Mr Fake News in person
As Donald Trump, soon to become the leader of the free world, gave his first press conference as president-elect, Muscat became the “president” of Europe.
Claudette Buttigieg is a PN MP – email@example.com, twitter: @ButClaudette
What do these two men have in common? They are both populist politicians. They are both shameless in the promises they make. Muscat broke the most essential and fundamental ones soon after he came into power, while Trump is still in time to keep or break his.
Populist politics has seen the rise of controversial politicians like Nigel Farage (of Ukip in the UK), Teyyip Erdogan (Turkey) and, of course, Trump. All have shaken politics as we know it by the roots. Usually these politicians proclaim themselves to be anti-establishment, with an “us and them” attitude which polarises the public. They use and manipulate the media but then accuse the media which doesn’t play ball as “fake news.”
Since 2013, Muscat has done all this and more – first to be elected, then to stay in power. He made his promises and shred to bits the previous government. His basic problem now is that he runs the government and therefore his bunch of cronies IS the establishment. But he can’t have people recognise that.
He talks against the establishment because he thinks people will continue to take his word for it. Sadly, after nearly four years, people are very tired of his lies and disgusted at his abuse of power.
Many have warned against populism in politics, particularly against promises to reverse every tough decision with empty rhetoric and irresponsible leadership. Others have warned about how, in times of crisis, including political crisis, populist politicians have more opportunities to oversimplify things and manipulate feelings.
The populist movement has a long history. Sadly, even if today populists look and sound different from the past, even if they know how to use social media and techniques borrowed from reality TV, the new populists share something with the old populists. Like their predecessors, they offer fantasies: Sketchy plans, vague ideas and unfulfillable promises. Far from representing something new, they stand for something old: The very human longing for rapid, unrealistic, simple solutions to difficult problems.
This is the feeling I got on Wednesday night as I listened to the Prime Minister’s speech at the opening ceremony of the EU Presidency at the Mediterranean Conference Centre. While Muscat spoke to the Commissioners about his idea of a “reunion”, he tried to appeal to his national audience by using a tone of empathy for the vulnerable. To me, this was the opening of a very different electoral campaign for Muscat. He chose a kind of demi-god approach to show kindness and understanding while playing with the powers that be.
At the moment, I consider Malta to be ahead of the curve with respect to other European countries and the US. While internationally populists are, sadly, still sprouting out, trying to win power, those contemplating voting for them should look at Muscat and see what populism can lead to.
In our country populists have become the establishment but claim to be fighting it. They spin the news by saying our health services are the best ever, and accuse others of fake news when journalists reveal that our hospital – indeed, the whole health system – is in a major crisis.
There is no denying Muscat is populist. He will obviously use the presidency as a platform for the coming election. He will of course deny this in the same way that Trump told the CNN journalist, “You are fake news!” And with the same brazen disregard for the truth.
The Malta Independent Friday 13 January 2017