The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

How Donald Trump explains Turkey, and how Turkey explains Donald Trump

Donald Trump, a charismatic leader seeking presidential power in a country divided. (Steve Helber/AP)

This is a post about Donald Trump in the week of the GOP convention. It’s told, though, through the facts of Turkey’s turbulent politics, as the reader will see in the hyperlinks embedded in the text.

Here’s a charismatic leader who wants to be a very powerful president. He believes greatly in himself and his own capacity to rule. His supporters regard him as a towering figure, capable of sweeping out the old order for something new. He’s someone who talks straight and tough, they say. He’s someone who has the real interests of the nation at heart.

What is that nation? Well, it’s a country divided.

This politician’s opponents raise a hue and cry: He poses a danger to democracy and the health of the institutions of state, they clamor.

His supporters, though, contend that he represents a silent majority, long neglected and disregarded by the elites of coastal cities. To them, his rise is nothing short of a redemption of the national story. He reaches back to an almost mythic past to conjure up visions of a more glorious future.

Nostalgia for the way things were seeps into his speeches and public rhetoric. Critics mock him sometimes for being almost delusional.

Meanwhile, in parts of the country, a significant minority group is restive. It has been historically marginalized and suffered years of systematic discrimination at the hands of the state. Things have improved, but clearly not enough: Ethnic strife in the past year has scarred cities and led to protests and civil unrest.

Many of this politician’s supporters want him to take an even harsher stand against this troublesome minority group. Blue Lives Matter, they cry, after attacks target police and other security forces who were simply doing their job.

The leader seems to benefit from a climate of fear and division that surrounds this violence. He scare-mongers about plots against the nation coming from deep within the political establishment. In his speeches, he often makes the world out to be a dark, conspiratorial place. “Something is going on,” he intones, without quite telling you what it is that’s going on.

One of the greatest threats to the country, he argues, is a foreign one. The specter of an enemy ideology — perhaps even that of a rival, antithetical civilization — seems to animate a lot of his rhetoric and bluster. His actual policies, though, have generated a fair amount of backlash for potentially causing more havoc and harm in a region shaped by conflict.

In his drive for power, he has enlisted a whole cast of characters — career politicians, celebrities, businessmen — to his cause. Potential rivals were turned into lieutenants and then cast aside as he stepped closer to attaining the ultimate position he seeks.

In the face of his ascendancy, not all conservative nationalists in the country seem to be happy. A motley group of insurrectionists launched a coup against him, but it appears to have been firmly swatted aside.

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