Your humble columnist spent much of the last week discussing with friends how Donald Trump won the election in the United States. Mr. Trump capitalized upon rural conservative voters’ anger at the secular establishment that continuously insults them and looks down on them, their affection for a macho strongman image, their desire for change, and similar factors.
Then it dawned on me where else this occurred recently: Turkey. Searching various news sites, it did not take long to find others who noticed the parallel. Steven Cook, writing for the Politico news site, offers the following:
Like Erdogan’s supporters, the predominantly middle-class and rural voters without college degrees who delivered the White House to Trump are deeply suspicious of the elites. When Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, also known as AKP, first came to power in 2002, it represented voters from the Anatolian heartland, Kurds and pious Turks, many of whom had felt shunned and repressed by the Istanbul and Ankara elite. The members of the Turkish establishment—educated at the exclusive Galatasaray Lisesi high school and Bogazici University (which might as well be Vassar on the Bosphorus), Ankara University’s Faculty of Political Science and Economics or, of course, the military academy—looked down on the AKP’s constituents.
Another well-known American political scientist and strident Trump critic, Stephen Walt of Harvard, compares Trump’s personality and manner to that of Erdogan and Putin. He then goes on to warn his readers about how to recognize dictatorial tendencies in a Trump administration. This very thought – that an elected leader can be a dictator – sends Mr. Erdogan into a rage every time he hears it, of course. For the likes of Erdogan (and perhaps Trump), if you win the election you get to do what you want. That’s democracy. So it came as no surprise that Mr. Erdogan this week told his audiences to “stop calling Trump a dictator.”
Professor Walt warns his readers that Mr. Trump seems to be a vindictive man “who will go to extreme lengths to punish his opponents and will break a promise in a heartbeat and without remorse.” That sounds familiar to those of us who have been watching events in Turkey, of course. He also accuses Trump of having “little respect for existing norms and rules.” Familiar again. Then he describes Trump supporters as believing their country is under siege from “liberal elites, people of color, immigrants of all sorts, and shadowy foreign influences.” If “people of color” can mean Kurds (and there are a lot of parallels), and “immigrants” can mean any foreigner, then it might as well be a typical Anatolian AKP voter he is describing – especially if we add a lot of emphasis to “shadowy foreign influences”. He might have added something about misogynistic statements from both men too.
I would add that just as Mr. Erdogan surrounded himself with some questionable assistants and advisors (including one who famously claimed that “shadowy foreign powers” were trying to “kill Mr. Erdogan via Telekinesis”), so too with Mr. Trump. And before Mr. Erdogan gets unduly upset about a Trump administration’s discourse regarding Muslims, they might recall how they themselves speak of Armenians, Jews and Alevis.
Returning to Professor Walt, he also lays out ten signs to look out for in case of a budding Trump dictatorship. Perhaps Dr. Walt simply looked at today’s Turkey for the list: 1) Systematic efforts to control the media; 2) Building an official pro-Trump media network (just replace “pro-Trump” with “Anadolu Agency” or the seized Zaman media); 3) Politicizing the civil service, military, National Guard, or the domestic security agencies; 4) Using government surveillance against domestic political opponents; 5) Using state power to reward corporate backers and punish opponents; 6) Stacking the Supreme Court (replace “Supreme Court” with “Constitutional Court”); 7) Enforcing the law for only one side; 8) Really rigging the system (your humble columnist is not sure about this one, unless suspicious power failures during ballot counting and “security” operations in opposition districts on voting day count); 9) Fearmongering; and 10) Demonizing the opposition.
In Turkey, of course, we know that media freedom rankings have now fallen behind the likes of Zimbabwe and Russia. We know that after firing some 200,000 civil servants in the last year, they were replaced with Erdogan loyalists. We know that the Turkish spy agency – the MIT – is now only answerable to President Erdogan himself, and that it spies freely on his opponents at home and abroad. We know that judges even at the highest levels have been replaced with loyalists too, thanks to new legislation allowing Mr. Erdogan to do so.
We know that if someone insults Sunni Islam in Turkey (or Mr. Erdogan), prosecutors will be beating on one’s door within hours – while being nowhere to be found followings insults towards ethnic Kurds, Armenians, Christians, Jews, Alevis or others. We have our doubts about ballot counting, power failures, and security operations in a few key districts during the last elections. We have no doubts about fearmongering and demonizing of opponents, however. Soon it will be difficult to find even a single elected Kurdish opposition politician who is not behind bars, so dangerous and evil are they…
Your humble columnists does not think something like this will happen in the United States, however. Strong institutions, a vigilant population and a soon to be President Trump who is probably not nearly as bad as he sometimes seemed during the election campaign, will prevent it. Turkey, unfortunately, is another matter.
David Romano has been a Rudaw columnist since 2010. He holds the Thomas G. Strong Professor of Middle East Politics at Missouri State University and is the author of numerous publications on the Kurds and the Middle East.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.