Turkey's case for fake-democracy primacy
An Erdogan victory in Turkey on May 14 would help illiberalism everywhere
It's human to see things through a binary prism: left versus right, drama versus comedy, democracy versus autocracy. But we can oversimplify. The great challenge to freedom comes not only from cartoon villains like Russian President Vladimir Putin but from the perhaps less evil but strangely more vexing in-betweeners.
These are rulers like Turkey's Recep Teyyep Erdogan, who faces reelection next month after two decades at the helm that have left him feeling essential to his nation—a very common self-delusion. There are quite a few of these in-betweeners on the world stage these days, and they tend to share some primary qualities.
They exploit the weaknesses of democracy—chiefly its tolerance of lies and outrageous machinations—to rule as autocrats. They vex rivals with a gift for whipping up resentments that make them the champions of the losers of globalization. Not clearly evil, but posing a menace to liberal democracy, they take on a confounding and oddly popular shade of gray.
Among their number stands Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His stooges tried to pass "reforms" that would have defanged the legal system and made the government almost omnipotent precisely at a time when Netanyahu finds himself on trial.
That could have been devastating to Israel's status as a tech superpower and made this crypto-nuclear power quite dangerous. But Israel's healthy civil society appears to have stalled the plan, and Netanyahu is wavering.
These skullduggeries in Israel have been widely compared to the sad recent history of Poland and Hungary. Both are former communist dictatorships in which high hopes were invested after the Soviet collapse of three decades ago. But in recent years they have fallen prey to illiberal plots to install autocratic rule under the cover of mostly free elections.
Hungary's Victor Orban has been especially successful in gaming the system to keep himself in power while ratcheting up oppression at home. He has successfully installed the kind of regime that can brook such little opposition that it even forced the Central European University to relocate. Such regimes rarely outlast the original fake democrat, but authoritarian-minded U.S. Republicans like Steve Bannon are arriving to pay homage nonetheless.
I say they should make pilgrimages to Istanbul as well. Erdogan has earned our attention no less than Orban and perhaps even more.
So what’s Erdogan’s case for fake-democracy supremacy?
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