Trump And Erdogan: What The Two Leaders Have In Common [Opinion]

Donald Trump called Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan a few short hours after Turkey’s controversial referendum to offer his congratulations. The U.S. president’s congratulatory call was in contrast to statements made by the U.S. state department on Monday in which they urged Erdogan to still respect and hold up the fundamental rights of Turkish citizens, no matter how they may of have voted in the referendum. They also mentioned the “irregularities on voting day and an uneven playing field during the difficult campaign period.”

Although Trump’s phone call has been criticized by many, including former Republican Evan McMullin, the president’s chumminess is perhaps not surprising considering what the two leaders have in common. Here’s a look at the similarities between Trump and Erdogan, as well as where they differ.


Trump and Erdogan are ideological bedfellows

Despite the differences in political traditions in Turkey and the U.S., both Trump and Erdogan are populists and nationalists who have the tendency to see themselves at the center of various conspiracies. Both men seek to increase their authority and tend to demonize the opposition. However, what they lack in common is the strength of their authoritarian reach. While Trump’s policy has suffered some defeats, such as when his new travel ban was blocked by a court in Hawaii last month, Erdogan’s victory in Turkey’s referendum grants the Turkish president unilateral powers of decree, which means the president will have basically unlimited power.

Both leaders won by a narrow margin

Although Trump has famously begged to differ, the U.S. president most certainly did not win by a landslide, losing the popular vote to Hillary Clinton. Erdogan also won by a narrow margin of 51 percent. However, the leaders do not share common numbers in voter turnout: 85 percent of the eligible population reportedly voted in the Turkey’s referendum, while only 55 percent voted in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, which was a 20-year low. The foreign vote of Turkish citizens also made an impact, with 63.7 percent of Turks living in Germany voting yes on the referendum, and over 70 percent voting yes in the Netherlands, Austria, and Belgium. However, these numbers are somewhat deceptive. For example, voter turnout of the 1.4 million Turks living in Germany who are eligible to vote in Turkey was just under 50 percent.

Turkish President Erdogan waving from a podium with two Turkish flags in the background.
Turkey's President Erdogan got a yes on the referendum by a narrow margin. [Image by Yasin Bulbul/Pool photo via AP Images]

If things were different, American expatriates might also have made a bigger difference in the U.S. presidential election. An estimated 5.7 million Americans are living abroad, which makes them the 21st largest state in terms of population. If counted as one bloc, overseas Americans would be granted seven members in the House of Representatives and nine electoral college votes. However, although the U.S. is the only country to tax its nonresident citizens on their entire worldwide income as well as subject them to what many consider unfair regulations, such as FACTA, the voice of overseas Americans is largely diluted since their votes are dispersed among the 50 states.

Also, the legitimacy of both Turkey’s referendum and Trump’s election win have been called into question. Russia’s alleged tampering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election continues to make headlines as investigations continue. About Turkey’s referendum, Tana de Zulueta, head of a major watchdog group, said the following.

“The referendum took place in a political environment in which fundamental freedoms essential to a genuinely democratic process were curtailed under the state of emergency, and the two sides did not have equal opportunities to make their case to the voters.”

The Turkish opposition has also called for the results of the referendum to be annulled due to the controversy surrounding unstamped ballots.

Both Trump and Erdogan have deeply polarized their countries

Two floats for Karnival in Cologne of an elephant with Trump's head and an American flag bow tie and Erdogan riding a child's red car with a Turkish flag symbol painted on the side.
Erdogan and Trump have both passionate opponents and supporters. [Image by Michael Probst/AP Images]

Since Trump’s election, the country has become deeply polarized, with massive protests on one side and vehement Trump supporters on the other. As of April 17, Trump’s current approval rating stands at 41.6 percent. Like Trump, Erdogan does best with rural voters. Istanbul, Izmir and Ankara, Turkey’s three largest cities, all voted no in the referendum.

Both leaders share a common mistrust of the media. Although Trump has railed against the media, accusing most major news outlets of spreading “fake news” with little to back up his claims, Erdogan has again gone a step further by jailing opposition leaders and journalists critical of the president and his administration. The “no” campaign also reported facing intimidation and threats of violence.

According to the Independent, a “manic sensitivity to criticism” is also a common trait both men share.

The death of liberal democracy

In 1947, British historian Sir Lewis Namier described what he called a “Caesarian democracy.” According to Namier, a Caesarian democracy can be recognized by the following.

  • direct appeal to the masses
  • demagogical slogans
  • a disregard of legality despite a professed guardianship of law and order
  • a contempt of political parties and the parliamentary system, the educated classes, and their values
  • blandishments and vague, contradictory promises to all and sundry
  • militarism
  • gigantic blatant displays and shady corruption

Although Namier was describing Napoleon III, Benito Mussolini, and Adolf Hitler, each of these common traits could easily be applied to both Trump and Erdogan.

Trump and Erdogan also share a common goal: to make their nations great again. But, if Namier’s theory of Caesarian democracy holds true, the end of the road will result in disaster.

[Featured Image by Alex Brandon/AP Images]