Disinformation Watch: ‘The Establishment’ – a phantom enemy

A good gauge of political unrest is when politicians use the ‘us vs. them’ rhetoric more often in their speeches.

Prime Minister Robert Abela has done this often in the last few days to counter the fallout from the magisterial inquiry into the Vitals hospital deal. Only this time, the word “them” has taken on an ambiguous, almost phantom-like meaning.

‘Them’ is no longer specifically the opposition, the independent media, civil society, or government critics.

‘Them’, as we saw repeatedly reported in the media, is ‘The Establishment’: a broadly defined word that can be applied to any group or ideal that people feel excluded from, which is why the prime minister, when pressed, won’t specify to whom he’s referring.

Opposition leader Bernard Grech addressed his supporters on Sunday, accusing Prime Minister Robert Abela of talking about ‘The Establishment’ without being able to name any specific individuals because The Establishment is, in fact, Abela himself.

Grech’s statement responded to Robert Abela’s repeated claims that ‘The Establishment’ had taken control of the courts and was attempting to smear former prime minister Joseph Muscat and other Labour politicians involved in the hospitals’ privatisation scandal.

These tit-for-tats resulted in a patchwork of news reports that amplified an insidious concept but failed to provide readers with the necessary context to filter out the distractions the prime minister’s rhetoric aims to create.

Where have we heard this phrase used in Maltese politics, and how did the term evolve into what it means today?

Joseph Muscat vs The Establishment

In a blog post dated 9 November 2016, Daphne Caruana Galizia wrote, “What exactly do people like Muscat think The Establishment is if it’s not the most influential and well-connected people in a particular society, country, or organisation? The prime minister IS The Establishment. He is the most powerful person in the country and the single most influential decision-maker,” she added.

Caruana Galiza was writing about an article that quoted former prime minister Joseph Muscat’s comments on Donald Trump’s 2016 electoral victory. According to Muscat, there were lessons to be learned. “If anything, it keeps my resolve never to become part of The Establishment, but rather work to change it from within,” Muscat had said at the time.

It’s easy to see why Muscat, three years in power, would have identified with Trump’s victory in the presidential race.

The term ‘The Establishment’ was a big part of American political debate in 2016. After all, Trump’s appeal was partly based on the idea that he, a political rookie, with his dangerous ideas and disregard for customary rules and decorum, could challenge and beat an experienced politician like Hilary Clinton.

In 2013, Muscat also presented himself as the challenger to the Nationalist administration, which had been in power for 25 years and, according to his campaign, had grown arrogant and elitist. He was the up-and-coming economist, not a lawyer like many in the PN administration at the time. He was there to challenge ‘The Establishment’.

Nevertheless, history has shown us that a person’s qualities when seeking power are not the same ones exhibited once in power. Over the years, we saw how efficient Muscat and his administration were in creating a self-serving system as he consolidated power in his hands and those of his closest allies.

‘The Establishment’? It depends on who you ask

In the 1950s, British political journalist Henry Fairlie defined the political ‘Establishment’ as both the centres of ‘official power’ and “the whole matrix of official and social relations within which power is exercised”.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the term as “the people in a society or a profession who have influence and power and who usually do not support change”.

If we apply these parameters to our politicians, Malta’s prime minister wields plenty of power and influence as the head of the country’s executive branch.

For some, ‘The Establishment’ means those who come from a long line of politicians in the family. For others, ‘The Establishment’ is anyone who wields power and influence, including big businesses, that are known to secure their interests by cosying up to any government, irrespective of ideology.

The advantage of calling out ‘The Establishment’ during tongue lashings like Abela’s is that ‘The Establishment’ is unlikely to show up to defend itself.

In default of Abela ever telling us who he’s referring to, we can borrow the definition by Jack Schafer, a senior writer at Politico:

“With so many powerful notables from some many different walks of life and so many political persuasions denouncing The Establishment, can it really be said to exist as anything but a negative construct political types can define themselves against?”

Probably not.

                           

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Joseph
Joseph
12 days ago

X’dahka dik mil-bank tal-briganti. Jidhu bihom infushom, bin-nies taghhom stess. Li jaghmlu kollox f’isem l’injorant tas-s/o.

wenzu
wenzu
12 days ago

Just goes to show that Bonehead Bobby simply doesn’t know what he is talking about – as per usual!

Joseph Tabone Adami
Joseph Tabone Adami
12 days ago
Reply to  wenzu

Maybe, but – judging from the heartily laughing faces of his followers as shown in the above picture – he certainly knows how to tell a joke, even if one that only few can really ‘appreciate’.

Xmun
Xmun
12 days ago

Please note that Muscat is not an economist. Even that is a lie. He never obtained an economics degree

He graduated Bachelor of Commerce in Management and Public Policy (University of Malta, 1995),[24] Bachelor of Arts with Honours in Public Policy (University of Malta, 1996),[24] and Master of Arts in European Studies (University of Malta, 1997).[24] In 2007, he attained a Doctorate of Philosophy in Management Research from the University of Bristol[23]

Zhuhsi
Zhuhsi
10 days ago
Reply to  Xmun

Fully agree. Makes my head spin to see this charlatan described as some Nobel crowned economist of renown.

Anthony Nani
Anthony Nani
12 days ago

I would suggest to the Prime Minister to ask his father the ex-president, ex-deputy leader, confidant of national leaders and senior lawyer about the establishment.

makjavel
makjavel
10 days ago

The Bash Street Kids , parliament version.

Emanjel Cilia Debono
Emanjel Cilia Debono
7 days ago

The word ‘establishment’ is being applied as a buzz-word by the government. The government applies the term to anybody who opposes it; but not to itself . The octopus wants to stretch its tentacles even deeper into the body of society in which we live

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