This article first appeared on Malta Today
There is a lesson to be learnt for all world leaders when they view footage of what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend.
Hundreds of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members – planning to stage what they described as their largest rally in decades to “take America back” – clashed with counter protesters in the streets and a car plowed into crowds, leaving one person dead and 19 others injured.
It was not something which “just happened” in a vacuum, but is a result of the consequences when someone is elected to the highest office in the land who is simply not leadership material. Someone who used the kind of rhetoric, time and again, during his election campaign, to whip up the kind of ugly nationalism we saw in Charlottesville. And he is proving, time and again, through his words and behaviour that he is not fit (psychologically, intellectually or emotionally) to hold office.
I have not written about Trump in a while because I find him and what he represents so unbearably repulsive that I have gone into a sort of denial. I don’t share anything about him on FB any more, not even to ridicule him, in order to obliterate him from my consciousness. In fact, in many of the states which rejected Trump’s rhetoric, where the multi-ethnic communities live peacefully together and just go about their lives, not letting the politics of hate infiltrate their consciousness, it is almost easy to forget he exists.
But in the midwest, which has come to be known as ‘Trump country’, it’s a different story, as Charlottesville so amply demonstrated.
Many political pundits and observers had warned that this type of thing was inevitable, but there is no real satisfaction in saying, “we told you so”; not after a woman has died, many were injured and the events have caused even further rifts in an already divided country.
However, it would be amiss of anyone to assume that because these tragic events are unfolding very far away that they could not possibly happen somewhere like Malta. After all, we have our own share of far right-wingers here who support Trump’s style of politics, so it’s not too far-fetched to imagine a similar scenario. As I have often said, what leaders say, the words they choose to express themselves and the atmosphere they create in the country is crucially important, because they set the tone for the entire population. Use inflammatory language, and you will ignite an already simmering flame of rage which is there just below the surface, waiting to be ignited.
This is not to say that one should ignore people’s legitimate concerns: it is a fact that in Malta we are seeing an unprecedented influx of foreign nationals who have come to work and live here, which we have never experienced before at one go. The seismic cultural shift has been very fast and bewildering for some, rather than a gradual change which is easier to adjust to. Apart from the changes to our once homogenous society (where, at the most, you had the occasional man marrying an “Ingliża” and that was just about tolerated since we have always had affectionate ties with the British), the arrival of more people to an already densely populated country is bound to create infrastructural problems.
But the answer is not to stir up hatred of “the other”; the answer is not to encourage contempt and scorn towards anyone who is not Maltese by fostering an ‘us and them’ mentality. If we don’t want this country to fall apart and unravel into anarchy we need leaders who step up and act the part. We expect to see this leadership not just from politicians but from all quarters of authority, including the police force and anyone who is in the public service.
On this over-crowded rock we are jostling for space, literally rubbing shoulders with each other everywhere we go, with the situation being further exacerbated in the summer months as the volume of people swells even further. Unless there are concrete measures put into place to ensure that we can all co-exist in a civilized, orderly manner, we risk descending into the type of chaos currently being experienced in such areas as Magaluf, on Majorca which is notorious for its wild boat parties and semi-naked tourists sprawled in a drunken stupor on the streets. Or we will end up like Venice, where residents are clamouring for a stop to the mass tourism which is ruining their beloved city.
The need for more discipline, adherence to the law and enforcement cannot be stressed enough, but first we must start with ourselves, for if a newly-arrived resident or tourist sees Maltese people casually and blatantly breaking the law with impunity, what kind of message is that sending? Can we really turn around and accuse “a foreigner” of not obeying our laws when we ourselves break a multitude of laws on a daily basis, from littering, to traffic violations, to driving under the influence, to disturbing the peace and so many other infringements? You reap what you sow, does not only apply to leaders after all, but to our own comportment in our own country. And if we don’t even respect Malta, how do we expect others to do so?