The United States elections have shown us an interesting side of Turkish public opinion. During the election coverage on CNN Türk last week, we aired a couple of on-the-street interviews and we were almost baffled by the fact that despite all the pro-AKP media propaganda, ordinary people were in favor of Hillary Clinton. She was favored partly because she could have been the first woman to be elected as president and partly because Turkish people have instinctively felt the rise of the far-right and feared its consequences.
We have a reason to be worried. Turkey’s rulers have a habit of outsmarting and outdoing what is happening in the West. If Britain votes to exit the EU, suddenly Ankara becomes a big fan of European dissolution.
Behind closed doors, they tell businesspeople, portfolio investors, bankers and ratings agencies that Turkey is “of course on course for EU membership.” But in reality they are paying thousands of internet trolls, biased advisers and party propaganda machine functionaries to spread the word otherwise. If the U.S. moves to the center-right or maybe the far-right, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan all of a sudden is the big enemy of all international organizations, and becomes the number-one advocate of the “let all hell break loose” campaign.
Isolationist policies may work in the U.S. presidential campaigns. But in a geography like ours, it becomes a ticking bomb in your hand. If you threaten the EU to cut all ties and relations, not only does your economy crumble, but your society becomes as hostile as the right-wing in Europe and the U.S. People may start reacting to Syrians living in this country and blaming the economic losses and increasing crime on refugees.
Kurds living in the big cities may feel prejudice. President Erdoğan now feels incredibly comfortable in blaming all the evil on the EU but Chancellor Merkel’s presence is his only chance to be a partner in Europe.
If the Turkish media still plays the hear-no-evil game and fails to shape the opinion making process in Ankara, the Presidential Palace and its army of advisers will happily continue cursing EU leaders day and night. This is not the way to run this country and it has never been.
There is a nice Turkish saying about two extremes facing each other. “When a madman sees another, he hides his stick.” The analogy is clear. When leaders see each other swinging to extremes, they should start exercising caution at least in their homes. Turkey during the rise of Hitler could have become a fascist country like Italy. For İsmet İnönü, it was very hard to keep the nation at the center and it came with a price. But at least the country remained intact. Turkey this time may not be that lucky.
Look at the faces of people on buses and trains. Look at the tired people that go to work in the dark and early hours of the morning. This nation is not happy and has very few things to be hopeful about. The pro-AKP media’s vitriol and poisonous language is not helping heal our wounds. Any small rumor, any stupid social media remark can create a backlash.
It is easy to “out-Trump” Donald Trump. Unfortunately our democracy is not as mature as the U.S. experience. Once we fall, we may not recover. Opening bridges, roads and lowering credit card interest rates may not do the trick any more.