The latest movie on Winston Churchill, Darkest Hour, is presented to the public as a film based on historic facts. It however transpires that one of the main scenes, the one where Churchill consults ordinary people in the underground, is fake.
Historic facts may have plural readings, but inserting fake encounters in what is meant to be a factual portrayal is not on. Indeed, why should a film producer need to fabricate history, when fact is often stranger than fiction?
The fake can also be detected in public discourse. A recent example of this was Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s dubbing of the V18 as ‘authentic’ during its launch. It then transpired that one of its four opening shows was very similar to Amsterdam’s ‘Turn on the Lights’ four years ago.
Indeed, this launch looked like a hyperreal simulation, especially when the same Muscat advised us not to join the European Union back in 2003 and spent his opposition years criticising everything related to Laurence Gonzi’s government, including Renzo Piano’s project at the entrance of the same city.
By now many of us have got used to Muscat’s discursive style. Opposing something in opposition but claiming it for himself or going a step further in government. Telling us one thing and doing the opposite, promising action but providing fluff. In short, this is a government based on the fake, on simulation, on post-truth.
For how can we define it otherwise, when so many policies are based on deceit and feeble foundations?
Take the sale of passports. Shrouded in secrecy, it seems to have become the government’s only hope for sustainable finance. Without these sales, Malta would not have had a surplus last year. Given that the government keeps expanding the public sector for partisan reasons, public finance will keep being addicted to such sales.
Two of government’s flagship projects, the privatisation of hospitals and the construction of the ‘American’ University of Malta’ in Żonqor are as fake as can be. They were not part of Labour’s electoral programme in 2013, they are increasingly looking like property speculation projects, and their projected outcomes are at best very flimsy.
Malta’s economic growth itself may be built on sand. Sure, the economy is growing. But we are becoming overdependent on construction and spinoffs from passport sales. How sustainable is this? How long will it last? To me, Edward Scicluna’s economic projections are based on electoral and not economic timelines. Will the public have to pick up the pieces once the ruling elite leaves power?
The cherry on the fake cake is the government’s talk of freedom and civil liberties. True, Malta is a high performer in LGBTIQ rights, and the matter is now mostly closed following parliamentary consensus. But Labour cannot keep getting away with milking this issue every time it is taken to task about other matters.
For how can a government boast of protecting freedom when its critic, Daphne Caruana Galizia, was blown up? How can Muscat have the gall to speak about whistle-blowers when Jonathan Ferris and Maria Efimova have their lives at risk? What freedom is this when current legislation allows us to offend religion but cannot protect journalists who investigate Henley & Partners and Pilatus Bank?
Muscat may be a master salesman and showman to his public. But behind his smile I do not see depth. I just see the ambition to have it good while it lasts and to do anything possible to keep power in the meantime. I see his dependency on collaborators such as Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi who benefit from impunity as corruption runs riot.
Those of us who are trained to value evidence, sustainability and integrity can see through the deliberate fake style of Muscat, but we know that he fuels his strength through the politics of the least common denominator, even if this damages the common good.
Yet we also know that no government is eternal. Our duty is to equip ourselves and others to see the dangers behind the smile. We need to deconstruct fake politics to construct a politics for the common good.