In the exact middle of the merry month of May the Turkish president visited the American president at the White House. They agreed on absolutely nothing. Not even the pronunciation of the Turkish president’s last name. At their quickie twenty-two-minute meeting, President Trump repeatedly called President Erdogan “Er-duh-GON,” heavy emphasis on the “gone.” He also refused to grant his three wishes for policy changes: First, stop arming the Syrian Kurds—No! Second, extradite Fethullah Gulen, Erdogan’s ex-ally and current root of all evil— No! Third, release Reza Zarrab from his canary cage at the Federal Detention Center in lower Manhattan—No! Zarrab is alleged to be the key mischief-maker in a massive 2013 money-laundering and bribery scam that included ministers in the Turkish government perhaps reaching the Erdogan family. So no wonder President Erdogan (“Air-duh-wahn”) left the White House peeved. So much so that when he and his armed security team reached the Turkish ambassador’s residence he must have gushed saliva when he saw the red-meat Kurdish-Americans protesting his arrival. Protect me, or words to that effect, must have been uttered. In a frenzy of self defense Erdogan’s security team raced across the street wading into the sloganeering demonstrators fists and feet flying. Erdogan watched the one-sided brawl from the friendly confines of his black Mercedes-Benz sedan. It was no contest. Punches rained and penalty kicks flew. Chaos and blood ensued. The hapless demonstrators reeled and fell, splattered and scattered like tomatoes at an amateur hour—nine were hospitalized. By Turkish standards this was a stroll in a rose garden. Political demonstrations in Erdogan’s Turkey quickly go mercilessly nuclear with pulverizing water cannons and teargas guns leveled at crowds. Streets run Turkish red. And the police run amok. I know. I have lived there for sixteen years. I have whiffed Erdogan's grapeshot. The security team and President Erdogan skipped town a few hours after their attack. A month later felony and misdemeanor charges were brought against the team by American authorities. Safe at home in his thousand-room palace in Ankara, the Turkish president condemned the criminal charges. He had earlier insisted that the “so-called protesters” were actually P.K.K terrorists. No surprise there. Anyone opposed to Erdogan’s religious fascism is a “terrorist.” “What kind of rule, what kind of a law is this?” he bellowed from his golden lectern. Indeed that is the question.
The rule of law is as unfamiliar to the president of Turkey as it has become to the president of the United States. Erdogan got his golden throne by destroying the rule of law. Trump, also evincing a gold fetish, has a similar craving for impunity. Bizarrely, Erdogan cited Hitler’s government as a good example of the one-man-rule presidential system he craved. Trump apes well. His insulting language— “so-called judges,” “disgraceful decision,” “putting the country in peril,”—mirrors the discourse of Erdogan who described the Turkish judiciary as “putting shackles on his feet.” Erdogan has sacked thousands of judges and prosecutors calling them “viruses” and “terrorists.” The decaying rule of law led to the rise of vigilante groups and police violence. Even before the so-called military coup in 2016, Erdogan travelled through Turkey with a heavily armed security cohort. During the Gezi Park demonstrations gangs of street thugs appeared, seemingly on-call, brandishing scimitars and machetes. These were Erdogan’s “people.” Today we see Trump’s “people” with the advent of thuggish right-wing street gangs like Oath Keepers and Proud Boys. There are other “questions.” Women, for example. Erdogan wins the Male-Chauvinist-Pig award going away. Women suffer grievously in Turkey. Lack of education, honor killings, neighborhood pressure to wear the head scarf, Erdogan’s pressure that every family have five children. A senior member of Erdogan’s government expressed discomfort with women laughing in public. Trump has similarly distasteful attitudes towards women made manifest in his all-male advisers on abortion, birth control and health care coverage. Trump gives Erdogan a good run for the MCP award. Plunder is another question. Erdogan hates trees. He has raped the Turkish landscape with villas, airports and highways. He hates rivers and streams. “No stream shall run in vain,” proclaimed Erdogan savaging mountains and valleys, erecting dams and generators. Coal mining is big time. Trump’s disdain for the environment and life on this planet is well known. The president’s cabinet disdains the very responsibilities vested in them. Plunder is also “privatization,” an idea originating in Nazi Germany to concentrate economic power within a politically loyal oligarchy. In similar manner, Erdogan brought Turkey’s economy into line with his fascist government. State assets belonging to the people were sold in sweetheart sales to insiders. Fortunes were made overnight. Allegiance to Erdogan was cemented. “We will die for you,” his people yell at rallies. Someone’s wife even aspired to be a hair on Erdogan’s bottom. Others prefer chanting the old standby, “God is great!” And let us not forget the massive corruption scandal in Turkey in December 2013. Money laundering, bribery, gold smuggling, conspiracy and bank fraud still smolder in a prison cell in New York City. As for culture and the arts in Turkey? Get thee to a mosque instead. And Trump, seemingly absent any interest except golf, brutally cuts anything that looks like art. It took the ever-scowling Erdogan fourteen years to collapse Turkish democracy. It has taken Trump, a mere twenty-one WEEKS to threaten the foundations of American democracy. Forget the Russians, Trump is the menace. A political Humpty-Dumpty, his garbled words mean whatever he wants them to mean.
In Turkey today the entire apparatus of the state has been brought into line: military, police, media, universities, lower education, national security, culture and, of course, religion. The Republic of Turkey no longer exists. Fascist Turkey does. The spirits of Mussolini, Hitler and fascist philosophers are pleased. And the Erdogan family is doing quite well. As is the gilded Trump gaggle. As Turkey went, so Trump’s America is going. And it is going very well if chaos and destruction is the objective. A lying stumble-tongued president eases the way. Quibbling and deception, equivocation and dissembling stand as government discourse. How not to answer a question trumps all. Vast numbers of government positions remain unfilled. Presidential executive orders target the disadvantaged. The healthcare sham pairs with tax cuts for the wealthy as a political absurdity. Police and military budgets explode. For Trump it’s bombs away, all day, everyday. Vast and politically powerful financial resources—the Mercers, the Kochs and their ilk— fueled and sustain his rise. Like the scowling Erdogan, the scowling Trump is no accident, no freak of nature. Trump’s senior advisor, Steve Bannon, former editor of the fascistic alt-right Breitbart News prettied up the mission of the Trump regime by using a three-dollar word, “deconstruction.” He said the regime’s “line of work is what is deconstruction of the administrative state.” Deconstruction is a literary term about the different meanings inherent in text. But remove the “con,” which is an inbred behavior of Donald Trump, and the gist is clear. Destruction is what the scowling Trump is after. The barbarians are inside the White House gates. It’s as deafeningly clear as the cries of the beaten in the mean streets under a Turkish moon.
James Ryan is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, a writer and journalist. He taught American Culture and Literature at Kadir Has University in Istanbul.