The deplorables versus the guy who rubs his belly
It was the early years of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) period. Back then the party looked and acted more liberal. Membership in the European Union was their main slogan; AKP cadres were ready to embrace all minorities. Liberals, who are probably like 1 percent of society but had influence over the media and intelligentsia, were big-time supporters of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan then. Only one part of society has always been suspicious of the AKP and did not buy the liberal discourse that was used by the party: The Kemalist left.
Kemalists did not find Erdoğan trustworthy and always believed his final aim was to Islamize Turkish society by using slogans of democracy and liberalism. They never believed Erdoğan was a democrat at heart. They thought Erdoğan was an Islamist authoritarian who was just acting as if he was the opposite. Whether they have been proven right or wrong is debatable. But there has always been one point Kemalists have been missing. They never understood how the AKP lead by Erdoğan was able to get all the support and votes from society.
Kemalists believed the AKP was bribing society to get their votes by handing out free coal and bread to those in need. They assumed that people from the middle class and people from the slums were so ignorant that just to get some bags of coal and packs of bread for free was enough to vote for the AKP. Those voting for the AKP actually had no idea what was good for Turkey. This is how Kemalists have been interpreting the support Erdoğan got.
The phrase “the guy who rubs his belly” was used in 2007 by Bekir Coşkun, who was one of the most popular opinion writers then. He was writing for daily Hürriyet. “He rubs his belly and he likes his belly being fat; a fat belly means he has been enjoying life. He sits on his leg. He does not like news bulletins but watches reality TV. The only thing he knows about what is going on in the world is that ‘the British are crackerjacks.’ He never reads books; instead he asks his ‘hodja’ what is written in the book. He does not read newspapers; the only newspaper he knows is the one he lays under his pickle jars. His most explicit thought about the leaders is ‘he is a Muslim guy;’ the only thing he knows about politics is ‘he steals, yet he works.’” This was the “cult” piece of 2007, I’d say, probably one of the pieces that changed the flow of politics then.
“The guy who rubs his belly” became a slogan. For Kemalists it was a very to the point phrase to define “ignorant AKP supporters.” For AKP supporters this was the symbolic phrase that explained how Kemalist cadres looked down on the common guy and ignored the demands and rights of the Anatolian heartland.
Ironically, it was Erdoğan who made use of this famous piece. In one year he mentioned “they cursed at our people by saying ‘the guy who rubs his belly’” 22 times. Erdoğan had been able to consolidate support for himself through a “they are looking down on you” discourse.
When I heard Hillary Clinton defining Donald Trump supporters as “a group of deplorables,” I suddenly thought of “the guy who rubs his belly” and pretty much guessed where American politics is heading.
Democrat vs Republican; Kemalists vs Islamists; urban vs rural, center vs periphery; you may call the dichotomy as you like. This is probably what modern society is all about, pretty much all around the world. However the left or the center, looking down on the “other,” never helps. Tried and tested right here.