Playing safe is perilous

We had our own Biden in Turkey. And believe me when I say all the countries that had a Trump were as brilliant as the American Democrats in coming up with or inventing a Biden of their own. Replacing Bernies with Bidens has never worked in the long run.

Jim Morrison was right: “People are strange when you are a stranger.” Things become even stranger when a foreigner suddenly materializes before you to tell you that something terrible is approaching. The reasonable way to treat such a fool is to put on a compassionate smile, pretend that you are listening, and then politely say thank you and goodbye. Only when she exits the door can you roll your eyes and laugh a bit. That is probably what happened in 2019 after I finished my book tour giving talks at universities such as Stanford, Columbia, Seattle and several other venues, telling people that a confusing new form of fascism is about to arrive on the American shores, and that the matter was bigger than Trump. I was hasty in taking a tone of warning, not particularly out of admiration for American democracy, but because I believed that the need for universal solidarity against this new amorphous kind of fascism was urgent. Apparently the time was not right then, but now, as the American elections have gotten closer, I will try again.  

After having experienced the perfect form of rising authoritarianism in Turkey for more than a decade, between 2016 and 2019, I compared the political developments in several countries on both sides of Atlantic. In countries where right-wing populism was on the rise, people, believing that the experience was unique to their country, were going through the same maddening and paralyzing shocks that Turkey experienced a decade ago. The countries naturally were different from one another, but apparently people like me were losing their country in a manner not so different from one another, as they watched the moral and political decay with astonishment and confusion. To understand is the only resistance against insanity, I thought. So I detangled the global political mess to find the fundamental logic behind it. Dissembling the political machine to see how it works, I believed, was the only way to wind it back together again with the help of the global opposition. However, understanding in solitude is probably the biggest human tragedy. That is why, like a travelling wretched circus, I went on a global book tour for How To Lose A Country: The Seven Steps From Democracy to Dictatorship. In a nutshell, the book says, “You might have a mature democracy and seemingly strong institutions, but what we are going through is not a temporary madness that you are immune against. The global wave of authoritarianism is the defense mechanism of neo-liberalism in its last act and it will get more brutal and insane. So let’s work on this catastrophe together in universal solidarity.” I wanted Americans to fast forward through the period where they waste time with laughing, mocking or being confused by the phenomenon, and get to the point where they realize that this is a problem that requires their presence for the solution. I wanted to change their question from “But how can they do that?” to “What will stop them?” for I knew the former was only a loss of time.

It was not all a political accident or a Russian conspiracy that gave the Americans their first orange president, but a global matter resulting from the greatest crisis of capitalism yet. The political and moral mud we are struggling through today was gifted to us by the neo-liberal flood of the ‘80s. The brutality of it was so immense that today we tend to think that we were tenderly convinced of it, whereas it happened due to massive brutality all over the world. So what we need is a global new deal, a new social contract to rewind this machine that was put to work in the ‘80s. Those who think and write books repeating the false belief that once Trump is gone the problem will disappear are simply wrong. By now, it must be clear to even apolitical Americans that democracy can not endure unless there is social justice. By 2020, luckily enough millions of people in America acknowledged this fact, and against all odds, supported Bernard Sanders who has now been pushed out of the presidential race by the Democratic Party establishment. So today, another pattern in the global political insanity can be recognized: not only the authoritarians but their opponents too are acting exactly the same way, which is not the best way, to say the least.

In countries where this new form of fascism enters the main stage of politics, the opposition and the democratic forces in the country find themselves in a contradictory position. Since the existing political establishment, with its insufficient yet lesser-of-two-evils character, is seriously threatened, the established opposition becomes burdened with the new responsibility of protecting the establishment, which stands in contrast to the action and narrative of opposing. Protecting the establishment from the current ruler of the establishment while being in the opposition is almost against the rules of logic. The established opposition — and sometimes even the progressives outside the establishment — split their political narrative between two opposing vectors: to be against and to be for, and to perform these two actions all at once. In countries subjected to the destructive force of right-wing populism, protecting the establishment begins to seem like the priority, therefore the established opposition decides to throw its support behind “the reasonable option,” which in the American case is Biden, apparently.

We had our own Biden in Turkey. And believe me when I say all the countries that had a Trump were as brilliant as the American Democrats in coming up with or inventing a Biden of their own. (The balancing act of appointing a Kamala Harris or putting a progressive name on the ticket to win the hearts of the Left comes with the package.) The panic in the air does not allow one to go for the option that truly mobilizes the public towards a genuine new deal, which probably would shake the established opposition as well as the ruler. Needless to say, replacing Bernies with Bidens has never worked in the long run in any of the countries that have gone through the same political calamity. Since the problem is a systemic failure, it soon becomes clear that the newly emerging political environment, with its fascist and progressive movements, continues to reign, even if the establishment wins the throne with the more reasonable option and fortifies the damaged castle of the system. In these painful laboring hours of a new politics, there is another global pattern that unknowingly plays into the hands of authoritarian inclinations.

My brother is a filmmaker living in the U.S., in Atlanta. One of our regular rants centers around leftists expressing hatred towards the established opposition more than they do against fascism. It is maddening to see how this happens in the exact same way in the U.S. and Turkey. Although they happen in two different languages, the sameness of the vocabulary is striking. The nihilism generated through such a narrative has been and still is equally pacifying in both countries. I am not at all advising the American left to stop criticizing the Democrats, but I urge them to recognize our shared enthusiasm in ranting about the established opposition. It is better to acknowledge that our strange pleasure in hitting harder on the established opposition has a little bit of self-hatred emerging from defeatism along with its very good reasons. I know that no words can shake of the nihilism and reluctance that the progressive left is suffering from at this point. What truly activates the human matter in us can only be action, which became clear through the BLM movement. Doing is the only remedy for our disappointments and fears. Action might not always be successful, but it is the only method known to humankind that has the power to wither away the sickening inertia. 

After being the Cassandra of world politics for too long, now here’s a bit of Mary Poppins compassion for you: What we are going through globally, both in politics and nature, surpasses the limits of our imagination about the world and humankind. It is only natural to feel anger, hatred and massive disappointment. However, expressing such emotions from the fringes of the established opposition is hardly a political action. What is necessary is jumping in the now. Two main aspects of politics, understanding and acting, have been forced to separate from one other for long enough, and now it is time to realize that these are organically intertwined and inseparable actions. This, I guess, can be the fundamental philosophical jumping board for our shared future.  

February 19, 2020 A table for the ephemeral