It is no secret that the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, which was encouraged by former U.S. President Donald Trump, shook the world in 2021. I clearly remember where I was when the situation arose: taking a nap back in my hometown, Istanbul, around 8 p.m., waking up to countless email blasts from the New York Times marked “Breaking News” and trying to figure out what was going on through international resources.
As a Turkish person, you would expect me to be used to coups (shoutout to the 2016 Turkish coup attempt) and political turmoil in general, but I was astonished by the situation, pondering the bigger picture. Why does the public continue to be provoked by their political idols who are no longer in power? The recent updates on Trump’s indictment pose another question: Why is he still the Republican front-runner for the 2024 U.S. presidential election?
Before attempting to answer, it is important to remember what went down two and a half years ago in the U.S. Capitol riot, which was ignited by Trump’s one-hour-long speech. His remarks began with criticism targeting the media and continued with rigged election allegations. Later, Trump asserted, “I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.” The riot attempt officially commenced.
During the incident, Trump supporters attacked the Capitol police and vandalized the interior. However, this was not the end of it. There is an ongoing debate on Trump’s impact on the future of the U.S. and whether he will be indicted for the attack (I’m sure we have all seen the mugshot that became a meme, even within the Hopkins Sidechat community).
Judging from the effect of his past two indictments, it would be reasonable (yet disappointing) to expect the indictment to benefit him as his previous charges have, rather than losing him the support of his defenders. He was first impeached back in 2019 for the charges of “abuse of power” and “obstruction of Congress” and impeached again for encouraging the Capitol attack, making him the first U.S. President to be impeached twice.
Despite the allegations made against Trump, his past indictments and his current flippant attitude toward the situation, a poll from The Wall Street Journal found that 59% of Republican voters named Trump as their first choice, up from 48% prior to his indictments.
This is political fanaticism, and I am used to seeing it because I come from a country where it’s the norm.
In May 2023, my home country, Turkey, held its presidential election. The competition between two candidates became the focal point: Recep Erdogan, the president of Turkey who was seeking a third term, and Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the biggest opposition party of Turkey (Republican People's Party). Maybe it was the media, or maybe it was the blindness of hope, but the opposition party voters thought this would finally be the day Erdogan’s 20 years in power came to an end. Spoiler alert: It wasn’t.
People were confused. Nobody understood how Erdogan’s supporters kept voting for him, and some even attempted to ask why they voted for him. Some supports said that he built new roads while others reasoned that he fixed the economy, which could have been true for the first few years Erdogan’s party was in power but certainly not for the last couple of years, when Turkish lira kept depreciating.
The reality is that many Turkish people are oblivious to the ideology and lifestyle of those who live in smaller, less modernized Anatolian cities. I remember a friend telling me about their Erdogan supporter relatives — that they weren’t people who would go out and eat at a restaurant, have hobbies or go shopping for fun. He told me that their favorite activity was to drink Turkish tea while watching the television. He described to me how excited they got when they saw Erdogan on the news, that there were families who had portraits of Erdogan in their houses. Some saw him as a father figure or like a son.
I find my part of the population lucky: I have hobbies, interests and passions outside of politics, and it is important to recognize that some people have never gotten this chance. The life of a Turkish person coming from a lower-middle class background mainly consists of a single thing: making ends meet and surviving. What could be the source of happiness for a person living like this? For some, the answer is politics — seeing the leader you support win elections, hearing him talk about a better future and feeling safe because, in your eyes, your country’s president is strong.
It is hard to break the image of a political figure in someone’s eyes when the situation is like this. It is so hard to let go and accept that the person you idolized for years is actually wrong. A parallel can be seen between Turkey’s Erdogan and Trump. In the eyes of Republicans, Trump is brave, plainspoken and unbeatable — it is not easy to change this.
Even though the Democratic Party nominee for the 2024 presidential election is not official yet, I am pretty sure it will be President Joe Biden, and he has the disadvantage of not being as idolized as Trump. I expect Trump to get indicted again, but as we have seen from his previous indictments, this will not lose him support — and I expect to see him win the general election. From my Turkish point of view, this is yet another case of a politician who is hungry for power and (unfortunately) yet another community that is blinded by the charisma and confidence of a public figure.
Buse Koldas is a freshman majoring in Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering from Istanbul, Turkey.