The photo accompanying this post is admittedly horrific. It’s bad Photoshop. The subject matter is horrific too: two leaders with neoliberal economic policies, colourless faces donning the hair of a neoliberal tycoon, a madman nonetheless, who has just taken control of what we understand to be the world’s biggest democracy (and net exporter, in terms of tonnes of bombs).
Joseph Muscat’s and Simon Busuttil’s faces are in monochrome for a simple reason. Throughout the three years of this legislature, Muscat’s government has been riddled by scandals, mini-scandals and gaffes reminiscent of the previous PN administration at its worst. Only yesterday, Maltatoday’s survey reports that 40% of the switchers aren’t interested in voting: not even for the PN, despite Panamagate. Activism is rife as Labour continues to ignore environmentalists and NGOs clamouring for an increase in the minimum wage – both lobbies have already been ignored by a PN administration.
Joseph Muscat and Simon Busuttil are in monochrome simply because they are two sides of the same coin. Right now, Muscat is tops and Busuttil is tails. Switch them round, and the coin is still worth the same: in short, there is no change, no difference between the two. Of course we have two “third” parties ready to try and steal a seat in an electoral system that discourages alternatives to the monochrome bipartisan establishment: one of them appears to be in permanent hibernation, the other is busy looking at its split ends until it is voluntarily swallowed up by the PN.
Watch that e-word, now. “Establishment” has rapidly become the new buzzword, ever since Donald Trump found himself in charge at the White House. But the US election is neither a success story with a happy ending nor something Muscat and Busuttil should be toying with. Muscat kicked off proceedings by saying he’s “anti-establishment” and that he’ll never be part of it – an incomprehensible statement by a head of state, because being anti-establishment doesn’t mean queuing at McDonalds (which isn’t your average organic beef grower I’m told). Busuttil retorted, saying Muscat is the establishment and he’d better watch out because the electorate might decide to vote against the establishment. By voting PN.
Nice handbags, for the diehards at least.
It’s troubling to the point of nausea that both leaders are somehow trying to jump onto the Trumpwagon. For Muscat especially, who studied and wrote a thesis about Dom Mintoff, aligning himself with Trump is a bit like deciding to become a Juventus fan because Milan are sagging in the mid-table and you need a bit of an upper. Busuttil’s statement about the PN being anti-establishment reeks of opportunism, because the PN doesn’t harbour radical views about anything while its rank and file isn’t made up of vegan guerrillas either. PLPN (ah now I really like using this term) have no idea what they’re talking about. They’re the heavily-indebted, Rolexed bragger at the horse races chatting up ladies with tales of mythical punts. Championing Trump is plain wrong. Again, Muscat should know better: hasn’t PL painted itself (and legislated to that effect) as the saviour of LGBTI rights?
I am also surprised – well, maybe not – by the ignorance with which both parties have treated the word “establishment.” Donald Trump isn’t anti-establishment. He is the no-holds-barred tea-party establishment on speed. He could speak freely during the electoral campaign and duly came across as unhinged, a bad man you wouldn’t like to meet in the elevator or to whom you surely wouldn’t introduce your daughter. But this little character assessment would almost pale into insignificance now that the Democrats’ harakiri propelled him into power.
We are now staring down the barrel of the gun. America is led by a climate change denier, backed by the oil lobbies, big pharma, insurances, private prison operators, the NRA (gun lobby) and the KKK; Trump, in addition to controlling both Senate and Congress, will be picking at least one right wing judge at the Supreme Court. We’ll get to see Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani on TV again.
Who stands to gain? I can tell you they will not be black, Hispanic, Asian, LGBTIQ, working class or lower middle class. We’ll have very happy megacorporations injecting even more glee in their already greedy practices, as they wring the last ounce of energy off a broken Mexican peasant or factory worker to sell their product, be it an apple or an automobile, in a dark corner of the world twelve timezones away. We’ll watch as Donald Trump continues to decry climate change as a hoax and probably blame the drought in the south of the US on gay Muslims with Latino parents.
How all this makes Trump anti-establishment beats me. There are various reasons for his being elected and parallels, albeit rather weak, with the Brexit situation. Fifty million Americans can’t all be mad or fascist (some of his voters are very lucid, intelligent Republicans who know a thing or two about running the world) and Trump is by no means anti-establishment. Actually, the establishment chose him and Hillary Clinton to run for President. The Establishment, capitalised E from now on, chose to eliminate Bernie Sanders because he’s old, he’s a man of the people, he’s decent but he thinks like a Socialist (an unspeakable word in the US of A) and the electorate shouldn’t be given that opportunity.
Muscat and Busuttil have no such concerns. Decency just isn’t their pitch. Had Clinton won they’d have sent her a bouquet of flowers and a box of Baci to congratulate the “first US woman President;” now that Donald of Orange is at the helm, they’re using a fascist’s win to come across as donkey-riding Guevaras.
Thing is, I’d have no issue believing any of them if they were really serious about this whole Establishment malarkey. As I see it, it is impossible for a PM to be anti-establishment, especially if he uses his own image to deflect criticisms of his colleagues and defuse explosive scandals. The leader of the Opposition, heading a party formed by lawyers, doctors, architects, a historical bed of professionals, is also, by default, part of the establishment. He is merely competing for a bigger slice of it, maybe the cherry too.
It all depends on what you understand by Establishment.
To me it’s clear.
You are the Establishment.
If you’re sitting at a table with another eight, nine, ten developers with the map of Paceville open in front of you, slicing up a town between you regardless of other people’s properties, you are the Establishment. If you receive a salary from government to regularise planning but you are effectively acting as salesmen for said developers, you are the Establishment. If you’re a case officer or planning board member with very cosy ties to a developer and/or architect, you are the Establishment. If you are an architect with a surprisingly high number of approved ODZ permits, you are the Establishment. If you’re an estate agent selling a permitless Golden Mile on plan, you are the Establishment.
If you have facilitated, let alone opened, illicit secret accounts in Panama, you are the Establishment.
If you’re a lawyer who represents the electorate in parliament but at the same time you’re on a retainer from hoteliers and developers, you are the Establishment. If a developer is in court for dumping tonnes of construction waste into the sea, and you’re a representative of the electorate but also this developer’s lawyer, you are the Establishment. If you own a 10% share in a private business that happens to do construction, and at the same time you’re the Chairman of the Environmental Affairs Committee, you are the Establishment. If you approve loans for monstrous buildings that will destroy other people’s wellbeing, you are the Establishment.
If you’re a businessman in the eye of the storm but thankfully, the PA will see your high-rise application through and your ex-girlfriend will give you coloumn space on a newspaper, you are the Establishment.
If you traded your past – climbing chimneys harnessed in the colours of Greenpeace and exposing corruption in newspapers – for a future as a political party’s campaign manager, then, sorry to say, you are the Establishment. If you work in a newsroom, or run it, and have somehow twisted the truth or stopped it from emerging completely to stoke a fire in a ministry, or at the top floor (or maybe in your own advertising department), you are the Establishment. If you have peddled, with impunity, all sorts of mediocrity and charlatanism on national TV for 25 years thanks to advertising, you are, fil-qosor, the Establishment.
If you are the MEA or the CoC and you’re stamping your feet in resistance at a proposal to raise the minimum wage, you are the Establishment. If you have an interest in maintaining a social status quo, lecturing real estate mobility whilst railing against civil rights, you are the Establishment.
If you’re a political appointee on a high government salary scale and spend your time on Facebook apologising for your employer instead of running your corporation, you are the Establishment. If you turn the blind eye because someday we’ll remember what you’ve done for us, you are the Establishment.
Far from being anti-establishment, these traits and occurrences are given a complacent nod of silence by either Muscat or Busuttil, or both concurrently. For example, developers and big business are constantly out of PLPN’s war of words: for they bankroll both parties in and out of power.
The establishment in Malta is huge, but not as big as the electorate. Yet it feeds on it: it feeds on its good faith (or gullibility), it feeds on its complacency, on its short memory and its easy forgiveness, it feeds on its weak will and tendency to forego standards and dignity; it feeds on its five year silence, at the end of which you’ll be asked to choose between two colourless faces and two identical sets of values, and disappear back into oblivion. For that is how the Establishment wants democracy to work in its favour: a well-oiled machine where the Establishment are always more equal than you.