Robert Abela mocked bloggers and book authors as unproductive timewasters, useless amateurs, and compared their futility with the importance of his work, creating jobs for the country.
Not everyone can be prime minister. There’s only one at a time. If he is creating jobs – that’s a big if – then he’s doing what he’s supposed to do. If some of those jobs are in book writing and blogging he’s still just doing his job.
He was parrying with mockery the fact that buyers and readers of Robert Aquilina’s book now can see that it is not just “bloggers and book authors” who are accusing his government of covering up for criminals in order to avoid trouble for Joseph Muscat.
They can read for themselves the explicit recommendation by experts paid millions by the Maltese state that says that a €1 million transaction that went through Pilatus Bank deserves proper investigation. That recommendation was written well after Joseph Muscat cried on stage in relief that a magistrate found no evidence he collected a €1 million bung.
They worked hard on keeping that recommendation secret. The very survival of the Labour Party, not merely as a government but as an entity, depended on this covering up. Now that it’s out they need to move into a different, less benign phase. Hiding the secret did not work, now they must discredit its bearer.
Blogger and former Labour Party delegate Mark Camilleri reacted angrily to the prime minister’s mockery. Mark Camilleri (the rebel and former book council chairman not his successor) reminded Robert Abela that making books is a job-creating business and that he, Mark Camilleri, had risked much more than Robert Abela ever had to create productive jobs in a profitable enterprise.
That is a valid response but I think it forces an interpretation of what Robert Abela meant which does not necessarily reflect the prime minister’s intentions.
I don’t think Robert Abela has a problem with novelists or poets or fashion and makeup influencers or sports reporters. I don’t think he meant to mock every individual who writes blogs or books.
His problem is with his critics, with people who take time out of their lives, if not their entire time, to scrutinise his conduct and find it for what he knows it is: mendacious, compromised, avaricious, incompetent, testy, servile, secretive, and incoherent.
Here’s what really happened yesterday. Robert Abela is neither the first nor the best ever populist. He reads from the playbooks of populists elsewhere, past and present. Robert Abela seeks to drive and keep a wedge between facts and his support base, discrediting all sources of information except himself.
He represents himself as embodying the interests of “the people”, working indefatigably for them, creating jobs for them, protecting their wealth, and ensuring that the enemies of the people do not take their wellbeing away from them.
The enemies of “the people” are branded as an “elite”, a bunch of good for nothing monsters who produce nothing but simply wait in the wings for the moment when “the people” lower their guard and allow them to take their wealth from them.
You’ve heard them speak of their critics before. They are the “Nationalists” who are only interested in getting back to power so they can suck on the teat of the people’s hard work and sap on the wealth that belongs to the people. Only Robert Abela can stop that from happening.
The “elites”, the “enemies of the people” is the sum total of anyone who amounts to a challenge to Robert Abela’s authority – intellectuals, journalists, commenters, activists, analysts, critics – anyone without access to political influence but who use their time and abilities to seek for the truth and proceeds to share it.
If the truth they expose is to be ignored, those who expose it must be discredited. Motivations of avarice and lust for power must be attributed to them. If the 500 pages of directly reproduced evidence in Robert Aquilina’s book on the Pilatus scandal are to be ignored he – Robert Aquilina – must be degraded and slandered.
Expect this to get progressively worse. The Labour Party is retrenching. Today that vile hatemonger Emmanuel Cuschieri goes back to the Labour Party’s radio station to continue his briefly interrupted 30-year career of vilifying “the elites” on a daily basis. You know the Labour Party is pulling up the drawbridge when they start passionate controversies over their Party’s disputes with the Church in the 1960s. Yes, that is happening now, a crisis unprovoked except by Labour’s paranoid siege mentality and its desperate need to galvanise any members of its support base that might be tempted to look out at what is being said beyond the moat of their fortress.
When Robert Abela ridicules books and blogs like he did yesterday, he’s firing the opening salvo in a new phase in these culture wars. Nuance in argument will be seen as treason. There will be no room for debate, no opportunity for discussion, no time to read what unaffiliated people might be thinking. There will be no reality outside One TV and radio, no respect for anyone unless Emmanuel Cuschieri allows it.
In the place of tedious books and contentious blogs, we’ll have slogans, comfortingly predictable mantras, repeated neurotically by the choir of sheep at the gatherings of a revolutionary farm. You know what that sounds like. “L-aqwa żmien. L-aqwa żmien,” repeated maniacally in the face of catastrophe, cleansing by force of will alone the loathing of life and country that comes so naturally when the corrupt and the criminal plunder our children’s future and demand our gratitude for it.
We are entering a new phase of intolerance, hatred, and propaganda, not unlike the one we went through when Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed and the Labour Party could not afford to allow its support base to feel even a shred of sympathy for a family in mourning.
As it was then, so our response must be now. The blogs and the books will not stop just because Robert Abela wishes them to.