Prepare For Regime Change, Not Policy Change
By N. Turkuler Isiksel – November 13, 2016
It can happen here
Over the past decade, I, along with millions of my compatriots, watched an illiberal populist leader commandeer every lever of power in my country of origin, Turkey, by systematically dismantling constitutional safeguards and intimidating society into submission. Having secured less than half of the popular vote in successive elections, Erdoğan proceeded to jail journalists, activists, judges, prosecutors, generals, and members of parliament. To stay in power, he has reignited a dormant civil conflict, stoked ultranationalist violence, allowed extremist movements to flourish, orchestrated military incursions into two neighboring countries, and shredded the rule of law. In hindsight, the signs of his authoritarian intentions were there all along; many of us just didn’t think the republic would succumb so easily.
Those of us who witnessed illiberal populist movements take hold in Turkey, Russia, Hungary, Poland, the Philippines, and elsewhere are watching the election of Donald Trump with a particularly acute sense of foreboding. With this difference: unlike the United States, none of these countries have ever stood out as a beacon of liberty. To many Americans, this means that however autocratic his leanings, Trump’s designs will fail. But this is exactly the wrong conclusion to draw. It is precisely such overconfidence in the United States’ long and illustrious tradition of liberty that could lull the American public into a false sense of security and facilitate the rapid destruction of that very tradition.
Confidence in the exceptional resilience of American democracy is particularly misplaced in the face of today’s illiberal populist movements, whose leaders are constantly learning from each other. Trump has a wide variety of tried and tested techniques on which to draw; already, he has vowed to take pages out of Putin’s playbook. Defenders of liberal democracy, too, must learn from each other’s victories and defeats. Below are some hard-earned lessons from countries that have been overrun by the contemporary wave of illiberal democracy. They could be essential for preserving the American republic in the dark years to come.