Just as I had put the finishing touches on my post Trump’s Press Conference – Part II discussing his dissing of the media, along comes another news story from International Business Times (IBT), informing me that Turkey’s President Erdoğan was praising Trump for putting CNN reporter Jim Acosta “in his place”. I can never complete a story anymore, as once I have written, edited, cleaned and scheduled it, something else hits the fan!
As I have reported on numerous occasions, President Erdoğan is steadily diminishing many of the freedoms that once made Turkey a democratic nation, including freedom of the press. Erdoğan has jailed at least 144 journalists and shuttered or seized control of more than 150 media companies, according to Human Rights Watch.
Turkey is currently a parliamentary democracy, with much of the executive power in the hands of the prime minister, and the role of the president (Erdoğan) being largely ceremonial, at least according to the Constitution. However, President Erdoğan has recently proposed certain constitutional changes that would transform the government into an executive democracy. The changes would enable Erdoğan to make all government appointments, take back the leadership of the ruling party, and stay in power until 2029, pending presidential and general elections in 2019, with a maximum of two five-year terms. The proposed amendments would entirely abolish the Office of the Prime Minister. One that threw up red flags for me is Article 84: The powers of Parliament to scrutinize ministers and hold the government to account are abolished. And Article 98: The obligation of ministers to answer questions orally in Parliament is abolished.
It is not my intent to give a lesson here on Turkish government, but rather to show what power and the desire for more power can lead to. Erdoğan, though more intelligent and polished than Trump, shares certain characteristics. Both are narcissistic, thin-skinned, and have controlling personalities. In the aftermath of the failed military coup last July, Erdoğan declared a state of emergency and temporarily expanded his powers. I, and others, still believe, though it has not been proven, that he played a role in staging the coup for this very reason. Since he cannot keep extending the state of emergency forever, the constitutional changes he proposes will expand the powers and control of his office on a permanent basis.
Under the state of emergency, as mentioned above, he has severely cut into the freedoms of the press, but also freedom of speech in general. In the last six months of the year, the government carried out mass arrests of journalists, closed multiple media outlets, and jailed elected opposition politicians. It dismissed or detained without due process over 100,000 civil servants including teachers, judges and prosecutors, suspended hundreds of nongovernmental groups, and consolidated government control over the courts.
“Instead of building on the cross-party unity opposed to the coup to strengthen democracy, Turkey’s government has opted for a ruthless crackdown on critics and opponents. With hundreds of thousands of people dismissed or detained without due process, an independent media silenced and Kurdish opposition members of parliament in jail, Turkey has been plunged into its worst crisis in a generation,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
How likely are the proposed constitutional changes to be passed? There is heavy criticism from opposition parties, and constitutional legal experts claim that the changes would result in the Parliament becoming effectively powerless, while the executive president would have controls over the executive, legislative and judiciary branches. Still, I predict that Erdoğan will have his way sometime this year.
So how does this relate to Trump’s election and our situation in the U.S.? As I mentioned, Trump and Erdoğan have similar personalities, and view their positions of power much the same. Trump is playing to a House and Senate with Republican majorities in both. Currently there is a vacant seat on the Supreme Court, the current composition of which is equally divided with 4 conservative and 4 liberal justices. There is no doubt that his nominee for that seat will be someone he trusts to share and support his views. Trump has continually denigrated and threatened all mainstream media outlets. He has nominated cabinet members whose positions are diametrically opposed to the ongoing commitments of their respective offices. And the list goes on ….
Does Trump have the power to follow in the path of Erdoğan? Alone, no. But supported by a ‘yes-man’ Congress and a Supreme Court whose balance is tipped in favour of his policies, perhaps. While I think it is highly unlikely that he would, or even could, stage a coup, in a sense he has already manufactured the crisis that he might be able to use to increase the power of his office. He has divided the people, the citizens of this nation, in a way that has never been done before. He has told his followers that there are boogey men behind every tree just waiting to make their lives miserable. He has told them that their lives are already miserable, and that policies such as environmental regulation, equality for LGBT, land and wildlife preservation, will make their lives even more miserable. Many believe … many hang on his every word and would support his every proposal, as long as he keeps patting them on the head and saying, “there, there … don’t worry … Uncle Donnie will take care of you”.
Thus far, the Republican-dominated Congress has shown no inclination to go against anything Trump desires. Russia’s involvement in our election, their joy over seeing Trump elected, says much. If Trump’s brainwashing techniques fail to allow him to increase his own power, I think Putin would be more than willing to help Trump up the ante by staging some sort of an ‘event’ that would convince the public and also the legislators that we need to place a greater degree of control in the hands of the president for the safety of our nation and its citizens.
The first step would be to remove some of the power of the press, and that is what we must all fight against. We must stay informed, we must make our collective voices heard to support and defend our mainstream media. We must fight against faux news, reporting it when we find it, pointing out to the masses that it is wrong. Fortunately, the biggest difference between Turkey and the U.S. is that the majority of Americans actually do not support Trump, as opposed to Turkey, where Erdoğan enjoys a high degree of popularity. Some of what I have written here is speculative, based on what I have seen happen in other countries under similar circumstances. But it appears to me that the foundation is being poured for a subsequent power grab by the next president. I hope I am wrong.
***Note: I mentioned in the first paragraph that I can never finish a story … after I finished writing this post, an interesting article was published by The Independent, a British online publication, that draws much the same conclusion I have stated here. Well worth the read!