The good news and the good fight

Here’s a piece of good news about Donald Trump’s ascension in American politics. Trump has shown that American politicians and the system they operate in is far from the portrait he has painted of them.  We all know the narrative that members of the public are susceptible to believing, and that demagogues like Trump are brilliant at exploiting.  The narrative goes that all politicians are corrupt and that change within and by the system is hopeless.

But if in the past it wasn’t clear that we live in a nation of laws, laws that plenty of civil servants and politicians take seriously and seek to abide by, then it should be clear now, as we witness superb evaluation of Trump’s decisions by our representatives in the so called Washington Swamp.

The people Trump has sought to appoint as his cabinet members have showcased much more knowledge about US political norms, and the limits it puts on their behavior, than Trump has.  And the congressional members on committees to vet these folks frame their grilling within the bounds and precedents of law, not on their personal whims or hyper-partisan interests.  I concede that hyper-partisanship has rendered what should be effective governance as inept, but our politicians do know when there comes at them a leader so far off the cusp that he needs to be checked and balanced.

When you fight the good fight against Trump, believe in the powers of persuasion and rationality, and approach it like he needs to be checked and balanced in a relatively decent tradition of American democracy, a tradition that has proven to have many components that work just fine.

Don’t let broad sweeping condemnations get the best of you.  We can all go on and on about how he is racist and sexist, but there are better ways to reach him and his supporters.

Of late I’ve learned how to approach the good fight by watching news shows in which governmental officials give their two cents on Trump.  They speak diplomatically, are level-headed, and have a cool rational approach when assessing various developments from World Trump.  Some of them know they may have a shot at being on an official advisory role to Trump.  Others may serve in some capacity in his administration.

Despite the appearance that Trump is a self-centered ego maniac who will do his own thing and listen to no one, he is realizing that he will need a lot of advice.  Obama said that presidents come to fully appreciate the complexity of the job, and the gravity of every presidential action, immediately after taking office.  As Trump gets himself in more complicated jams, as it becomes apparent to him that he doesn’t know everything, and that he risks looking foolish, he will seek and take the advice of the expertise around him.  Hopefully those advising him will also take ordinary people’s views into consideration as well.  An effective way for us ordinary citizens to do that is to stick to making persuasive and well-articulated arguments in response to policies and actions that we don’t like.    

Turkish Democracy

One article following the New Year attack in Istanbul suggests that it symbolizes a deep divide in Turkey between the secular and the pious.  It cites excerpts from Friday sermons in December, which said New Year revelry belongs to other cultures, not to Turkey.

The rhetoric of religious leaders certainly has consequences, but in this case (as in others) the attack was perpetrated by foreigners and foreign organizations.  Turkish citizens haven’t commonly resorted to violence to settle differences over their religious views.  This is due in part to whatever elements of democracy exist in the country.  From the onset of the founding of the Turkish republic, the country has struggled with just how democratic it could and should be; the fact that Turkey engaged in this struggle has enabled it to make some inroads towards this path.

Authoritarianism, whether embraced by secularists or the pious, threatens the generally peaceful disposition Turks have had for one another despite their differences.

Whatever their views, Turks need to acknowledge and learn from the mistakes of past and present, and hear out each other’s grievances and perspectives.

The history of the republic is replete with examples of secularist forces constraining the development of Islam.  A campaign to control religious institutions and relegate religion to peoples’ private affairs has been based on a typical critique made against religion in general: simply, that it hinders human progress in various ways.  The typical education and critique of religion in Turkey is on par with the incomplete and misleading approach of many other approaches, from communist ones to those of the New Atheists.  More religious Turks have looked at the forces of secularism with derision and distrust.  For a good number of them the reign of the AK party for at least the last decade has been of needed help to quell the tide of harsh secularity.

On the other side, the AK party has plenty of work to do in regards to honing their commitment to democratic values and behavior.  When the party took over several years ago, there were already troubles lurking for the prospect of stronger democracy in Turkey.  For example, the quality and variety of mainstream media in Turkey has been lackluster for quite a while.  It’s also disturbing how easily Turks are swayed by hype and conspiracy.  As a recent article shows, American plots are frequently cited as the main culprits in a lot of the internal events in Turkey.  Sadly, this is perpetuated by government, media, and citizen alike.