Those in power rarely welcome dissenting voices or overt opposition out of a conviction that their own policies and goals embody what’s best for all. And because enjoying a monopoly of power comes with notable personal benefits and privileges. Accordingly they are quick to dismiss the opposition and move to isolate, discredit and delegitimize it (a response that may at times be fully warranted). I was reminded of this not long ago when demonstrations broke out across Turkey, stemming it seems from broad dissatisfaction among elements of the population with the direction leadership was taking the nation. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, however, denied that any fault could be found in his government, nor any substance to the claims and demands of the protestors. They were, he declared, merely “looters” and “bums”, disreputable elements his police forces were ordered to suppress.
How familiar this all sounds. Time and again we’ve witnessed reactions of this sort. The terms employed may differ slightly but the intention clearly is to undermine opposition forces, label them as frivolous, sinister, destructive outcasts, altogether unworthy of a respectful hearing. Russian authorities have, over the years, repeatedly dismissed dissenters there as “hooligans”. In the United States protestors were frequently portrayed as “anarchists” or “Communists” or “un-American” elements. More recently in Syria, the Assad regime has blamed the violence and upheaval upon “foreign agents”. Elsewhere we’ve heard repeated references to “criminal elements”, “malcontents” and “agitators”, “provocateurs”, and “spies”. This dismissive strategy will forever be employed so long as those in power believe that their authority is best maintained by both minimizing and marginalizing opponents.