The Malta Independent 18 January 2020, Saturday

The legacy

Mark A. Sammut Sunday, 15 December 2019, 10:58 Last update: about 2 months ago

Having precipitated his own political demise, what will Joseph Muscat bequeath to the Nation?

We have Missier l-IIsien Malti, Missier Malta Indipendenti, Missier Malta Ħielsa, Missier Malta Ewropea.

What will Muscat be remembered as being the father of?

Missier Malta Korrotta? Missier Malta Traduta?

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Fortification against tragedy

Some Labourites are going through what looks like a personal tragedy. They reposed their trust in the blue-eyed wonder-boy and they’ve been betrayed. Now they’re discovering they lack inner “fortification” against tragedy. They’re aghast at the evidence they had so clamoured for believing that it didn’t exist, and awash with feelings of helplessness now that it has emerged. Muscat’s Farewell Tour, organised to lubricate his transition from Top Man to the political Great Beyond, is meant to fortify them, to offer them solace for the tragedy he himself inflicted upon them.

Such paradoxes are the norm with Muscat. They’re so well-crafted and intricate that the vast majority might never even deconstruct and work them out.

He’s a master trickster. Just consider how he delivered identity politics to the upper classes while treating the lower classes with the most unabashedly patriarchal paternalism. And this when one of the fundamentals of identity politics is the anti-patriarchal stance! He capitalised on both the ignorance of the lower classes and the roseate spectacles worn by the upper classes. The latter were both beneficiaries of Muscat’s identity politics and his unwitting alibi – thanks to them Muscat was routinely treated as a hero in certain European circles, and this permitted his cronies to busy themselves with their lurid affairs away from the public eye.

These paradoxes make up a great part of his legacy.

Semantic detour on “legacy”

For goodness’ sake, stop saying legat! What is wrong with this country? Why do we see a false friend and rush to greet him with open arms? If the name’s false friend, there must be a reason to it! I mean, I understand those who trusted Muscat – they failed to see what a false friend he was, now one can’t expect them to recognise a linguistic false friend, can one? But those who saw through him should also see through the linguistic false friend!

What is a false friend? A word or phrase in one language that is similar in appearance to a word or phrase in another language but has a different meaning. Legacy and legat are almost false friends. When used in a legal context (in the Law of Succession), legacy is legat. When used figuratively, legacy is not legat. It is wirt, eredità, patrimonju. (Aquilina suggests “(fig.) wirt ta’ konsegwenzi”.)

So when you want to refer to Muscat’s legacy, please do not say, “Il-legat ta’ Muscat”. Say, “Il-wirt” or “l-eredità ta’ Muscat”.

Now that I got that off my chest, let’s get on with our analysis of the picaroon’s legacy.

A split party: neoliberals v. socialists

In essence, the bottom-line message in Muscat’s Farewell Tour speeches is that the election of a new leader will further unite the Labour Party.

Do not, however, assume that this is a slogan meant to describe the current situation. It is a slogan that serves as an imperative. When Muscat says “the election will further unite the Party” he is in reality imparting an order: “The result is not important; party unity is. Therefore, I’m ordering you to forget all differences and be united.”

Frankly, he’s right. I mean, he’s right to impart this order to his followers.

But at the same time, Muscat’s order means that his legacy (eredità not legat) includes a split party. It couldn’t be otherwise. I have already written that Muscat had misappropriated Labour, replacing – without any mandate – its social-democratic ethos with neo-liberalism. This usurpation has recently induced a number of self-styled “socialists” to write a post-resignation letter to the Labour Party asking that the Party be restored to its socialist roots. One can question their sincerity given the timing, but that’s hardly the point. The point is that Labour is split in two: the Muscatians (neoliberals, cultural Marxists, anarchists, pro-abortionists, pro-EU, couldn’t-care-less-about-the-workers “realists”, etc) and the old-school (Mintoffian) Socialists (socially conservative, traditional Western-European-Marxists (as opposed to Soviet Marxists), pro-family, EU-suspicious, pro-worker-rights “idealists”, etc).

Muscat managed to hold these two currents together and separate at the same time, and it was no mean feat. He succeeded because he embraced political amorality with a smile in his heart – the same amorality which led him to be blind to the rats running about the ship. His successor will not find it easy to follow in Muscat’s footsteps, because now there will be heightened supervision within Labour (once bitten, twice shy and all that).

Muscat’s successor will have to learn schizophrenic skills and hone them: moral in one field, amoral in others. Life experience teaches that such schizophrenia is so stressful, it never lasts long. Few minds can entertain two opposite ideas at the same time. Ask any wife who starts suspecting her husband’s cheating on her – she realises from the small, almost-imperceptible signs of her husband’s stress at leading a double life, at trying to make two opposite ideas (fall in love with another woman but keep being nice, though not too nice, to the wife) co-exist in one head.

The big problem, however, is that some people want politicians that are administrators (minister is semantically close to administer) whereas others want a leader who assumes the role of parent. Muscat succeeded in being a bit of both. He was an administrator to those who wanted neoliberalism and a parent to those who do not even begin to understand that politics should be a contest between ideas not tribal warfare or clan war.

This will be the big challenge for his successor, and possibly his downfall too.

A demoralised party

Despite the hype, relatively few people attended the mawkish Farewell Tour events. And rightly so.

As I’m a Żebbuġi, I’ll limit my analysis to the Żebbuġin.

I think it was obvious that the vast majority of Żebbuġi Labourites would keep away from the theatre and the lovey-dovey couple, as they figured out the trick. Years ago, Guido de Marco told me something he learned from the time he had an office in Ħaż-Żebbuġ: the Żebbuġin always seek a second opinion. Says something about the character of this people who alone in Malta use the word ġarnus (from the Sicilian giarnusu), meaning a particularly obstinate person. They understand when they see somebody obstinately wanting to milk the cow till the last drop.

Muscat il-Ġarnus, Muscat the Obstinate, is bequeathing a demoralised party. Though they won’t readily admit it, party members from all over Malta are grasping what Muscat did to them and to the country, and feel sorry for both.

They will obviously overburden the new leader with hope and expectation. Chance is, they will be disappointed again, because the new leader is only human (or possibly because, to quote the deep wisdom that Owen Bonnici shared with us, messiahs like Joseph “are born once every 25 years”).

The major conundrum Labour will have to solve is to discover why Aristotle was right when he wrote that virtue lies in the middle.

The intermittent Constitution fuss

The Muscat legacy (eredità not legat) includes the castrated urge to revolutionise the constitution, and the concurrent ignorance or ignoring of the current constitution.

For six years, Muscat promised a new constitutional document, but never elaborated on the details. Every now and then, he would allow a lot of fuss to dominate the public arena, heightening expectations about his promised constitutional changes. He started a real and gaudy revolution, in so-called “civil rights” which, coupled with the fuss on constitutional change, served to distract from his third, concurrent but concealed, “revolution”: institutionalised corruption.

His purposefully vague insistence on a New Constitution was also meant to hit another bird with the same stone: since the current constitution is on its way out, it need not really be observed. This enabled him to usher in a sort of “authoritarian populism” – the enormous majority at the polls emboldened him to amass as much power as possible in the Executive, and, pointedly, in his hands. No wonder the Venice Commission was shocked!

This urge to revolutionise the Constitution was castrated for two reasons. One, the fuss helped to divert attention from the rot. Two, unlike all his predecessors, Muscat seems to have been oblivious to the true significance of a constitutional setup. Future historians will doubtlessly find among his greatest flaws, his inexplicable misunderstanding of the Modern State and his cynical nonchalance toward the temptations that landslide victories engender.

Economic chimera

Muscat repeatedly promised his followers that the economic boom he takes credit for would continue for a long time. He never reminded his followers that his predecessor had agreed a financial package with the EU of over one billion euros.

Equally important, he never explained to his followers that, in addition to that injection of cash, Malta’s economy enjoyed healthy growth thanks to the ballooning of the population. A few weeks ago, Minister José Herrera told us that the population has now grown to more than 700,000! This population growth has brought about the economic boom – but the bases of this boom are volatile.

Muscat’s legacy (eredità not legat) will include a shock when the artificial fattening of the economy stops and leaner times knock on the Nation’s door.

Already certain industries have begun complaining that the political environment no longer affords them the stability they need to operate. Don’t be surprised if the country goes to the dogs.

International reputation

The international fallout from Muscat’s mess is without precedent. As there are no natural resources on the islands or beneath the surrounding seabed, Malta depends on foreign direct investment. FDI requires political stability, a trustworthy workforce, a functioning legal system, an efficient banking system and, most importantly, a good reputation. EU membership certified that we had all of that.

Now, thanks to Muscat’s administration, the certificate of quality has been torn up.

Now, after Muscat’s devastation, we’ll have to start afresh.

Epilogue

In Life is Beautiful, Roberto Benigni’s character pretends that imprisonment in a Nazi concentration camp is a game, to shield his young son from the trauma. Muscat might be doing the same. Perhaps he wanted to overstay his welcome at Castille to do a Benigni thing.

Consider the private audience with the Pope. I looked at the faces of the two innocent Muscat sisters in the photos with His Holiness. Perhaps the Holy Father was playing a role in a Benigni-like masquerade, shielding the children from their unholy father’s narcissistic recklessness.

Consider the surreal farewell events around Malta. Again, if they have the effect of not traumatising those two girls, I sort of close one eye.

But truth be told, I rather suspect Muscat cares very little about doing a Benigni thing, and is instead diabolically protecting himself as he slowly comes to terms with his self-delusion. Ultimately, it seems that he genuinely believed that because he had the power and the glory, then the kingdom would be his forever and ever.

My Personal Library (79)

Aquilina’s Maltese-English, English-Maltese dictionaries seem to be loved and loathed at the same time. I’ve heard complaints that Aquilina simply compiled terms from previous dictionaries. To me that’s more of a plus than a minus.

Defects abound in Aquilina – I once wrote a 6,000-word study on one word which Aquilina took from Vassalli’s Lexicon while discarding Vassalli’s precise definition and proposing an alternative definition based on assertion.

Yet, Aquilina’s remains one of a handful of authoritative Maltese lexicons.

It’s a pity that a new mentality has taken root in the country that believes the people have the last word in matters linguistic. There’s a tendency to forget that it’s the experts who sieve through the mass of popular linguistic initiatives because the people is not always right.

At the end, the experts have to measure themselves against the Father of the Maltese Language.

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