The rise of populism

The rise of populism

To tell the truth, I am touched by the photo of one of the new minister’s sisters; she was selling vegetables in a local market. Besides, I am equally disgusted by the sarcastic remarks about the look of the new prime minister’ wife. We thought that the times that the secular classes’ intolerance for women’s headscarves had long since passed, but it sometimes seems that the desire to snub is still alive in disguised ways. I supported Islamists’ rights and freedoms for years before the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002, mostly due to similar feelings. Turkey’s secularists have always been more interested in the looks and lifestyles of the Islamists than the shortcomings of their politics and more worried about appearances than the prospects of democracy in Turkey. Now, once more, I feel convinced that one of the major reasons concerning the democracy deficit is this attitude.

This might sound like support for populist politics, but not really. The massive support for the governing party stems from the feeling of resentment and it will remain so, as long as the conservative majority feels the same resentment despite their representatives being in power. It is often claimed that it is just delusion on behalf of the poor to be proud if someone among them becomes rich and powerful within the existing system of inequality. Nevertheless, it is not totally meaningless and could not be totally explained away by populism. Well, it must be a feeling of relief and perhaps of revenge to see someone like them in power and it may not sound like a healthy and hopeful reaction, but its impact on the rise of populist politics needs to be understood better rather than simply overlooked.

It must be true for all societies, and it may be the reason behind the current rise of populism globally. The majority of people in almost all societies seem to be sick and tired of being patronized by more educated and better-looking elites for being ignorant, tasteless and politically incorrect. In the old traditional elitist societies, at least, there was no talk of democracy and almost no access to elite life. Now, the existence of the discourse of democracy with no genuine hopes of change and the increasing access to information of all sorts make people revolt in one way or another. The old remedy of Marxism was to suggest that the oppressed classes overcome their “false consciousness,” work to destroy the oppressive system and wait for the universal revolution. It seems that such a long and troubled path did not appeal to perishable humans, especially after similar attempts failed tragically. That is why we witness the rise of left- and right-wing populisms all over the world and face their terrible consequences.

I do not mean that it was the right choice of humanity to end up with the politics of resentment and populism; on the contrary, I live in a country which is deeply troubled with the consequences of the aforementioned turn in politics. After all, the inevitable results of the politics of resentment and of populism are the rise of a comprehensive list of scourges: authoritarianism, sectarianism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-intellectualism, a culture of violence, militaristic politics, misogyny and homophobia. I even suggest the possibility of a new kind of politics which could be termed as “post-totalitarianism,” as in the case of Turkey. Still, I think the remedy is not to complain and overlook the reality. 

Besides, the never-ending complaints of elite democrats and liberals that achieve nothing run the risk of being seen as even more repulsive. So far, it has not helped the prospects of democracy to be defended by detached and rather snobbish democrats and liberals, and in some cases, the concepts of democracy, liberties and human rights have lost their appeal because of their defenders. I, for one, have witnessed such processes throughout my life in Turkey. No, I am not becoming an apologist for the current authoritarian politics in Turkey. Nevertheless, I am sick and tired of not only witnessing the rise of authoritarianism but also of witnessing the other side of the story: the unjustified political nostalgia and a permanent mood of complaint rather than serious criticism.