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.

Malta Independent - - CLAUDETTE ON FRIDAY -

Claudette But­tigieg is a PN MP – cbut­, 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

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