It is the experience of a lifetime to observe a presidential race in the United States as a foreign journalist.
Listening to people who enjoy politics and watching conventions is like a cross-cultural lecture to me.
Last month, I watched almost every speech at the national conventions of the Republican and Democratic parties.
The most incredible moment at either convention was Khizr Khan’s lecture on the U.S. Constitution at the Democratic convention.
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In response to GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim immigration, Khan — the father of slain Muslim American soldier Humayun Khan — waved the Constitution in the air and asked Trump directly:
“Have you even read the United States Constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy. In this document, look for the words, look for the words, liberty and equal protection (under) law.”
Naturally, Khan’s words got a standing ovation and went viral on social media.
Meanwhile, Trump’s combative responses quickly damaged his campaign.
Immediately after Khan’s speech, sales of the Constitution skyrocketed. A $1 edition of the pocket-sized Constitution printed by the nonpartisan National Center for Constitutional Studies became the second-bestselling book on Amazon.
It’s an impressive American story.
But Khan’s inspiring speech on the Constitution reminded me of another story, a different one about my country.
Almost 15 years ago, Turkey was governed by a coalition that consisted of central right and social democrat parties.
At the time, Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit was known as a long-time, honest social democrat politician.
Ahmet Necdet Sezer, the former president of the Turkish Constitutional Court, was sworn in as Turkey’s new president. He urged reforms to push the country into becoming a member of the European Union.
Sezer was the first president who had a judiciary background. And he was a precise defender of secularism in Turkey, without ties to the political coalition.
Both Ecevit and Sezer were known as honest men in public, but they split politically on how to prevent corruption in the country.
In 2001, President Sezer accused Ecevit of being “too passive” in the fight against corruption. Sezer also claimed Ecevit was trying to prevent an investigation of the nation’s financial sector.
The Turkish banking sector was fragile at that time. In a National Security Council meeting that year, Sezer waved a book copy of the Turkish constitution in the air and threw it to the prime minister, accusing him of not respecting Turkish law.
According to news reports at the time, Deputy Prime Minister Husamettin Ozkan grabbed the constitution and threw it back to President Sezer, shouting, “You are ungrateful!”
The day — known as “Black Wednesday” in Turkey — triggered a major financial crisis, which for years ruined the economic fortunes of the middle-class in the country.
In elections only 18 months after Black Wednesday, none of the existing political parties in the parliament reached the 10 percent electoral threshold to continue serving.
Meanwhile, newborn political party AKP did reach the threshold and gained enough members to take majority control of parliament.
Everyone in Turkey remembers what happened after the “constitution” crisis.
I know, America is a completely different country from Turkey. But politics is politics. All I learned from Turkish politics is that if someone is pushed to wave around a constitution, that is not a good sign for a democracy.
Gokce Aytulu is an Alfred Friendly Fellow from Turkey. The Star will be his host between April and September.