The solutions imagined by the Yellow-Green coalition to what they framed as national emergencies were then addressed by “mundane programmes, calculations, techniques, apparatuses, documents and procedures through which authorities [sought] to embody and give effect to governmental ambitions” (Rose and Miller 1992, p. 175). Namely, such technologies focussed on enforcing a defensive-reactive type of social order, ensuring an exclusive type of citizenship linked to programs to regenerate the nation and emphasising the new political role(s) of digital technologies.
Enforcing defensive security
The 2018 “security package” and its 2019 follow-up were presented as flagship Yellow-Green interventions. These established a number of measures marked by a “law and order” approach, e.g., tightening up to 4 years of penalties for “squatting,” extra funding for police forces, and financial penalties for each irregular immigrant sea-rescued and brought to Italy. Similarly, mayors were empowered to take new administrative initiatives in order to improve their towns’ “decency,” e.g., by banning people who were a “threat to public health” from so-called “red zones” (e.g., public parks or schools’ proximities), by closing Roma people’s dwellings and by policing more strictly public protests. These were all administrative acts that limited people’s basic freedoms (e.g., circulation) on fluid grounds (e.g., decency), weakening typical rule of law safeguards. Here, the new rules on self-defence occupied a special place. The 2018 “security package” established that self-defence is always legitimate (i.e., it is always proportionate regardless of the threat) when it takes place within one’s home. This measure expressed a functional equivalence between “security”—i.e., social response to essential needs—and “defence”—i.e., violent protection from external dangers—and between one’s “home” and “our country,” elevating the self-enforcement of rules to a non-negotiable value (Panarari 2018).
Within this context, a certain concept of “victimhood” acquired an unprecedented political saliency. The Yellow-Green assemblage gave great “emphasis to victims’ accounts of their experiences, rather than to the detached, objective analysis of experts. In this respect, crime victims [are] given a new kind of authenticity and authority” (Pratt and Miao 2017, p. 13). Victims are respectable, ordinary citizens whose experience becomes universal as the danger they face—they are “the people” (Rose 2017), whose interests are defended by “new” populisms. The coalition’s victims were the “family” (declined as “traditional family” within The League’s narrative) challenged by the economic crisis and new non-conformist same-sex unions as well as the taxpayers’ betrayed by corrupted political elites holding public offices and threatened by the “immigrants’ invasion.” This victimhood is something more than being a crime victim, it is a permanent state of potential victimisation (an existential fear) conflated with fears of otherness that inform people’s daily conduct and “demand preventive measures that erode fundamental features of public law and criminal justice in modern society” (Pratt and Miao 2017, p. 13).
Ensuring ascriptive citizenship
Two different concepts of citizenship featured in the Yellow-Green political programs. The first referred to citizenship as a status (typified by The League’s motto ‘Prima gli italiani!’ [Italians First!]) (The Guardian, December 1, 2018), that is, an ascriptive idea of citizenship (De Blasio and Sorice 2018, p. 3). From this angle, The League’s 2018 Program symbolically stated that “for a ‘refugee’ the State will not commit funds higher than those allocated to a 100% disability pension of an Italian citizen” (p. 7). The other concept, advanced by the 5SM, was that of citizenship as a body of civic knowledge (affiliative citizenship), represented as a tool to improve the quality of democracy towards a participatory style” (De Blasio and Sorice 2018, p. 3).
However, in the government’s practice, The League’s concept took priority. The “security packages,” and particularly the new rules on immigrants’ reception centers, were clearly informed by a citizenship-as-status concept. The 2018 “security package” extended the permanence-confinement within reception centers from 90 to 180 days and established that citizenship was revoked for foreigners who committed crimes not necessarily serious and even for those who returned to their country for a short period. Broad requirements (which give room for arbitrary administrative interpretation) for the granting of citizenship were introduced, e.g., absence of convictions, irreprehensible conduct, minimum income, fulfillment of tax obligations, as well as the extension of the terms for investigating the acquisition of citizenship. Perhaps the most paradigmatic provisions here were the cancellation of “humanitarian protection” as a ground for granting asylum and the exclusion of the local council’s registration for asylum seekers. The first measure included also the denial of renewing the humanitarian asylum for those who were already granted it, causing in this way a massive “irregularization” of immigrants (Firouzi Tabar 2018). The second was a clear message to “asylum seekers”: they are not integral to the polity, not even when it comes to basic welfare provisions dependent on the registration into the local council’s registry.
This emergencial approach to immigration, i.e., the focus on containment/selection of migratory movements conceptualized as a security threat, appeared as integral to this political technology. However, it should be remarked a partial inconsistency between the two components of the Yellow-Green assemblage with respect to this point. The 5SM 2018 Program (Immigration section), in fact, openly criticized the emergencial approach to immigration, whilst stressing the need for a “fair sharing of responsibilities” at the EU level in the “management/distribution of immigrants.” Additionally, it advocated for “international humanitarianism” to tackle the root causes of global migration flows. The points of convergence with The League were then confined to the conceptualisation of immigration as a “problem” and an economic-oriented approach to “immigration management.”
Producing “people’s economics”
Yellow-Green political-economic technologies were informed by an ambivalent and contradictory attitude towards capitalism. In general, the 5SM has traditionally framed the web as both the ultimate marketplace and a virtual agora that will be populated by more informed and rational citizens (Natale and Ballatore 2014, p. 114). Additionally, it has advocated for measures supposedly ensuring equality of opportunity and active political and economic citizenship such as the universal basic income. The League instead has always supported market-oriented economic policies (Biorcio and Vitale 2011, p. 195), as expressed by traditional claims to reduce the power of unions and to extend the enterprises’ freedom of laying off. At the same time, both parties espoused projects of economic nationalisation, promising the creation of a national bank for investments (Contract of Government, p. 13).
The Contract proposed two types of measures to tackle the economic-financial crisis that cut across the ambivalent attitude seen above. The first type consisted of “anti-EU” instruments. From this perspective, the Contract promised that, after the revisions of EU treaties, policies would have been funded by a multi-year plan “to cut wasteful spending, manage debt and an appropriate and limited recourse to deficit spending” (Contract of Government, p. 17), instead of by fiscal austerity measures backed by the EU. The second group were “people-oriented” measures. The Contract established tougher sanctions, including prison, for tax evaders, managers, and regulators responsible for bank failures as well as a tax condone for people struggling to pay tax arrears. The abolition of the pension reform that raised the retirement age, cuts to so-called “golden pensions,” and a national bank for investments were also highly touted measures. Finally, the 5SM’s flagship intervention: the creation of a universal basic income (emphatically called “citizen income”) for the unemployed (Contract of Government, p. 34). This was described as a “conditional universal” support: recipients are obliged to look for work and accept one of the first three job offers received, otherwise the support will be revoked. The citizen income applies also to people who are not Italian citizens, however with strict conditions (10 years regular residence minimum, last 2 years with no interruptions, income certification in Italian from the applicant’s State).
In this context, there were some tensions between a market-oriented approach (The League) and a more left-libertarian vision (5SM). The League in fact has always been wary of any type of income support, seemingly discouraging (particularly immigrants’) “hard work” (La Stampa, May 30, 2019). Yet, there was convergence on projects of economic nationalization (i.e., the creation of a national investment bank) and on anti-EU and people-oriented measures such as the fiscal condone or punitive measures for bank managers.
Regenerating the nation
The structural conflict between “globalisation losers” to “globalisation winners”’ is a well-known populist trope (Campani and Pajnik 2017). This translates into claims of restoring national sovereignty as the only way to empower national losers. Both The League and the 5SM were sympathetic to a return to (or at least re-empowering of) the nation states, recovering sovereignty from supranational institutions, such as the EU.
The demands of “more nation” were articulated mainly by displaying traditional (even folkloristic) Italian strengths and by contesting the effects of globalisation. Regarding the first rhetorical strategy, the 5SM 2018 Program, for instance, highlighted “the valorisation of the made in Italy” by an “e-commerce platform for made in Italy products in the world, greater protection of cultural assets, safeguarding the quality of Italian products threatened by international treaties” (p. 1). Similarly, the Contract emphasized that “Italy is a nation with a touristic vocation thanks to the historical, cultural, landscape and natural heritage and to excellence such as, for example, food and wine, fashion, design, unique in the world” (p. 50).
The League is a rather unique case of a regionalist party “gone national,” leaving its original claims for northern regional autonomy behind (Albertazzi et al. 2018, p. 650). In their 2018 Program’s cover page there was a clear reference to “The pride to belong to the most beautiful country in the world,” whilst in the “security packages” there were several expressions of this “defensive” approach (e.g., citizenship is revoked for foreigners who commit crimes not necessarily serious or stricter requirements for granting citizenship). A further strategy to recover people’s lost sovereignty, particularly espoused by the 5SM, is participatory democracy. By using a software (called “Rousseau”) that enables “certified” party members to vote on issues selected by party leaders in order to inform parliamentary action, “the people” apparently become rational citizens, active stakeholders informing policy instead of passive entities ruled more than ruling (Mosca and Tronconi 2019, p. 1261).
Rebuilding the nation was presented as something beyond the right/left spectrum, a non-negotiable priority. As one of the intellectuals close to the 5SM claimed: “The future political conflict will no longer be between the right and the left, but between those who accept globalization and those who wish to challenge it. Globalists against sovereignists, so that being against globalization means, today, recovering the idea of nation” (Becchi 2017, p. 104).
Networked communication platforms constituted the theatre whereby Yellow-Green politics was re-formulated, in a direct, intimate, simple, and denunciatory way. However, to think of them as mere communication means would be appropriate only for The League’s approach to social media, whereas a 5SM’s key contribution to the coalition was to advance a broader normative understanding of digital technologies (and not simply social media).
From the “instrumentalist” perspective, social media are not bound to the mediation of traditional gatekeepers, supporting a direct link between politics and citizens that bypasses professional norms and news values of mass media (Engesser et al. 2017). The elites were often said to control the traditional media,Footnote 4 hence social networked platforms would help overcome such a supposed obstacle. In fact, populist leaders often claim to speak directly to “the people” by using such “structurally disintermediate” communication forms (Bracciale and Martella 2017, pp. 1311–1312). Among these new media, Twitter plays a central role in hybridising and redefining the traditional cycle of political information, since conversations that take place there often influence the coverage and agenda of traditional media.
During the coalition’s life, the Home Office Secretary (@matteosalvinimi), tweeted an average of 4000 times and posts an average of 1000 pictures per year, and the 5SM (@Mov5Stelle) an average of 3000 per year). Salvini also used automated profiles and bots to support Twitter’s multiplicative effects (Piccinelli 2019). In January 2019, the hashtag #SalviniNonMollare (advocating Salvini’s judicial immunity) generated 25 million retweets while the new tweets were 90 thousand, using bots and automated profiles (Piccinelli 2019).
Further, networked social media are characterized by emotionalizing storytelling by sharing feelings, moods, or revealing insights, in an informal, simple, and taboo braking way (Bracciale and Martella 2017, p. 1314). This perfectly fitted with The League’s communication style encapsulated by viral pictures of Salvini driving bulldozers with reference to how to “end” Roma dwellings or wearing shirts with police or fire service insignia, systematically posted on twitter (BBC, January 7, 2019). Similarly, the use of hashtags such as #STOPINVASIONE [Stop Invasion] or #starbucksgohome expressed the aggressive, emotionalized, and dichotomic political narrative espoused by The League.
Social media also offer a new denunciatory-acclamatory instrument. By providing a virtual scaffold to condemn elites publicly, social media contribute toward an immediate, here-and-now vilification of the enemies even as they “promote a kind of public virtue” (Sanscartier 2017, p. 61). Salvini’s statement “you must live on Mars” to Tito Boeri, chairman of the National Social Welfare Institute (INPS), when the latter contested some data provided by the Home Office (Il Giornale, July 5, 2018), epitomized this denunciatory-acclamatory character, aiming to incite public sentiment, affect, or mood against elites/experts who are removed from people’s real problems (Dean 2017, p. 419).
However, as stated above, technology from the 5SM’s perspective is (mainly) a normative ideal. Technology—namely the Internet—not only enables but actually is the space of direct democracy. The Internet is where political delegation appears as both immoral and unnecessary, the key condition for the formation of a collective and intelligent political will. For this reason, although “Rousseau” and the 5SM’s Blog were key political technologies, the Internet remained a normative ideal (BBC News, December 7, 2012), to be empowered to realize, as Casaleggio argued, a “digital revolution that would flatten the priesthoods of politics, government, and journalism, and replace them with decentralized webs of direct participation” (Wired, February 14, 2019).