Back to the future: the American nightmare is over

With the tumultuous departure of Donald Trump from the presidency of the United States, a dark chapter ends in the country’s history, paving the way to a new one, which will be aimed at restoration on countless levels. Having lost the elections by a broad margin, Trump’s handling of the loss was bone-chilling. 

In denial of the results and despite more than 60 court rulings in favour of the legality of the outcome, Trump did not just spread lies, but arguably incited a physical mob attack against the very system he had sworn to protect. On Jan. 6, after egging on crowds against Congress, he crossed the Rubicon and confirmed his stained image as the only president in U.S. history who stood in defiance to its democratic processes, and a peaceful transition of power. If he is spiteful and bitter, it is because of his failed “self-coup.". His weeks-long public display of entirely uncivilised behaviour is the cause behind his disgraceful exit from Washington D.C.

Abandoned by large chunks of his cabinet and close circles, including Vice President Mike Pence, Trump leaves behind a legacy of what legal experts see as fingerprints of various criminal acts; a divided Republican Party; a system scarred by abuses of power and polarisation; a damaged rule of law and a nation whose primary need is the tackling of the COVID-19 pandemic and a reconciliation.

The sheer weight of tasks awaiting his successors, Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, is daunting. It will take an enormous amount of political will and stamina to heal the wounds and restore the system so that such an “anti-democratic nightmare” is not repeated.

With the start of Biden’s presidency, a dark era that saw U.S.-Turkish relations move to uncharted territories, and extremely unusual formats, will also come to a close. Trump had come to power four years ago, in the immediate wake of two major developments that shattered the flanks of Europe: the Brexit decision in June 2016 and the attempted coup in Turkey a month later. 

He sympathised with the first and rapidly established a remarkable personal relationship with his Turkish counterpart, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Most of the seismic shifts that stirred the EU and shattered the status quo in Turkey’s neighbourhood are related to Trump’s style, which was based on neglecting democratic values and the operational role of international institutions.

More than anything else, it was Trump’s rapport with Erdoğan that made its mark on tumultuous relations between the two countries. The two leaders approached each other with mutual admiration: While Trump looked with envy at the embodiment of absolute power in the hands of Erdoğan, the latter found in Trump a shallowness, a shortness of attention span, which made him open to Erdoğan’s trademark manipulations, aimed at personal interests. 

The deeper their relations became, the more encouraged, enabled and emboldened Erdoğan was in his acts. Records openly show how Erdoğan tried his best to steer Trump to annihilate a massive money-laundering file in the case of Turkey’s state-owned Halkbank. 

If Turkey during the past four years had sunk into its possibly most oppressive period, part of the blame should certainly be placed on Trump and his administration, which did nothing noteworthy to prevent the country, a key member of the Transatlantic Alliance, from turning into a stage of political nightmare, judicial slaughter, media wreckage and an open “prison camp” for Erdoğan’s opponents.

It is also worthwhile to remember that the entire political class in Washington D.C. got a taste of how Erdoğan treats dissent when he unleashed a wave of violence against peaceful demonstrators in front of the Turkish Embassy at the very centre of the U.S. capital in 2017, which was echoed by the harsh treatment of peaceful protesters in front of the White House on June 1, 2020, during the “Black Lives Matter’’ demonstrations. 

Moreover, during the  “special relationship” between the pair, we have also witnessed Erdoğan, who after forging a political coalition of oppressors and adventurists, launched an expansionist agenda in the region, choreographing a regional game that challenged the status quo by way of militarised language.

While Turkey’s raising of tensions in the eastern Mediterranean and its purchase of Russian S-400 missiles may have left Trump unmoved, they now constitute colossal issues in the to-do list of the Biden administration. Anthony Blinken, the new U.S. secretary of state, has signalled the administration’s stance on Turkey by referring to it as a “so-called strategic partner.”

One silver lining, which will definitely be in the interests of the Turkish people and not its rulers, is that with Trump gone, Erdoğan will have lost his one and only ally in Washington D.C. 

As his “pal” retires to Florida, possibly having to face some legal issues, Turkey’s autocrat faces a situation that can be termed as “back to the future”: The more Biden restores U.S. institutions, the more difficult it will be for Erdoğan to impose his will, which, like Trump, is focused on strengthening his personalised governance - a stained and harmful management style.

Much will rest on Biden’s open pledge and resolve to strengthen democratic orders worldwide.

Turkey will become a laboratory to this end, with its human rights violations and total disrespect for the rule of law. 

How Erdoğan will play his game with the Biden administration will be interesting to follow, as will be the reactions. 

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.
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