Like many people, I have been thinking a lot about Turkey recently—not least because I was in the Istanbul airport less than a week before it was bombed. But here is one connection to life in the West that hasn’t received much attention in the media. The political divide within Turkey is remarkably similar both to the one playing out in the United States presidential election and to the one that fractured Britain in the “Brexit” vote.
Better educated people living in cosmopolitan Istanbul are just as dismayed by the fundamentalist excesses of Turkish President Recep Erdogan as well-to-do Londoners were over the “leave” victory, and as bicoastal Americans were over Donald Trump’s dark acceptance speech in Cleveland
Like the UK and the United States, Turkey is split between two camps. Erdogan, the Brexiteers, and Trump are all avowedly nativist and nationalist, appealing to people whose response to the globally-connected and technology-driven world is “Stop! I want to get off.” On the other side of the political divide stand the globalists, who support globalization, immigration, multiculturalism, and technological change.
The problem for the globalists in all three countries is that they are internally divided and, hence up until now, incapable of resolving their differences to further their cause.
In Turkey, there is widespread secular and democratic disquiet with Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian Islamicization. But the political opposition is far too fractured to catalyze this disquiet. This is exactly the problem the “remain” camp had in Britain, where the opposition Labour Party couldn’t throw itself fully into the stay in Europe campaign because this was the position of the bulk of the Conservative government.
It is also what keeps people worried about Trump-ism up at night. Traditional Republicans are much closer to Hillary Clinton on trade, immigration, and national security than they are to “their” candidate. But will they be able to bring themselves to vote Hillary in November? I think Jeb Bush’s plaintive resignation that he’ll have to vote for a third party candidate may have more traction. The Bushes stayed away from the Republican convention in Cleveland, and I doubt we will see them in Philadelphia along with the Democrats.
Bottom line in Turkey, Britain, and the United States: the globalist-nativist division is fracturing domestic politics. It’s a wakeup call for cosmopolitan liberal elites who have for too long—overlooked the strains globalization and technology have put on people struggling with everyday life.
The nativists won in Britain because the globalists couldn’t coalesce together, but realizing the path to a decent Brexit will be a very different matter. Erdogan is able to purge his opponents for the same reason, leaving the future of Turkish democracy in doubt. Trump continues to defy all expectations, and “Rockefeller Republicans for Hillary” seems a liberal fantasy.
Editor’s note: This article was originally posted on LinkedIn on July 26, 2016.