scaramucci may have thought he was talking to a fellow paisan, but there is a difference. Lizza is not paisan, he is press. His job is to report. Scaramucci said “I made a mistake in trusting in a reporter. It won’t happen again.” Well, that should not have taken a scandal to learn. In Italian tirades, the difference between a beautiful high-altitude firework and an indiscriminate street explosion is control.

Scaramucci showed the cost of an uncontrolled Italian explosion. In so doing, he did not just harm himself but his administration. At a time when the White House had to convey strength and strategy to jittery GOP members on the Hill, he conveyed not passion but panic. He should have known that. This is why NFL players do not randomly tackle people on the street. They are professionals and know when a sack is appropriate and when it is a felony.

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Scaramucci is right when he said, “I’m not trying to build my own brand off the f____ing strength of the president. I’m here to serve the country.” He can serve it better than this. What he said was outrageous and amateurish. And do not blame it on us. To paraphrase the late Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, D-Texas, I know Italian venting. Italian venting is a friend of mine. This is not Italian venting.

Jonathan Turley, the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University, is a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley.

104 thoughts on “Scaramucci’s Profane Tirade Is No “Italian Thing””

  1. Again, the Turley post is deflection. Male Italian-American linguistics are far less important than exploration of possible propensity for support of despotic leaders like Putin and Trump and secondly, perceptions that equals like Black people and women are lesser.

  2. At some point in time you need to take responsibility for your own behaviors. I have a newsflash for the TrumpTrain, and all of his cheerleaders herein who think that hyperbole and ad-hominem attacks are valid intellectual arguments in defense of positions. No Clinton, nor any Obama is currently in any executive branch, legislative, or judicial branch position – whatever they may or may not have done, it’s over with now. Crying “Clinton” or “Obama” to try and distract from this administration’s problems, and possible crimes (especially their near panic over any investigation into their personal & business financial entanglements), is so obviously desperate and rediculous.

    Just as it is when commenters herein do it.

    1. It’s indeed the case. Huffpo U.K. (July 31,2017) reported that the Mooch’s tirade was to distract from the testimony of Bill Browder before the Senate Judiciary Committee the same week. Browder, who was a prominent American businessman in Russia, and whose Russian lawyer was killed there, gave statements about Putin’s U.S. goal which uses Trump for implementation.

  3. At Brookings Review, a recent post by James Kirchik explains how the GOP became the party of Putin.

  4. I too come from Italian heritage both sides came to Ellis island legally. I grant you our language in the home was not offensive but I can assure you on the street it got salty. But the Mucc’s language isn’t the problem it’s a failed political group who cannot accept the results of a legal election. I’ve noticed how the Dums are dialing back on the Russia thing, could it be they are more dirty when it comes to collusion. I wonder if the Obama WH spokesman used “colorful” would there be a big deal made of it. Have you all forgotten an attempt at Ebonics as a real language. Ever heard Ebonics, it ain’t nice.

  5. They just showed part of the Mucci interview on TV. I think Mucci had drank too much Dago Red.

  6. So he used crude, rude language talking to a reporter and neglected to call those comments “off the record.” And the reporter nailed him for it when he knew darn well comments like that were being said off the record. Lesson learned.

    I read that Scaramucci even stepped out of the Oval Office once to take a call from his mother (his other boss). She’ll set him straight. But hey, Scaramucci also blows air kisses to the press, so it’s all good 😉

  7. Did someone say “profane?”

    Seriously? What has Cardinal George Pell, a senior adviser to Pope Francis, been up to in Australia?

    I think Monica Lewinsky’s dress had some “profanity” deposited on it in the Oval Office no less.

    BuzzFeed –

    Juanita Broadderick –

    “Broaddrick claims Bill Clinton raped her in 1978, when he was Arkansas’ attorney general, during what she thought would be a morning business meeting.”

    “Well, I would say that everybody should be believed at first until they are disbelieved based on evidence,” Hillary Clinton replied with a smile that was just one awkward beat too slow.

    Broaddrick oozes genuine, sweet-as-sweet-tea Southern hospitality, but she went “ballistic” when she heard Clinton’s statements on sexual assault, she recently told me. It had been years since Broaddrick had spoken publicly about the Clintons. Sitting at home, alone and fuming, Broaddrick thought to herself, What can I say to make this believable to people, that this really happened to me? She signed back in to her dormant Twitter and started typing. In January, one tweet went viral: “I was 35 years old when Bill Clinton, Ark. Attorney General raped me and Hillary tried to silence me. I am now 73….it never goes away.”

  8. I appreciate everything you wrote, as I have experienced this excessive form of emotional outburst from a former Italian lawyer for whom I worked years ago. That said, it’s not just the case that the Mooch wasn’t speaking to a non-Italian: he was speaking as a representative of the highest office in this country. No one provoked him either–he was trying to show what a badass he thinks he is. Instead of proving his “manliness”, he proved just how unfit he is to be a representative of the White House. He is crude, coarse, arrogant, insensitive and not very bright–just like his boss. Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

    1. Gnat, a lawyer gave you a job and you didn’t like the lawyer. Oh my! I wonder what that lawyer would say about you.

      Lady Nancy Astor:

      “Winston, if you were my husband, I’d put poison in your coffee.”

      Winston Churchill:

      “Nancy, if you were my wife, I’d drink it.”

    2. Natacha, you say that as if you believe no other administration official has ever used profanity laced tirades when speaking to the press. Obama wouldn’t do that, now would he? But of course he did. So did his staff. Only difference is the press almost always protected their boy and kept it all “off the record” so we the people rarely, if ever, heard about it.

  9. Thank you for translating Scaramoochism to the rest of us. The press and Trumps administration will continue to battle over the literal or intended meaning behind his words; but it’s good to have someone point out how easily these misunderstandings can occur.

  10. I wonder if Scaramucci is With Out Papers. Y’all know what that is don’t ya?

    1. With Out Papers: is a WOP. They used to use that word nastily against Italians. Friggin WOP. Kinda like they treat Mexicans now.

  11. “Secret Service officers told at least one source that she began yelling, screaming obscenities, and pounding furniture. She picked up objects and threw them at attendants and staff. She was in an uncontrollable rage.”

    Hillary Clinton Screaming Obscenities and Throwing Objects in Election Night Meltdown

    The mystery of Hillary Clinton, milk-carton missing on election night, appears solved.

    A Tuesday of catharsis for Donald Trump voters turned into an evening of rage for Hillary Clinton. The Democratic presidential nominee, anticipating the post-election reaction of many of her supporters, began shouting profanities, banging tables, and turning objects not nailed down into projectiles.

    “Sources have told The American Spectator that on Tuesday night, after Hillary realized she had lost, she went into a rage,” R. Emmett Tyrrell reports. “Secret Service officers told at least one source that she began yelling, screaming obscenities, and pounding furniture. She picked up objects and threw them at attendants and staff. She was in an uncontrollable rage.”

    The appearance of campaign chairman John Podesta at Manhattan’s Javitz Center, and the dematerialization of his heretofore ubiquitous charge, perplexed in the first hours of Wednesday.
    “They’re still counting votes, and every vote should count,” Podesta declared to a sad and stunned hall. “Several states are too close to call, so we’re not going to have anything more to say tonight.”

    1. Past history and irrelevant to this issue. Just like Fox News–harken back to something negatve about HRC every time Chump or his administration does something stupid that makes them look bad. Well, Chump’s in the driver’s seat now, and he’s responsible for his mistakes.

      1. Bill Cosby’s “past history” of 50 women testifying to sexual assault was “irrelevant” too, huh? You should be a corrupt judge. You’d be good at it. Keep the important evidence out of court. Great idea. Efficacious jurisprudence.

        The racist, corrupt and biased O.J. Simpson jury shouldn’t have been informed that O.J. had effectively “pledged,” through 911 calls by his wife, to kill his ex-wife at some point in the near future. That was irrelevant to, huh?

        Brilliant or corrupt? You make the call. ALL available evidence must be assessed or the process is corrupt.
        It’s kinda like affirmative action – totally biased, corrupt and unconstitutional.

  12. I always thought that Italians made the manus obscena sign, aka the “fig sign” as opposed to simply flipping the bird??? Anyway,

    From Wiki: “In Italy this sign, known as mano in fica (“fig-hand”), or far le fiche (c*nt gesture), for the resemblance to female genitalia, was a common and very rude gesture in past centuries, similar to the finger, but has long since fallen out of use.[1] Notably, a remnant of its usage is found in Dante’s Divine Comedy (Inferno, Canto XXV).”

    You can see what “making figs” looks like in Note 3. below.

    Anyway, with a fresh jolt of cold Starbucks ® brew, here is my very sophisticated Irish Poem on Italian obscene hand gestures. . .

    Go Fig Her???
    An Irish Poem by Squeeky Fromm

    Alas, for the makers of figs. . .
    And the Old Ways of getting in digs!
    For Poor Scaramucci
    Unlike Vanni Fucci*,
    Must now flip the bird, with his wigs**. . .

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

    Note 1. For the culturally curious, here is the making figs part from Dante’s Inferno:

    The sacrilegious Fucci vents his fury in blasphemy, is seized by serpents, and flying is pursued by Cacus in the form of a Centaur, who is described with a swarm of serpents on his haunch, and a dragon on his shoulders breathing forth fire. Our Poet then meets with the spirits of three of his countrymen, two of who undergo a marvelous transformation in his presence.

    At the conclusion of his words, the thief
    Lifted his hands aloft with both the figs,
    Crying : ” Take that, God, for at thee I aim them.”

    Note 2. For ESLs, flipping your wig is an American idiom meaning “to suddenly become angry, crazy, or enthusiastic.”

    Note 3. Shakespeare used a similar term. figo:

    1. Squeek, love the poem. We were just on Cape Breton in Nova Scotia. There is a Gaelic College there and all the street signs are in English and Gaelic.

      1. Thank you!!! I am glad you liked it!

        Yes, Nova Scotia is someplace I could live very easily. Plus, they have really good music, and the pubs are like the ones in England and Ireland where people sing and have a good time. I found this on youtube the other day when I was searching for versions of The Last of Barrett’s Privateers. It is from a pub in Halifax, and I would sooo fit right in!

        Squeeky Fromm
        Girl Reporter

        1. Nova Scotia is in Canada. They have socialized medicine and a liberal prime minister. No wonder the country appeals to you.

          1. “Nova Scotia is in Canada.” Someone give her a cookie. Canadians hate their healthcare and will vote out their vapid, liberal PM in short order.

            1. You can remove all the blacks, Squeaky, the market for medical services is still going to be a problem market.

              1. In our country, true. The problems with our health care go far beyond race. Although, the poor and stupid of all races do tend to increase the costs to a health system.

                Squeeky Fromm
                Girl Reporter

  13. I lived in a neighborhood in St. Louis called Dago Hill. We were Northern Italians and did not like Sicilians. I wonder what Scaramucci is. Sicilians made up the Mafia back in days of old.

  14. “I’m not trying to build my own brand off the f____ing strength of the president.”

    This is exactly what Scaramucci is doing. He is pandering to the vacuous supporters of Trump who have no clues regarding the issues but are attracted by the jingoes and tough talk. Those with a clue who voted for Trump are most likely holding their breath as this new sideshow plays out, hoping that it leaves town soon. There are those who simply want to see some forward progress and those who are captured by the BS and feel a part of things because they identify with the anger and ‘tough talk’. Unfortunately that is how Trump got in, all hat and not a bovine in sight.

    1. There was a Son’s of Italy Club in the town where I was raised. It was a factory town and the members reflected that. The language was colorful. But, the main words were, “Sh!t, horsesh!t[my favorite], damn and hell.” Vulgarities were also used, but not as much. This was 40-50 years ago.

  15. Both JT and mespo have explained well, the Italian dynamics. People not familiar learned a lot by watching the Sopranos, a show about Italian life as much as it was about crime. I would get quite nostalgic watching the little phrases and expressions. Uncle “June” was the best. Of course, it came naturally to him.

    The Irish/Italian combo is now fairly common. When my parents married in 1950 it was not. The wedding photos of the reception say it all. My mom’s family was Scotch/Irish, both her parents being born in Nova Scotia. My father’s parents were born in Naples and Bari. The wedding reception was catered by my father’s family, as they owned an Italian restaurant. It was in the backyard of my grandparents 3-plex, under a huge oak tree. You could see the tension on the old folks faces. But, for my parents siblings, there was the natural joy of a wedding on all their faces. While older generations have most of the wisdom, they also carry much of the prejudice. The younger generations are more open to change. All my mom’s siblings knew my father, having been waited on by him in the restaurant. They knew he was a good man, and that was all that mattered.

    1. Nick,…
      David Steinberg used to joke about the cultural clashes involved with his marriage to an Italian gal.
      He quipped that his Jewish parents believed that Italians bought restaurants, then burned them down for the insurance money. ☺

      1. tnash, I didn’t know Steinberg was married to an Italian. There’s a standup comedian, Sebastian Maniscalco. He is very good. A physical comedian using his body like Cosmo Kramer, played by Michael Richards in Seinfeld. Maniscalco does a bit about being married to a Jew. He does a lot of Chicago Italian stuff as well. Having grown up in the northeast, w/ many Italians, I found Chicago Italians unique. They almost are caricatures, maybe because they were more a minority and felt a need to distinguish themselves?

  16. I recently read the book, The Legends Club, about Valvano, Coach K, and Dean Smith. The two ethnic coaches swore and swear like sailors. The WASP, Dean Smith, never swore. The most profane MLB manager ever was Tommy Lasorda.

    Italians brought up in an upper middle class family don’t swear as much as blue collar Italians. My observations are swearing is as much about class as it is about ethnicity. My Irish, Polish, Ukrainian blue collar friends growing up all swore.

    1. My mother was Irish Catholic from a medium sized one, 6 kids, and she said she never minded us swearing as long as we used proper grammar.
      Nothing cranked her head around faster, accompained by the “Look” than saying the word “ain’t”.
      My favorite rule of hers was the most simple;
      “I don’t care what you do as long as you don’t wind up on the evening news”.

    2. True enough. Deano’s vice was cussing and slapping twenty-something players from the other team. (See Ivaroni and Robey) Much more civilized!

  17. Somehow I didn’t have that colorful an experience as JT’s coming from Italian lineage on both sides, but I do acknowledge two things about his thoughts. First, Italian-Americans are passionate about two things: family and food and always in that order as JT’s examples suggest. Second, they explode because they care too much not too little like some of our Anglo brothers and sisters. (in that sense Moochie’s too crude sentiment makes some sense for the betrayal of adopted family). While quick to anger they are quick to forgive if it’s in the family. Offend the family from the outside with no remorse and … well … you see why Italians invented the line “you are dead to me.” And sometimes that line is more than figurative.

  18. In my experience, Italian men tend to be fairly formal when there’s an outsider present (i.e. someone who is not a family member or well-established friend). It’s an Italian formality, not a WASP formality: nearly all conversation is left to the women present. Also, on occasions that call for it, they’re meticulously turned out, with stylistic features you do not see among non-Italians.

    I wonder if he’s referring to New Jersey manners, where waving is done with the middle-finger extended.

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