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Woke at the Wake of Democracy, Laughing

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by John Kendall Hawkins

'Festive folk laughter presents an element of victory not only over supernatural awe, over the sacred, over death; it also means the defeat of power, of earthly kings, of the earthly upper classes, of all that oppresses and restricts.'

- Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World

"Is this my country? Are these my people?"

According to Turkish journalist Ece Temelkuran, when previously self-assured middle class folk in Western countries start asking these two simple questions in response to the seemingly sudden inexplicable breakdown of order and civility all around them -- from lingual snarks to molotov sparks -- it may be too late to save the Democracy they were wont to take for granted. That's what happened in Turkey during the rise of Recep Tayyip ErdoÄŸan, Temelkuran seemingly woke up on July 15, 2016, military jets sonic-booming overhead, and -- poof! -- democracy was gone.

In How to Lose A Country: The 7 Steps from Democracy to Dictatorship, Temelkuran delineates the omens and signs of our demise, one monster at a time. It's a grim book, and as you pace your way through its downward travelling stages into zones of all-too-recognizable absurdities, you realize the beginning of the end is already in the rearview mirror. Many of the steps she describes have an eerily familiar ring of truth that make her observations trenchantly applicable for educated middle class Americans gobsmacked by the evil shenanigans of the Trump era. They will totally relate to those two opening questions. Temelkuran argues that rather than just being a case of the anomalous rise of right-wing populists,

It's a new zeitgeist in the making. This is a historic trend, and it is turning the banality of evil into the evil of banality.

Temelkuran addresses three main subject matters in How to Lose A Country that are relevant to American readers keen for insight into how it goes wrong and where it ends up. First she describes the rise of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the myriad villages of Anatolia, beginning in 2001, led by ErdoÄŸan. Second, she describes the seven steps of the demise of democracy, including the road signs designating where you are in the deterioration of your nation. And third, she offers up a way of identifying "seven steps the populist leader takes to transform himself from a ridiculous figure to a seriously terrifying autocrat, while corrupting his country's entire society to its bones."

Temulkuran's first experienced coup happened on September 12, 1980. She writes,

I looked up at the clear blue sky and said to myself, 'Oh, this must be what they call dawn.' I was eight, and one of the most vicious military coups in modern history was just getting started.

Her word 'dawn' will figure in her book the way "Woke," derived from African-American Vernacular English to describe the first waking to social consciousness, is employed by the meme-and-trope hungry MSM. African-Carribean singer Bob Marley, who woke up before most of us, called it the Real Situation, a song off his album Uprising, released just before the Turkish coup.

Temelkuran passes on an anecdote about her half-Turkish American nephews who were visiting their babaanne (grandmother) in Istanbul on the morning of the 1980 coup. Scheduled to go home to America on the morning of the coup, their babaanne had fixed them up with a lavish Turkish breakfast. "Had they not experienced the dawn during the coup," writes Temelkuran, "their memories of babaanne would have been limited to indulgent breakfasts." Instead, they can hear the jets overhead and "as day broke they watched their babaanne crying and chain smoking in front of the TV." The nephews wanted to know what happened to cause her sorrow. "Babaanne was too tired to tell him that every generation in this country has its own dark memory of a dawn," remembers Temelkuran.

And always the same pattern. "In Turkey, coups are played out over forty-eight-hour curfews, and the leftists are locked up at the end," she writes. It sounds like the ending of Casablanca with 'the usual suspects' rounded up, but without the happy resistance and beautiful relationships ahead. Temelkuran jumps forward to July 15, 2016, her second coup, the day ErdoÄŸan declared martial law. Same stuff -- away with the Lefties: academics, journalists, mass media talking heads, and other potential resistors to the ErdoÄŸan regime. Probably he lost little sleep when he learned WaPo columnist Koshoggi had been 'interrogated and deconstructed,' to use an academic expression, and, who knows, given the Saudi human rights ethic, maybe literally shot out into sands as cannon fodder. Democracy Dies in Darkness indeed.

"Since the founding of the modern Turkish republic in 1923," Temelkuran writes, "under Kemal Ataturk, the army has traditionally been the most respected institution in the country, if not the most feared." For almost one hundred years the Turks have turned to Europe and said, in so many words, We will not be ottomans you can put your filthy feet up on, we were once an empire, too, and like you, we still have after-images of our glory and will compare our architecture to yours any day. Respect. And, likening his rule to Marlon Brando's Godfather, Temulkuran says that ErdoÄŸan intends to enforce this respect. She notes that when he was prevented by host nations from recruiting and gathering Turkish expats in Europe for support of his coup, he told them, "If Europe continues this way, no European in any part of the world can walk safely on the streets."

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John Kendall Hawkins is an American ex-pat freelance journalist and poet currently residing in Oceania.

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