First published on my Facebook page on 25th May the day after Joseph Muscat blamed the Russian Secret Service for the Egrant story and when I stopped laughing and started realising Muscat was on a winning strategy:
Sober up. I too spent yesterday splitting my sides. But having slept on it and having read what the irredeemable apologists have been writing — I wonder if they’ve been thinking it — I am in a decidedly chillier mood today.
So Joseph Muscat yesterday blamed the Russian Secret Service and by extension its political masters for plotting his downfall. He set up a mis-en-scene to give space for his apologists to devise an alibi for him. Like the porter of hellgate he equivocates. He provokes and unprovokes. He blames Russian spies and he does not blame Russian spies. He pointedly refrained from getting a journalist from asking him whether he believes it to be true that the Russians plotted his downfall. He instead got a journalist to ask him if he has heard of the theory that Russians plotted his downfall. The answer is both yes and no.
Then he gets his spin doctors to brief the press that he has known about this Russian conspiracy since December. You’ve got to ask. Was he then lying all along when he blamed DCG and the PN for ‘inventing’ Egrant, when no less than the CIA was ‘telling him’ it was Putin whodunit?
Yesterday, in a mood of hilarity and mirth mixed with a little embarrassment and anger, I described Joseph Muscat in one of these posts as a blundering idiot. I called it a graduation because up to now he has shown himself to be anything but idiotic. He has proven to be wily, sly and slithering but never blundering. For the first time anger moved to ridicule. But I think, once again, I underestimate him.
Joseph Muscat has chosen this strategy consciously because he likes to win and this, he has reason to believe, is a winning strategy. He is taking a page out of the playbook of the alt-right and UKIP that have hijacked the Republican and Tory agenda in the Anglo-Saxon world.
Think about it. Donald Trump’s book of instructions is being followed almost to the letter.
Firstly, throw away convention. Joseph Muscat’s brazen approach to the electorate teaches us that what used to disqualify a politician from the job are now medals to be worn proudly. Where modesty and humility used to be requirements, bling and ostentation are now the order of the day. Peronista tiaras and motor outriders steamrolling over traffic are now the order of the day.
Secondly, personal craftiness and a little bit of sleaze now do miracles to your reputation. Trump’s professional tax dodging has proven to be a political asset. And Joseph Muscat is making the best of his Chief of Staff’s crafty business structures legitimising bank accounts hidden in tax havens as perfectly ok.
Thirdly, a little bit of obvious silliness and stupidity on the campaign trail not only does not hurt: it helps. Trump spoke of establishment conspiracies out to get him: an alliance between press, party and bank that is intent on quashing him. That is how Muscat discredits the independent media and independent professionals who criticise his methods and his results: as co-conspirators with the PN.
Fourthly, xenophobic paranoia never hurts. And let’s face it, if you’re going to touch a racist nerve in the Maltese it’s not going to be by parading a black bogeyman. The Russian whore is probably the most proverbial hateful other in the Maltese psyche. Ask any vaguely attractive Eastern European woman who lives here how stereotypical is the Maltese view is of them. Add a little hate for the Russian dumb-bimbo/house-wrecker and you can get anywhere.
Fifthly, obfuscate, distract and dodge. Like Trump, the program is to discredit anything that is spoken by anyone outside the home circle as lies. Facts, even the most self-evident, are denied, denied and denied. Gravity is made into fiction and facts are made optional. Joseph Muscat does not have a coal lobby to appease so he need not deny climate change. But he does claim we have cleaner air thanks to a gas power station that has not even been switched on yet. He does claim we emerged from an economic abyss 4 years ago and we’ve experienced an economic miracle during his short reign. He does claim he introduced free health and education where these did not exist 4 years ago. Facts are denied and new ones created. It is in that context of fact-burning that the facts around his own corruption can be denied and plausibly discredited.
Sixthly, and most on point for my case here: play the idiot. It helps if you are underestimated. Trump needed Clinton to believe she’d be a shoe-in. Joseph Muscat needs the PN and its supporters going to this election believing they deserve to win and, since is-sewwa jirbaħ żgur, will inevitably do so. It is that complacency that loses parties elections and it is complacency that Muscat needs the PN to fall in.
It is out of that Roger Stone playbook that Muscat took out the Putin conspiracy thing yesterday. He did not do it because he did not realise he would look like an idiot. He did it because he knew he would. 9 days before the election is when he needs his opposition to stop striving and start laughing in smug self-confidence.
Meantime there’s no damage on the home front. In the same way Trump voters bought all the rubbish their candidate fed them, we are seeing Laburisti seriously arguing that their Joseph is seriously mighty and significant enough as to be a major bother for Vladimir Putin. The hero-cult he’s been building has been leading to this point. Simon Busuttil’s realism about his place and scale in the world makes him look puny, whiny and weak in their strong-man-fed eyes. And Castro-like they must now support the Joseph in the face of all the covert operations of spies intent on blowing up his cigars or slandering him with the notion of fake bank accounts. Give these people dots and they will join them, however twisted the lines will be.
Stop laughing. Sober up. The Joseph is on a winning strategy. For crying out loud I am not suggesting his methods should be imitated. I could not support deception even if my life depended on it. By all means remain convinced you are on the side of sewwa but tone down on the comfort that is-sewwa jirbaħ żgur. History shows rather the opposite. Is-sewwa jaf jitlef ukoll. It must fight to prevail. And it will lose if it is complacent.
The Joseph is no idiot. He threw the Putin spanner because he knows it can jumble the works. He is right. Stop laughing. Sober up. This battle is far from over.