Turkish writer, Ece Temelkuran, lives under the regime of Recep Erdogan, a stalwart in the ranks of authoritarians now constructing a global state of illiberal democracy. She warns that they're all cut from the same cloth and they all use the same lure to draw in the unwary.
"Humans … want to be part of greatness. They feel small in this world, and a man comes along and he says that you can be part of this greatness that we can create together. And it's an incredibly mesmerising promise," Ece Temelkuran explained to The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.
Temelkuran, a political commentator and author of How to Lose a Country: The 7 Steps from Democracy to Dictatorship, says Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling AK Party (AKP) has been taking calculated steps towards an authoritarian rule.
As an example, she cited Erdogan's reaction to Istanbul's mayoral election in May, when opposition leader Ekrem Imamoglu defeated the ruling party's candidate, former prime minister Binali Yildirim.
The president publicly questioned the legitimacy of the vote, calling it corrupt, illegal and irregular. Turkey's top election authority responded by voiding the election victory and ordered a rerun, which has been planned for June 23.
Temelkuran said the AKP's pivot from right-wing populism to authoritarianism was subtle and gradual — and she fears the transition will start happening elsewhere very soon.
She said it was painful to hear Western lecturers and intellectuals laud the AKP's rise to success by crediting the power of democracy run by "real people."
"And now the same things are happening with exactly the same terms in Europe and the United States."
Temelkuran drew specific comparisons between U.S. President Donald Trump and Erdogan, describing Trump as a right-wing populist who is skilled at "making the great masses feel like he's one of them," despite his wealth and privilege.So, how are we to deal with this very real threat to our democracy? Should we somehow respond in kind? Is denouncing creeping authoritarianism enough?
"Mr. Erdogan, Mr. Trump; they all do the same thing."
My view is that we should respond to their efforts to subvert democracy with the most powerful weapon we have - more and better democracy.
Democracy has been weakened in the neoliberal era of globalism and free trade which demanded a grand compromise of democratic principles, a sharing of certain incidents of sovereignty, and a partial shift of government fidelity from the public interest to the narrow, private interest all in the name of economic growth.
It's now standard fare that election campaigns are waged on lies disguised as promises or platforms. This breeds the sort of cynicism that anticipates betrayal once the plebs have done their service at the ballot box, the one day in every four years they truly matter. Even then, there's an obscenity as fewer than two votes out of five deliver a thoroughly undemocratic result, a false majority.
Imagine just over three out of five knowing that, for the next four years, they will be ruled - not governed, ruled - by a majority from a party not of their choosing. And then to stand on the sidelines watching the leader who eked out that false majority discard the solemn promises on which he rode to victory. How democratic must that feel to the losers who so outnumber the deceived winners?
In a system that leaves most of the voting public essentially disenfranchised is it any wonder that some of them, perhaps a good many, would be drawn to the lure of charlatans such as Trump, Erdogan, Orban, that guy in Brazil, Duterte, Farage and the rest of those thugs?
It is within our power to have more and better democracy, government in which all or nearly all of the voting public can believe they have a say. That, in fact, is precisely what we were promised by that young man with the legendary name. He got what he wanted. Us - not so much.