Yet another bad day for optimists and believers in progress. It really feels like the lights are going out.
Turkey matters, a lot. This key nation has been a NATO bulwark, and poster boy for the idea that democracy and Islam can be compatible. That idea just took a huge hit with Turkey’s referendum vote approving President Erdogan’s proposed new constitution, basically abolishing checks on his power and making him a dictator.
How could anyone vote for that? But Erdogan already had a strong core of voters who back him no matter what (sound familiar?), who feel forgotten by the country’s elites (sound familiar?), and religious fundamentalists (ditto). And then he exploited last year’s coup attempt to whip up a nationalist hysteria against legions of imagined enemies, domestic and foreign. The constitutional change was presented as a way to smack down those bad guys once and for all. Indeed, anyone questioning this was demonized as an enemy of the people.
This was accompanied by a vast repression. With the coup attempt as pretext, Erdogan has jailed tens of thousands, and around a hundred thousand others have been sacked. This includes huge numbers of not only military personnel, but lawyers, judges, journalists, politicians, civil servants, teachers; a gigantic witch-hunt persecuting anyone whose fealty to the regime is questioned. And of course no criticism of the proposed constitution was tolerated. Opponents were cowed into silence. Erodgan had already destroyed independent press and media in Turkey.
Considering all this, it may seem remarkable that half the country still had the intestinal fortitude to vote “no.” Yet given the ugly climate of repression and fear Erdogan has created, it’s sobering that half the country would vote to endorse and even worsen it.
An optimistic hope is that having finally achieved his long-sought aim, Erdogan will ease up. But giving bad men more power does not make them better. Erdogan actually started out in 2003 as a good guy, doing a lot right. But then power corrupted him, making him a monster of megalomania. He’s already shown what extremes he’s capable of, even under the old system with some constitutional brakes. Removing those brakes is insane.
Suffering particularly is Turkey’s persecuted Kurdish minority. In his earlier, better incarnation, Erdogan was moving toward resolving those ethnic tensions. But then he switched back to violence, as part of his program to foment nationalist hysteria. Now the repression of Kurds is utterly vicious. This too is insanity for Turkey’s future.
The next light flickering is France’s. I wrote recently about its presidential election, whose first round is April 23. Conventional wisdom says Marine Le Pen, the Trumplike populist, will place first, but surely lose the subsequent run-off. Conventional wisdom had said Trump could not win either.
When I wrote last, it seemed the likeliest second round would be Le Pen against Emmanuel Macron, whose economics are rational. But I have no confidence in the French voting uncharacteristically for such a candidate. And indeed the one now surging in the polls is Jean-Luc Melenchon, a far left firebrand, backed by the Communist party, who appeals to France’s inveterate romanticist hostility to globalism, trade, and markets. A run-off between Le Pen and Melenchon — Skylla and Charybdis — could well be curtains for the European Union.
Putin and the Kremlin have been messing with France’s election too, trying to undermine Macron and boost Le Pen — for the same reason they backed Trump — to cripple an adversary nation. This should, in a rational world, put French voters off Le Pen in droves. But every day it seems the world grows less rational.