I last posted here a week ago. Since then, I’ve begun three blog posts, but the task of describing the troubling thing that was happening to me was too much, and one by one, I gave up on them. Over the past few weeks, as Donald Trump has flouted expectations based in reason and common sense, opinion writers have warned that his actions would lead citizens to decreased faith in our system. I recognized this as a definite danger . . . for others. I know a thing or two about loss of faith, but my conviction of the basic goodness of the US Constitution and American democracy in general was strong enough to seem unshakable.
And then came a little tremor. It wasn’t even caused by Trump himself. It was the Republicans who refuse to say what is true about Trump, because not speaking the truth maintains their power. It was the Republicans in North Carolina who rewrote the entire system of statewide governance in order to diminish the power of the newly elected Democratic governor. It was the Republicans who are demolishing public education in the state I work in, because they don’t believe it should exist. I felt last Friday how naive I had been to believe that Republicans and Democrats can be likened to two teams playing at the same sport by the same rules.
And yet . . . and yet . . . a few weeks ago I had a conversation with a friend who lives in Chicago, and she described the Democratic Party there in ways that reminded me that power corrupts, and that Democrats, whom I have tended to idealize as believing in compassion, are not immune.
The tremor subsided, but then came the earthquake. Of the three terrible things that happened Monday—the Electoral College giving a win to Donald Trump, the truck bomb in Berlin, and the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey—the third was the one that shook me the most, because it laid bare for me, at an intellectually vulnerable moment, how state power works.
On Monday, in Ankara, a former police officer, Mevlüt Mert Altıntaş, shot and killed Russian Ambassador Andrey Karlov at the opening of an art exhibition displaying photographs of Russia by Turkish artists. He shot only Karlov and then shouted to the crowd about his motivations, including the statement “Halep’te çocukları öldürdünüz bunun intikamını alacağız”: “You killed the children in Aleppo, and we will get their revenge.” His actions were those of an assassin, not a terrorist, and his motive was revenge for something specific: the slaughter of innocents in Aleppo.
The responses of the affected state powers, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, linguistically recategorized the actions that occurred. Both men called the attack a “provocation” (Putin video available here and Erdogan’s comments here, and both vowed to step up their battle against “terror.”
There is a difference between “provocation” and “revenge,” and calling Altıntaş’s murder of Karlov a “provocation” aims to erase the originating event, which is Russia and Syria bombing the shit out of Aleppo, targeting hospitals and civilians, destroying a whole city and thousands of people in it. But according to the ideology of state and nation, the one that I learned from childhood and never questioned, it’s OK for nations to kill people. States set themselves a low moral bar to clear when it comes to violence, and categorizing a revenge assassination as a terrorist provocation gives Russia and Turkey ample justification for piling on more violence, because people believe that “the War on Terror” should use any tactics a state deems necessary or beneficial.
I’ve been watching power carefully recently, watching it up close at the university I work at, in my nation, and in the world, and I don’t like what I see. All my wish in earlier days was to have better people in positions of power, but today I don’t believe that is possible—the people in power will not allow into the power system others who are motivated to change that system. What am I left with but the grass roots? Tonight I went to a vigil for those suffering in Aleppo—a fitting way to commemorate the longest night of the year—and left the building with more awareness of how non-governmental organizations are helping on the ground, and how I could help them to help, and perhaps with a smidgen more hope than I have felt for the past week.
Rachel E. Hile
Photo by Ahmed Abdelmageed