The Malta Independent 29 September 2022, Thursday
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A nail in the coffin

Kevin Cassar Sunday, 14 August 2022, 09:30 Last update: about 3 months ago

“Such an assault could only take place in broken Third world countries. Sadly America has now become one of those countries.  They even broke into my safe,” Donald Trump moaned as his Mar-a-Lago Florida estate was raided by FBI agents. Former US President Trump is being investigated for removing classified official records from the White House.

For many of his critics it was about time that justice be done.  It was time to show the former President that even he is not above the law.  Congressman Eric Salwell tweeted: “the rule of law is taking shape - accountability is coming”.  In a statement, the Lincoln Project commented “Today’s raid is the first step for law enforcement”.

But Trump and his allies pounced, accusing the Justice Department of waging a politically motivated witch hunt.  The Trump mob was being incited, again. The aggressive rhetoric was intended to raise fears that attempting to prosecute Trump will lead to social unrest and even political violence. Republican congressman Ronny Jackson commented: “Tonight the FBI officially became the enemy of the people”.

Joe Walsh, a former Republican presidential candidate, expressed his disgust at his own party’s reaction. “The Republican party has abandoned the rule of law - they’re at war with the rule of law”.

Trump has made a habit of inciting his supporters.  He raged at the “raid” which he said amounted to “prosecutorial misconduct, the weaponisaton of the justice system, and an attack by Radical Left Democrats who desperately don’t want me to run for president in 2024”.  His residence, he claimed, was “under siege” in a plea to bring his supporters onto the streets. But only a handful of his loyalists turned up chanting “we want Trump”.

Just a day earlier Joseph Muscat called on his supporters to make their voices heard to support his friend and former Infrastructure Malta CEO, Fredrick Azzopardi who was due in court to face charges of breaching environmental protection laws. Like Trump, Muscat accused the prosecution of buckling in to pressure from “the usual suspects” and of taking “extreme measures”. He accused the “public functionary” of undue haste and panic and of taking senseless actions.  He decried Azzopardi’s prosecution as “a wrong decision that carries consequences - somebody must take responsibility”.

Muscat’s loyal devotee, Manuel Cuschieri took on Muscat’s crusade, inciting Muscat’s supporters to take to the streets and gather outside the law courts, purportedly to manifest their support for Azzopardi. That was only a front. Cuschieri’s rallying cry was really for Labour supporters to heed Muscat’s plea and make their “deafening roar” heard.  Cuschieri’s real aim was to show that Muscat still controlled the masses, that Muscat still held power, that Muscat could still inflict untold damage if he wished.

Muscat was taking Labour back to the dark days of Lorry Sant who led a group of Zejtun thugs into Valletta to support their friends who were due to face charges in court. Lorry Sant’s thugs ransacked the law courts, destroying and burning down eight halls.  They ripped up the metal railings and the stone wall outside the court.  They tore down bannisters, stole fire arms, tore up documents, burnt others and threw the rest into the street.  A bust of Michelangelo Refalo was smashed to the floor, windows broken and police vehicles attacked. As police officers simply watched Sant’s thugs moved down Republic Street, shattering shop windows and looting shops.  They finally attacked the Auberge de Castille, throwing stones, breaking windows and overturning the cannons in front of the Prime minister’s office.

Muscat is using the same dangerously aggressive tactics of a rejected Labour Party of the 1980s. He is calling on his supporters to defy the rule of law, to fight the institutions.

Muscat and Cuschieri have been at it before.  Muscat’s staunch devotee declared “Those trying to pick on you should think carefully - to touch you they must first roll over us, the absolute majority of this country”.  “Now is the time for action - we have been putting up for far too long”, Cuschieri warned soon after the raid on Muscat’s residence. Muscat had threatened “If there is anybody who thought that by doing this I will be intimidated or that I will be silenced, the result will be the opposite - I will speak out how I want, when I want and where I want”. Cuschieri swiftly responded: “just call and I’ll be near you, and I won’t be alone - there will be thousands”.

This time Labour’s new leadership was not going to let Joseph Muscat call the shots.  It swiftly kneecapped his attempted show of force.  The Labour Party, through its ‘spokesperson’ quickly and categorically dissociated itself from Cuschieri, and Muscat.  Cuschieri was on his own.  “He is organising the protest on his own personal initiative”, the Labour spokesperson declared. The message to supporters was clear - ignore him, don’t go. Of course it wasn’t Manuel Cuschieri, the Labour spokesperson was denouncing.  It was Joseph Muscat.

Labour’s pre-emptive strike worked. The feared “deafening noise of thousands” that Muscat had promised never materialised.  There were no more people outside the courts when Azzopardi turned up than the usual layabouts and idlers who regularly congregate there.

Muscat’s bubble was quickly burst. Manuel Cuschieri awkwardly hugged Azzopardi, as an elderly man shouted abuse in a reporter’s face. A few others trudged along. There was to be no repeat of Lorry Sant’s mayhem.

What happened to Manuel Cuschieri’s thousands? Where was the “deafening roar of thousands” Muscat threatened the nation with?

Never before has a former President’s home been raided in a criminal probe. Never before has a former Prime Minister’s home been raided in a criminal probe. Never before have Trump’s supporters abandoned their messiah.  Never before have Muscat’s thousands failed to turn up. Is that the sound of the first nail being hammered into their political coffin?

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