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U.S. Republicans and Erdogan: The Dangerous Lure of Take-No-Prisoners Politics

John Boehner’s resignation foreshadows the United States’ turn towards completely dysfunctional politics at home, à la Turkey.

October 7, 2015

John Boehner’s resignation foreshadows the United States’ turn towards completely dysfunctional politics at home, à la Turkey.

The resignation of John Boehner, the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, was widely billed as a selflessly noble act to avert a major constitutional crisis.

It would be fantastic if the profound political problems that the United States faces in its legislative process in Washington really could be pinned down to the abilities or failings of one single man.

Then, Boehner’s resignation could indeed change things for the better. But that is far too convenient and self-serving an interpretation, even though it is now the favored line.

In reality, Boehner’s resignation symbolizes the full-blown outbreak of political dysfunctionality in the U.S. body politic.

Simply put, the endless vitriol, hatefulness and divisiveness that has become the hallmark of an ever larger number of Republican members of Congress had become too much to bear for John Boehner.

But the fallout from this will extend far beyond Boehner’s resignation. While he did try the humanly possible to make this ever more poisonous political machinery work, Boehner ultimately decided that he wasn’t going to be mindlessly pummeled by his Republican colleagues any longer.

As goes Washington, so goes Turkey

The race to elect new Speaker of the US house of Representatives, now set for October 29, already points to a further worsening of the fratricidal vitriol already present visible among Republicans.

The odds are that what we are witnessing right now is the same kind of take-no-prisoners, my-way-or-the-highway politics in the American capital that, thousands of miles away, is tearing Turkey apart.

In Washington and in Ankara, the Republicans and Turkey’s highly partisan President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, are both completely unforgiving and ever-scheming believers in the brass knuckles brand of majoritarian politics.

Of course, in their desire to have the upper hand, both of these forces – the Republicans and Erdogan – face a major mathematical problem.

For all their love of majoritarianism, they each come up short of the mark that would allow them to rule their country’s political roost in a completely unbending manner.

It’s the Republicans who have changed

There is a temptation to assign the growing dysfunctionality of American politics equally to Democrats and Republicans.

And while the former certainly have their faults, and significant ones at that, what has fundamentally changed in America over the past several decades is the role and self-understanding of the Republican Party.

Lest anyone wanted to charge this observer with a one-sided delegation of failure to the Republican Party, let me emphasize that this is not the intention that drives me. I do remember working, in the mid-1980s, for a senior Republican senator from the State of Pennsylvania, the late John Heinz, the scion of the ketchup fortune.

The real tragedy of American politics today is that a very patrician, yet fair-minded Senator such as Heinz, who always kept a close interest in the needs of the poor half of the population, would no longer be tenable as a member of the Republican Party today, despite his billionaire status.

If anything, he could possibly find a spot for himself as a quite left-of-center Democratic U.S. Senator. (Try to imagine a Republican today working honestly with labor unions, not just backstabbing them.)

It’s the Republicans that have changed

The sea change in U.S. politics is that a significant part of Republicans in the U.S. Congress is no longer interested in any give-and-take that is the customary nature of politics.

Just like Turkey’s president, all it wants is to impose its way onto all others.

What should not work in Turkey — and yet may — definitely should not succeed in gaining the upper hand in the United States, a much more developed country socially, politically and economically.

Like Erdogan, the Republicans seem prepared to go to any length in order to defend the indefensible, which is to impose their will on the nation, even though they are not in the majority status.

Whether the “prisoner” being taken is, in one case, the Kurds or, in the other case, Planned Parenthood, the outcome remains the same.

The point here is not about either of those two domestic forces not having made any mistakes. They have. Rather, the relevant question is whether that justifies an all-out domestic war against the other “camp.”

Ultimately, what this boils down to is the most vicious and self-destructive form of identity politics.

Both desperate and uncompromising

Believers in the “New Turkey,” as well as rabid Republicans, are conditioned to believe that they fight the true battle of the Lord/Prophet — and that not just failure, but entering into any compromise simply is not an option.

Who would have ever thought that Turkey’s vicious politics would find a pretty direct replication in the United States and vice versa?

Even more amazingly, the Republicans in the U.S. and Erdogan’s forces in Turkey are both driven by the same desperation.

They want to hold on to a version of the patriarchy and conservatism that both of their societies have actually left behind.

Instead of adjusting themselves to those new social realities, they are ever more determined to fight them, mercilessly and even bloodily.

Radicalism masquerading as conservatism does not augur well – either for Turkey’s or America’s democracy.


Boehner’s resignation symbolizes the outbreak of political dysfunctionality in the US body politic.

Republicans and Turkey’s Erdogan are believers in the brass knuckles brand of majoritarian politics.

The same kind of my-way-or-the-highway politics is tearing both Washington and Turkey apart.

Vitriol, hatefulness and divisiveness has become the hallmark of a larger number of Republicans.

Radicalism masquerading as conservatism does not augur well for either Turkey's or America’s democracy.

Believers in “New Turkey,” and rabid Republicans think that they fight the battle of the Lord/Prophet.