I grew up in a suburb close to Chicago, right under the takeoff patterns of O’Hare airport. As an adult my wife and I lived in the city in which my parents were born and raised. I’ve lived in two other places (Los Angeles and Michigan) and visited quite a few others. Never before have I had the shock of recognition that I experienced after living a few months in Istanbul.
There are many differences between my hometown of Chicago and the country of Turkey, be they historical, religious, linguistic, or geographic.
But politically, they are eerily similar in ways I find amusing, funny, and downright appalling. So here is my list of the top seven ways Turkey and Chicago are alike.
8) Leaders Who Like to Plant Trees.
Mayor Richard the Second was big on planting trees. His father, Mayor Richard the First, was also fond of responding to critics with the phrase, “What trees do you plant?” This has also become a somewhat common Chicago maxim, as if to say, “What are you doing to fix and improve things?”
Prime Minister Erdoğan, despite the Gezi protests, would have you all know that he loves to plant trees.
And he even said, “The Gezi people are those who have no thought. They never planted a tree.”
This hasn’t stopped Erdoğan from demolishing a large part of a forest to build a third bridge over the Bosphorus.
7) Building stuff, Especially Big Things, Is Very Important.
From a third bridge over the Bosphorus, to a new enormous third airport, to digging another Bosphorus, Erdoğan wants Big Projects as his legacy. So did many Chicago mayors, whether it was a showcase lakefront park that cost $450 million to build, or several city-wide expressways, or a major airport, or very tall high-rise buildings. Big projects bring pride and, most importantly to politicians, keep voters working. Working voters are happy voters.
6) A Complete Disregard for Historical Heritage.
Chicago has improved on this in the past few decades. But nothing is allowed to get in the way of building big stuff, whether it’s an entire neighborhood for a new university campus (UIC) or ancient ruins for a tunnel underneath the Bosphorus, or buildings designed by Louis Sullivan to make way for new ugly skyscrapers.
Erdoğan vowed he wouldn’t let pots and pans get in the way of “progress.”
5) Votes are More Important than Efficiency.
Many roads in Istanbul are made of stone or concrete pavers. It’s very labor-intensive to build these kinds of roads. It requires many people (men) to personally lift and place each brick and put it into place. That isn’t tolerated as much anymore in Chicago or the U.S.A., what with the bare coffers of municipal governments.
But how many votes does an asphalt paving machine bring in?
4) Voting Is a Sport.
Chicago has a history of allowing dead people to vote, which has given rise to the saying, “The dead always rise on Election Day.” There has also been funny business with excessive numbers of absentee ballots in some parts of the city. It’s accepted as fact that Kennedy beat Nixon in Illinois thanks to some funny business with the votes in Cook County.
In the most recent election in Turkey, ballots for opposition candidates were put in the trash.
3) Corruption is Normal.
In Turkey, it’s shoeboxes full of money, found in the library of the general manager of the country’s state-run lender Halkbank.
In Chicago it’s been everything from bribery to tax evasion, to fixing criminal cases.
Why aren’t Erdogan’s supporters appalled at the corruption? Because they either don’t believe the reports coming from the press, or they don’t see it as corruption. The latter has allowed corruption to continue to thrive in Chicago despite numerous Federal investigations, resulting in hundreds (thousands?) of convictions through many decades.
2) Leaders Who Don’t Take Any Crap from Anyone.
Every word of criticism must be answered, every complaint must be disproved, every insult must be returned in kind. He doesn’t take anything from anybody.
– Mike Royko, Boss, about mayor Richard J. Daley
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has labeled a corruption probe involving former ministers of his government as nothing but a “treacherous plot” to sabotage Turkey’s international standing and has ordered Turkish ambassadors serving abroad to “tell the truth” to their foreign interlocutors.
1) Leaders Who Hold the Press in Complete and Utter Contempt.
If he feels that he has been criticized unfairly, and he considers most criticism unfair, he doesn’t hesitate to pick up a phone and complain to an editor….[B]ut in general, he views the paper as his enemy. The reporters, specifically. They want to know things that are none of their business, because they are little men. Editors, at least, have power, but he doesn’t understand why they let reporters exercise it.
– Mike Royko, Boss, about mayor Richard J. Daley
Erdoğan says things like this, “Revealing state privacy is not called freedom, it is sheer treason.”
Plus, Erdoğan has power over the press that Chicago mayors can only dream of getting.
Number of journalists in jail in Turkey: 40
Number of journalists in jail in China: 32
Those numbers are according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Of course, one of the biggest differences between the two is that, unlike in Chicago, there is absolutely no check on Erdogan’s power in Turkey. With Chicago, the Feds have been kept busy investigating corruption. In Turkey, Erdogan just reassigns those police officers, prosecutors, and judges who investigate corruption.