We’re all ‘anti-establishment’ now...

There they both are - Joseph Muscat and Simon Busuttil - trying to exploit a US election result for their own ends... little realising that Trump’s victory actually spells the beginning of the end of the same political consensus they both represent

You can’t compare Donald Trump’s victory to a cataclysm that caused the extinction of around 90% of life forms on Earth. Can you?
You can’t compare Donald Trump’s victory to a cataclysm that caused the extinction of around 90% of life forms on Earth. Can you?

I once stumbled on a cartoon somewhere, which portrayed a group of dinosaurs gazing up at the sky while a blazing asteroid streaked towards its inevitable impact with Planet Earth. 

I can’t remember the actual words in the speech bubble, but one of the dinosaurs says something like: ‘Look at that! Isn’t it the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen?’

Ok, at this point you might be thinking: hang on a sec. You can’t compare Donald Trump’s victory to a cataclysm that caused the extinction of around 90% of life forms on Earth. Can you? Well... I don’t know. Judging by certain reactions I’ve seen online, you’d think the impact of Asteroid Trump might actually be a lot worse...

But that cartoon sprang to mind for another reason. It’s not so much that the world is bracing itself for turbulent times (exactly how catastrophic remains to be seen)... it’s that the dinosaurs’ reaction to their impending doom is indistinguishable from that of Malta’s two political leaders to the US election result. 

Consider their actual responses. The Prime Minister was first off the mark, claiming that... get this... “like Trump, I have always been anti-establishment.”

Really? That’s strange, because in an interview with Lovin’ Malta just three months ago, Joseph Muscat declared that he would vote for Hillary Clinton. And Hillary Clinton was overwhelmingly the ‘establishment’ choice in that election. 

Ah, but that was a time when the rest of the world was firmly convinced that ‘Establishment Clinton’ was cruising towards victory over ‘anti-establishment Trump’. It was easy to be pro-establishment then, when everything pointed towards a continuation of the status quo...

And it is evident that even now, ‘anti-establishment’ Joseph Muscat wants that status quo to continue. His other reaction was to claim that he ‘expected more US investment’ under Trump. I imagine he wasn’t paying very much attention when Trump promised to overhaul US fiscal policy, precisely to stem the flow of investment out of the United States. But never mind that for now. The important thing, now that the election is done and dusted, is that everything carries on as before. Malta got X dollars in US investment under Obama? Well, we expect to get X+ under Trump....

How very ‘anti-establishment’. The president-elect hasn’t even taken office yet, and Joseph Muscat is already banging at the Oval Office door with his begging-bowl in hand. And in the same breath, he tells us that: “We are not part of the establishment, so much so that a lot of the criticism directed towards us is about us not doing things in the usual way”.

‘Not the usual’ way, huh? Does Muscat think he is the first Maltese prime minister to ever appraise a foreign government solely on the basis of how much money he might be able to squeeze out of it? And to ignore all the pivotal issues actually being discussed about that country... so long as the goodies keep flowing in our direction? 

Sorry, but that IS the establishment way of doing things. The ‘anti-establishment’ way would be to attack the actual economic system itself (as, for instance, Bernie Sanders did throughout the Democrat nominee race). Not to keep sponging off it, as all Maltese prime ministers have always done. 

Besides: since when is Donald Trump ‘anti-establishment’, anyway? He owes his own success (financial and political) to the same ingrained global economic system that favours the rich and well-connected: a system that has created a historically unprecedented imbalance in the distribution of wealth.  

And if he talked about ‘taking on Wall Street’ during the campaign... well, as Muscat would surely be the first to know, that’s just the stuff you say to win an election.  Like when the Labour Party told us it represented ‘meritocracy’... then proceeded to turn the judiciary into a retirement home for Labour Party officials. Or when it said it would ‘prioritise the environment’ (accidentally omitting ‘the destruction of’ between ‘prioritise’ and ‘environment’ on the poster).

As for all the issues that made Donald Trump the automatic choice for anyone wanting ‘change’ for its own sake – his threat to withdraw from the Paris Climate Change agreement; the mass deportation of millions of immigrants; the proposed shake-up of relations with Russia, with Europe, with NATO - Muscat has not breathed a word about any of it. 

Ultimately, the only possible conclusions are: a) Joseph Muscat supported the establishment candidate, and b) he expects the establishment way of doing things to continue as if nothing actually happened. Anyone care to explain how that makes him ‘anti-establishment’? 

And while I’m at it: what about Muscat’s own policies in his first three (going on four) years in office? His government has just proposed the most brazen land-grab scheme in recent history: generously volunteering to expropriate large tracts of private land in Paceville, to be gifted to hand-picked entrepreneurs. And thanks to a botched party financing law that still allows for undeclared contributions, these entrepreneurs may or may not (but most likely may) have financed his own election campaign. 

What is that, if not the standard, time-honoured system of always accommodating the most powerful people in the country – i.e., the few at the expense of the many - on the promise that they will be equally accommodating in turn?

That makes Muscat and his government part of the 1% that benefits obscenely from the status quo, while the remaining 99%... including those Paceville residents who may find themselves evicted from their own homes... have no option but to put up with the constant injustices.

Meanwhile, all the pre-electoral talk of radical reforms has fizzled out into nothing. What happened to the promised Constitutional amendments? Electoral reform? None of that happened. And none of that will ever happen, as long as Maltese politics continues to be dominated by such patently ‘establishment’ figures as Joseph Muscat and all his predecessors since Mintoff (who, for better or worse, did at least shake up the system back in the 1970s). 

Anyway... I could go on, but you get the overall point. So onto the next of our great anti-establishment champions, Simon Busuttil. 

The problem here is that I scarce know where to begin. This, for example, is something the Opposition leader actually said (and no, I’m not making this up): “The establishment in Malta is the prime minister and the two people around him who were found to have set up secret companies in Panama” [...] “The US election represents a vote against the establishment and the concentrated powers that favour the few, the Maltese should take lessons from the US election and vote to remove the establishment.”

As you can see, the problem here is slightly more conspicuous than with Muscat... who at least knows what the word ‘establishment’ means, though he uses it somewhat liberally. Busuttil’s method, by way of contrast, seems to be to simply appropriate the buzz-word of the moment... and hammer it into whatever shape suits his purposes at the time. So suddenly, the word ‘establishment’ has been narrowed down to only three government officials linked to a single corruption scandal. 

Excuse me, but what about the oligarchic network of influential families and businesses that have always had both parties eating out of their hand? What about the undeclared alliances that have largely dictated Malta’s political evolution over the decades... such as between the PN and the Church? What about the politically-owned or affiliated media, which has a long history of moulding public opinion in line with establishment views? 

None of that will have disappeared, just because the Labour Party loses an election. How does ‘anti-establishment’ Simon Busuttil intend to take on Malta’s equivalent of Wall Street... which his own party actually created, in 25 years of governing only through the consolidation and strengthening of an archaic status quo?

And isn’t this also the same Simon Busuttil who made himself synonymous with the European Union... which constitutes today’s political and economic consensus (i.e., ‘establishment’) on our side of the Atlantic? If he’s suddenly what passes for an ‘anti-establishment European politician’... what is Beppe Grillo? What are all the people who have built entire political platforms on a promise to scuttle the European Union, precisely because it represents a political/economic paradigm that the prevailing power-structures want to retain?

And this, more than anything else, is why the dinosaur cartoon fits the picture so well. There they both are, trying to exploit a US election result for their own ends... little realising that Trump’s victory actually spells the beginning of the end of the same political consensus they both represent.

Honestly, it would almost be as tragic as that asteroid collision... if only it wasn’t so bloody hilarious.

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