One way of coping with an all-embracing reality is to embrace it all. No doubt, some people were quicker than most to jump on Joseph Muscat’s bandwagon of ‘Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law’.
The first to get there were people for whom any other reality had become too hot and they needed a quick alternative. Some famous examples are Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando, Robert Musumeci, Cyrus Engerer, Ian Castaldi Paris, Karl Stagno Navarra: people for whom all paths had closed except the highway Muscat built for them. From critics of the Labour Party, they became its most ardent prophets.
Musumeci and the others are totems, visible representatives of a wave of ‘switchers’ who converted to the new religion because it was remarkably less rigorous. Restraint in public administration, meritocracy, planning limits – what some call ‘standards’ – became artificial memories of the Lawrence Gonzi years. A new religion forces you to renounce and hate all old ones. Standards in public life came to be (falsely) remembered as arrogance, stagnation, formalism.
Not everyone withholding support for Labour did so out of disgusted exhaustion with weekly scandals. Many thousands vote PN out of habit because for them it’s always been that way. Yet, there remained a large number of others who preferred the foibles and the fumbling of imperfect Nationalist governments over the wilful and institutionalised corruption of Muscat’s regime.
For those for whom ethics was a voting consideration, the 2017 election result was a blow. After the Panama revelations they fully expected the rest of the electorate (or, at least, a majority of it) to behave as they would. If you prick us do we not bleed? If senior politicians are caught hiding nests for money they shouldn’t have and the prime minister protects them, shouldn’t any electorate vote them out? In movies perhaps but not this electorate.
Then came the killing of Daphne Caruana Galizia and a decision of three judges that found the state responsible for it. The judges expressly pointed at Muscat and his ministers, by then ministers serving Robert Abela. Abela, who advised Muscat through the years of rot, promised and delivered continuity, a nice way of describing the renewal of impunity for corrupt politicians and their criminal associates.
In parallel with all this, the only other viable alternative to Abela’s party, the PN, went mad. Those who vote PN because they’ve always done so were largely unperturbed. Those who voted PN because they tolerated its imperfections, preferring them to the brigandage of Labour’s highway robberies were stuck.
For years, it felt like after the Musumecis jumped the fence from the PN over to the PL, their former party was now following them across. Consider how Adrian Delia’s biggest fan and most vociferous advocate, then and now, was Musumeci. ‘Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law’ was by then a faith that crossed the boundaries of party and colour.
Not everyone in the PN was delighted with this rush to Abaddon. A war for the soul of the PN was fought, televised on the Labour Party’s station. On the one hand the ‘positive’ Nationalists, silent in their criticism of Labour, pleased to suckle on its teat. On the other, the ‘negative’ Nationalists, full of ‘hate’.
When it seems nobody cares anymore, your conscience is all you’re left with- Manuel Delia
For a while it appeared that Labour’s lackeys had lost control of the PN and the opposition had become once more worthy of that name. And, so, the people for whom ethics mattered felt they could again answer the call of ignoring the PN’s imperfections and declare their preference of that over the party which ran a government that allowed a journalist to be killed so they could continue to cash the profits from their corruption.
The 2022 election result was a punch that hit the bruising still glowering from five years earlier. Once you face up to the fact that not even the killing of a journalist, the world’s condemnation, greylisting by international agencies, the ruling of three judges and the chaos of Muscat’s last week , would make a dent on Labour’s hegemony, you must also face up to the fact that for things to change they first need to get worse.
Worse than the last five years? Worse than the darkness we have already been through? Some might say that’s unthinkable. Until it happens.
Even relatively free of the shenanigans of the days when Delia sat atop the PN, the opposition, for now at least, appears to be tuning its instruments to play Labour’s tune. Look, more of them seem to say, the people keep telling us they embrace corruption. So then must we.
The helpless look for ways to cope. After 10 years of disappointment, five of which fighting a series of losing battles of resistance, they think of ways to live with a reality they cannot fight or fly from.
They resort to the privacy of neutrality, the dignity of distraction with work or travel or even enthusiastic conversion, co-option, collaboration.
There’s another option, lonely in its isolation, to remain free even if merely inside one’s head when everyone else seems happy to slice theirs off and offer it on the altar of Mammon.
In your own head, nobody chides you for retching with disgust at this week’s scandal even if everyone outside your head seems to have lost their ability to be shocked. Until the fallout takes you, you can still tell yourself that you did not convert.
When it seems nobody cares anymore, your conscience is all you’re left with.
Don’t give it up.