Liberty Expose: How Turkey's Post-Democratic Nation Compares To America
Typically when a major democratic nation holds an election, the press sit on the edge of their seats. Recent elections in North America and Europe have provided a high degree of uncertainty and no one ever knows how elections will turn out. Not for Turkey, though. When there is an election in Turkey, there is no need to speculate: the incumbent president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan will win. We know this because, since the turn of the century, Erdogan has maneuvered to fundamentally transform Turkey from a democratic state, into an authoritarian one. It is a campaign that he has been tremendously successful at.
The 21st century has been the Age of Erdogan for Turkey. Now an entire generation of Turks has been raised in a Turkey that has seen a continual decline in democratic norms. A generation of Turks will grow up believing the imprisonment of journalists is normal, secularization is to be reversed, and the West is to be shunned, not embraced. It could be that the younger generation of Turks will seek to repeal the advances made by Erdogan and his more rural and middle-aged devotees, but John Adams observed, Liberty once lost is lost forever.
Over the years, Erdogan has transformed the Turkish presidency from a largely symbolic post to a vastly powerful position. Through political maneuverings, targeted referendums and the occasional war to build up support, Erdogan has politicized his office and colonized the parliament and the judicial system. He now has the power to impeach judges that stand against his power-grabs and imprisonment of dissenters.
In what was the beacon of what a Muslim-majority country can be; one that is secular and has a large degree of respect for human rights, the press is now being persecuted. Any journalist who criticizes Erdogan faces the prospect of being jailed for being a conspirator against the state.
Erdogan achieved expanding his power in 2023 with his victory in the last election. It’s ironic; the centennial of Turkish democracy is being celebrated by destroying it. Erdogan is the face of aspiring dictators, and he gives an example of who is, and who isn’t, a potential tyrant.
The death of the Turkish Republic should be seen as a sign of life for the American republic. In an era in which too many ahistorical and opportunistic journalists are willing to compare the Trump administration to authoritarian nationalists at best, and Nazis at worst, Turkey provides an example of what an actual democratic dictatorship looks like.
Erdogan is a crafty political leader who knows what he believes. He has spent years engineering the decline of Turkish democracy and has promoted an ideological vision along the way – one that is counter to the founding values of the Republic of Turkey. In this way, Erdogan is the stereotypical dictator: an ideologically coherent and talented politician.
Can the same be said about President Trump? Dictators, at least “democratic” ones, have thought seriously about what they believe. Many of them published before their ascension to power. Most of them lived painful and dangerous lives for years in order to promote their cause. In a word, they are the antithesis of Donald Trump. Before entering the presidency, one speculates if he has ever thought seriously about political ideas. Could he really point to thinkers who have influenced him, or distinguish between Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau? I will guess not.
The contrasts could not be starker: one is an aspiring theocrat, the other is the antithesis of religious devotion. One has been scheming for more power for almost two decades, the other burst onto the political scene about three years ago. One is altering the political character of his nation, the other tweets. They both despise journalists, but Erdogan imprisons the ones he doesn’t like. Trump just tweets and insults them. It is immature and inappropriate, but not dictatorial. If Erdogan read this, I would be in jail. If Trump read this, I would be scolded for my lack of Twitter followers.
In this respect, Americans should give a sigh of relief. Though the political culture is poisonous, American institutions are still powerful enough to repeal any would-be despots – of which President Trump is not one. America and the West should not look the other way with Erdogan; Congress recently blocked the sale of F-35 fighter jets to the NATO ally.
The European Union must also make it clear that Turkey will not be accepted into the economic union as long as they continue their democratic decline; i.e. as long as Erdogan exists in power, Turkey is unwelcome. And finally, America and Europe must revisit Turkey’s standing in NATO. Erdogan has elected to be Putin’s puppet and has undermined Western interests in the Middle East. We must decide if a post-democratic Turkey is worth defending.