Constitutional quandaries

THERE are many instances of sudden belief changes or ‘belief cascades’, strategic voting, and grand coalition formations in American political history – obviously also in world history. Consider the Madison- Jefferson equilibrium – as Norman Schofield has put it – of the 1790s that led to Jefferson winning in 1800 as a result of the alignment of land and agrarian labor. The anti-Malthusian optimistic view advocated by Condorcet – and directly conveyed to Jefferson in private conversations – led Jefferson believe that an agrarian surplus-exporting America would uphold a balance between landed interests of the South and commercial/industrial interests of the North. The resulting equilibrium lasted for about 60 years after which the civil war finally broke out. Similarly, there are other episodes of radical belief and political alignment shifts, namely 1857-1861, 1896, 1932, 1964 and 2000.


Did Trump’s victory correspond to any of them? Or would an increasingly likely Biden win count as one? I am not sure but it seems clear to me that Trump won the Electoral College in 2016 not by a fluke; there was something of a rational kernel in the behavior of both of the polity and the electorate back then. Excesses and fluctuations all too often observed by the public at large are due more to the style of leadership than its essence. The containment of China was not a novel idea either. The reversal of strategy vis-à-vis Iran could also have been anticipated to a certain extent. The short-lived peak of the new Cold War against Russia may be over, but the normal coldness continues nonetheless. That Iran has to be driven out from Syria and cornered in the wider Middle East is a sine qua non for Israel if Bashar Assad is to stay in power in the western part of Syria. The Syrian Affair is far from being closed although Assad may command more power than hitherto assumed after the final countdown – or a settlement, if any. Otherwise, brokering an even temporary peace may not be possible. Hence, the U.S. trade war with China is here to stay for a while even with Biden, the other facet being coming to terms with Europe. The Iran issue is also serious in that it is a counter-Obama Doctrine initiative. There is a chance that these two moves are more likely to be shored up by the American polity after a Biden victory also. They will have enduring consequences in the years to come. Now, you can’t quarrel with North Korea, Russia, China, the EU and Iran at the same time. Hence, choices seem to have been made. To argue otherwise would be to admit that the Trump presidency is a historically random phenomenon that has no basis whatsoever in the American global strategic outlook and in the expectations of American labor and industry, at least to some extent.


Norman Schofield, a first-rate mathematical economist, has also worked on the theory and practices of American politics. The first conjecture is that over a century, “core beliefs” didn’t change. In other words, socially conservatives and economically pro-big business voters are still there and they are opposed by liberals – sometimes they may be labelled left libertarians also – and pro-redistribution, more healthcare, etc. voters. The two-dimensional, social and economic, policy space has remained, as it were. However, political alliances have changed and so has the positions Democrats and Republicans occupy. In fact, before 1964 Republicans were more liberal than Democrats on civil rights, race issues, liberties, etc. Democrats were the social conservatives to an extent back then. The political (electoral) space didn’t move, but the mapping that assigns various representative positions to party cleavages did. The surface didn’t change, but the function did. In Turkey, the two-dimensional political space is also sufficient to characterize political diversity. If we come up with an ideology/economy taxonomy, and divide it further into four quadrants – liberal (left) economy/conservative ideology + liberal economy/liberal ideology + conservative economy/conservative ideology + conservative economy/liberal ideology – that would cover enough space, I think. In lieu of liberal, one is tempted to write ‘modern’. The left/right divide isn’t as important as it was two or three decades ago. However, it may be more accurate if we claim that both the surface and the function did change in Turkey over the last two decades. This is what renders an otherwise hardly imaginable incumbent party win even after so many years of political depreciation and economic woes that are now transparent to all voters. This is because politics involve a much deeper ideological root and many politicians aspire to be architects of social change. This seldom happens in the U.S.


What the AKP did was to muster the old center-right diversity, and put the mid-1990s median voter under one umbrella. Its ideology is increasingly becoming a remix consisting of religion-cum-nationalism. Its economy is clearly pro-business and the party in toto is pro-unregulated capitalism. It is a right-wing party; but it is also a party that sees itself as a vehicle for social change. In the past, qua architects of political change, party activists worked diligently and wholeheartedly. But they don’t seem to feel that way anymore. As the incumbent party spread its influence, even control, over distinct economic and social spaces, the clash between classical candidates – vote maximizers – and ‘believers’ intensified. However, no party can ever claim to occupy such a wide electoral spectrum, and tolerate a misalignment between party activists and “in no matter what I should win or benefit” types. Even “Architect of social change”, President Lyndon Johnson signs civil rights legislation July 2, 1964 in Turkey, where the polity is divided into at least three ‘core constituencies’ along two dimensions – secular-cum-nationalistic moderns, religious-cum nationalistic conservatives and the Kurdish electorate, which is also divided – a large majority party is subject to strong centrifugal forces. Over-reliance on ideology may be seen as a short-cut, a device to keep the loyalty of the believers intact. Otherwise, such a party has to form fragile ties between the adherents to all four quadrants, quadrants that underline wide and deep differences.


There are two political preconditions in Turkey. First, the movements of Babacan and Davutoglu both shouldn’t gather sufficient support within the AKP. This seems to be happening because their support is low and stagnating. But IYIP is currently standing above 11-12% instead of the previous 8-9%. It seems not to change sides. At least one well-known, quite successful pollster predicted that AKP core votes were at their lowest. That figures because voters don’t come from the moon; if IYIP gets well over 10%, assuming HDP stays put, and SP, DEVA and Gelecek come up with 5-6%, then AKP-cum-MHP loses electoral support. CHP and HDP are relatively intact, distinct compartments. Only IYIP can get 1-2% from CHP, but that won’t change things much. Therefore, the precondition sine qua non, is a reshuffling of cards within the AKP system of interwoven alliances with religious groups, and a massive one at that. If recession and political events of the last couple of years have put sand in the wheels, then the party apparatus would need oil to work as efficiently as before and synchronize all nuts and bolts, cogs and wheels. Unless heavy cavalry is mustered at once, no party can win a campaign in such a divided political space. The second precondition lies in economics. Well, if the economic factor turns into the first and foremost object of debate, the incumbent party can’t win. This much is crystal-clear after the coronavirus outbreak. So, because the outcome of an early election is highly uncertain, its timing is also uncertain. The third unmentioned idea is that one goes to elections despite disadvantages if one thinks the future will be even less bright. Well, I think this may be the case sometime in the first half of 2021. How can we project key economic variables onto the two halves of 2021 is the subject of next week.

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