Now that the brief fervor over Trump being named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year has already begun to fade, it’s worth taking a look at the runner up list. The first two names were probably no brainers because it’s Time Magazine. Hillary Clinton was first because she significantly changed the world by managing to lose two presidential bids in a row. That’s not unique to be sure (hi, Mitt!), but I’m saying that sarcastically because the actual impact on the world around her was minimal at best. And yet there would have been howls of protest from the progressive faithful if they’d left her off so… there you go. The next choice was “The Hackers.” I don’t usually care for those group awards, particularly when the group in question is anonymous and we’ll likely never have any real faces to put with it, but their collective impact on a range of world events was undeniable. Perhaps not massive enough to beat out the competition globally, but an argument can be made for the choice.
Then we come to number three among the runners up. It’s none other than our old friend, Turkish President and soon to be dictator Recep Tayyip Erdogan. We’ve written enough about the aspiring tyrant here to fill a small novel and I won’t deny that he’s been a major player on the world stage to at least some extent. I also don’t take issue with having a dictator on the list. The purpose of the Person of the Year Award is ostensibly to recognize those who had the most impact, and that doesn’t necessarily mean in a good way. The question to answer is how much they moved the dial globally, either toward the light or the darkness. But if you’re going to choose a negative role model, I just wish Time would have made it a bit more clear that he was a figure representing dark forces rather than some ambiguous, “complicated” figure of history which is what they seemed to do.
In the magazine’s feature on Erdogan, they begin the story appropriately enough with the night of the attempted coup. After providing a refreshingly detailed timeline of the events of that day they paint a picture of Erdogan as a controversial but still powerful and influential leader emerging from an existential threat to his realm and rescuing the republic.
Erdogan, 62, had survived, and with him, his grip on power. In the neighborhood around Erdogan’s house, one group pushed through the crowd, carrying the Turkish flag—the banner of what surveys count as one of the most nationalistic nations on earth—and chanting “Allahu akbar!” or “God is great!” “We believe,” said Ayse Kol, 20, on a corner two blocks from the President’s home, “that Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a world leader.”
He is that, if only by dint of how much of the world gathers around him, awaiting his decisions. The strands of crises from both Europe and Asia now collide in Turkey. The European Union has all but outsourced its refugee crisis to Erdogan and, with it, the future of Europe’s own elected leaders, if not the E.U. itself. The democratic leaders of Western Europe now implore and bargain with the Turkish autocrat to cease the flow of Syrian refugees and other migrants into a continent whose politics is increasingly defined by backlash to outsiders. At the same time, Erdogan has inserted Turkey directly into the wars raging on its borders—sending troops into Iraq, whether they are welcome or not, in the assault on ISIS-held Mosul, and crossing the border into Syria’s inferno. In both countries, Turkey’s goal is both to suppress the radical extremists of ISIS—the jihadists who have repeatedly drawn blood on Turkish soil—and also to check the military might of Kurdish guerrillas who are fighting ISIS within Syria even as their brothers battle the state inside Turkey.
This coverage is shocking. I’ll grant you that they cover some of his tyrannical moves since the coup and remark on the “unsettling” nature of his increasingly iron grip on the country. But when they retell the night of the coup, Time wanders off into a sort of idol worship, saying: The president had emerged from his near-death experience stronger than ever.
There’s a bit too much hero worship for Erdogan in this article for my tastes even if they couch it in gentle criticism. Erdogan has shown us over and over again that he plans on taking over Turkey and ruling with an iron fist. He’s well on his way to being a complete, evil despot. Again… I have no trouble with seeing the PoTY award go to an evil monster if they are globally influential enough. There was definitely a case to be made last year for giving the award to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He may be Satan personified on Earth but there’s no question that he drove much of the international conversation all through 2015 and had everyone organizing their actions in response to his. He changed the world, albeit in a horror show sort of way.
But did Erdogan? He’s showing all the stirrings of evil but he still maintains a veneer of civility to other nations as required. He’s disappearing and brutalizing his own people and abetting Russia’s marauding in Aleppo, but he hasn’t launched any sort of wide, international attack on his neighbors or wiped out civilians outside of Turkey on a massive scale. He holds a keystone position in the flow of refugees, but does little directly to move that situation either way. In short, I’d say he is still more of a wannabe tyrant than an actual one. He is well positioned to hugely impact global affairs, but he’s not actually doing it on that scale yet. Hes’ the subject of much conjecture, but most of it deals with impending doom rather than present day crisis.
No, I’d have to disagree with this choice. Erdogan is on the cusp of being a dark and dangerous historical figure, but he shouldn’t have made the list quite yet. In closing I’ll include the brief video from Time about the timeline of the coup in Turkey. It’s surprisingly well done if a bit biased in Erdogan’s favor.