The man who coined the term Axis of Evil might have finally run out of words to describe something that is possibly more disturbing: Trumpocracy.
David Frum, the Toronto-born speechwriter for George W. Bush and now a senior editor for The Atlantic, has either written an impressive call to arms or a deflating tome that leaves one with a profound sense of inevitability and hopelessness. In his foreword to Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic, Frum clearly tries to sound the alarm that something has gone terribly wrong not with the United States, but with democracy as a system of government.
The collapse of democracy is a worldwide phenomenon, but a made-in-the-USA problem. At the root of all of Frum’s criticisms is the recklessness with which the Republicans—his party of choice—and Democrats have eroded the basic civility and give-and-take that is the foundation of all democratic institutions. He poignantly quotes George H. W. Bush’s 1992 concession speech which called for national reconciliation after a long, tough, sometimes ugly election campaign.
“Here’s the way we see it and the country should see it—that the people have spoken and we respect the majesty of the democratic system. I just called Governor Clinton over in Little Rock and offered my congratulations. He did run a strong campaign. I wish him well in the White House.
“And I want the country to know that our entire Administration will work closely with his team to insure the smooth transition of power. There is important work to be done, and America must always come first. So we will get behind this new President and wish him—wish him well.”
To Frum, that was the last high-water mark in U.S. politics and it was more than a quarter century ago. Since then, there were the hyper-partisan attacks on Clinton’s presidency, the “hanging chad” election that set the tone for the presidency of George W. Bush, and the shamefully racist Obama era that cemented the tribalism that now afflicts a once-great country.
While Trump has promised to “make America great again,” Frum demonstrates how patently absurd those words have become. In just one year, Trump has prevaricated on Nazism, openly lied on a daily basis, encouraged the erosion of public trust in the country’s institutions, and embraced a ruinous fiscal policy that loads almost unimaginable debt on the federal government.
And why? Easy, says Frum. It’s all about “the aggrandizement of one domineering man and his shamelessly grasping extended family.”
In one of the more telling messages of the book, Frum notes that Americans are turning a blind eye to their reduced freedoms and the acceptance of authoritarian tendencies—think Trump’s love of generals and parades—and laments that rather than Russia becoming more like America, the United States seems to be evolving into Russia.
While Frum is thorough in calling out Trump for his personal failings, he believes the U.S. system of checks and balances can and already is moving to rein in the worst of the 45th president’s excesses. The U.S. is still strong enough to cope with the damage Trump does and even emerge stronger for it, but not without Republicans being willing to bell the cat and not without all Americans being willing to demand an end to hyper-partisanship and incivility.
It is here that Frum levels his most withering criticism at the enablers and apologists who have brought this pox upon the country and the world. It is clear he thinks some are too stupid to know better, and some are reckless, but most are just out to amass power in a broken system. The societal cancers that have given rise to Trump and Trumpism—greed, racism, entitlement, apathy among them—need to be rooted out before healing can begin.
Taken at its best, Frum’s Trumpocracy is a hopeful book that counts on Americans being willing and able to admit their mistakes, fix them and build a better country. If one doesn’t read it that way, it might just be the most distressing book ever written.