The Liberty Expose: Democracy Dies in the Light
The good people of Turkey have recently decided that democracy just wasn’t for them. On the 16th, Turks went to the polls to decide whether new amendments would be added to the Turkish constitution. These amendments included abolishing the parliamentary system and giving a significant amount of power to the President of Turkey - the current one being Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Among the powers allocated to the President includes the ability to select his own judges, which will make the law inevitably bend towards his wishes. The vote was hardly unanimous; urban areas voted against increasing presidential powers, while those in favor resided primarily in rural areas. Those in favor of the increase of power won, albeit barley – and this ignores the multiple allegations of voter fraud. In a part of the world where the lifespan of a democracy lasts about as long as American troop deployments, Turkey served as a democratic beckon for the Middle East. Though problematic, Turkey lasted almost a century of being democratic – almost.
There have been attempts to Westernize the country - from the transition of the Turkish language from an Arabic to a Western alphabet, to the more recent pushes with the objective of letting Turkey join the European Union. There has been much said elsewhere regarding the consequences and tragedies of the referendum, and I won’t reiterate what has been repeated countless times. What happened in Turkey is a tragedy – period. However, the United States can learn from Turkey’s fall.
People tend to have a cartoonish view of democracy - or more specifically, how it dies. Democracy dies by coup, or in back room by shady capitalists, with the people standing hopelessly by. Dictatorship is born from the womb of national fear: fear from uncertainty, fear from responsibility, fear from competition. In this fear, despots are born. Their power does not come by the barrel of a gun, nor does it come by divine intervention – the power of the popular despot comes via curtsey of the people.
Considering the geographic splits in the referendum vote, a decentralized governing system would do the Turks well. Revolutionary change can be thrusted upon one part of the population by slim majority of the other. In America, this problem presents itself in the erosion of federalism. The federalist system was born out of the concept that there are multiple cultural differences in the new nation, and it is futile to deny that. However, beginning in the 20th century, the increasing centralization of the government is beginning to transition America into the “tyranny by the slim majority” that the American system was initially designed to prevent.
Every great political movement or leader has their own Goldstein, and Erdogan was no exception. The name of this “Goldstein” is Gulen – a cleric who hides in a Pennsylvania compound. After the failed coup attempt last year, Erdogan blamed Gulen and attempted to extradite the cleric back to Turkey to face justice. John Kerry made the otherwise uncharacteristically prudent decision to refuse the despot his scapegoat. It has become a cliché to label something “Orwellian,” but the Goldstein trend is a common occurrence in politics.
This fact was blatantly self-evident during the US election; Donald Trump blamed the “establishment” for the challenges America faces; Senator Bernie Sanders blames the nameless 1% for depriving the cammon man a voice in his government; and every candidate blames the opposing parties for all the suffering of the world. This of course grants voters the luxury of having a face to blame the current discontent over, as opposed to labeling political problems as the consequences of human nature.
Perhaps the most important lesson is that everyone is the master of his or her own fate. This distinction differentiates Lockean from Rousseauean democracy. A Lockean democracy is somewhat egotistical; each citizen must think he or she must can govern themselves better than anyone else can. Each citizen must think they’re just as capable as anyone else – if not more. That mindset can be problematic, and even annoying at times, but it prevents the possibility of a nation surrendering power to the executive.
A limited social contract must be in place. Americans must not think of the government to act as the solver of every nonviable problem that cannot be resolved privately. A social contract that allows the government to be an agent of change to humanity’s infinite problems will result in a despotism.
Dictatorships do not happen overnight. People have a cartoonish view of democratic decline that usually involves a Chancellor Palpatine figure being given power in a dark oligarchical senate room - all to the tune of cringeworthy screenplay. Democracies suffer a slow death; a culture that tolerates a centralized power is fostered amongst the voting class, and the executive hoists the banner of doing good. When a people believe their leader to be the hope in the void, that is when a free democracy ends.
After the election of Donald Trump, the Washington Post adopted the motto “democracy dies in the darkness.” One could speculate whether this was profit-drive hysteria. However, democracy doesn’t die swiftly, nor does it do so covertly. It is an act of suicide, not a murder (excluding invasions of course). Democracy dies when voters decide that they no longer can, at least attempt to solve problems, and therefore give powers to leaders that lie and say they will fix the problems for them. A democratic culture must be destroyed in order for democracy to die. Democracy does not die in the darkness; it dies in the light, for all to see.