I kept turning the pages in David Frum’s new book, “Trumpocracy,” and sticking Post-it notes on especially compelling passages. By the end of the relatively short volume, I had identified many more insights than the length of a book review allows me to share.
Read it and judge for yourself, unless, of course, you are an immovable fan of the president of the United States.
Trumpites be warned. This is a sustained howl of rage against the person, policies and prattle of the man with his finger on both the twitter key and the nuclear button. It’s a literary Gatling gun trained on today’s politics by an experienced marksman, trenchantly subtitled “The Corruption of the American Republic,” (HarperCollins, $25.99)
A respected conservative political observer and former George W. Bush speechwriter, Frum offers his version of what produced the Trump phenomenon, why it’s bad for the country and how it’s still possible to hope.
Every amateur political analyst is thrilled when some vague insight of his own is rendered in print, with precision, by a seasoned pro. My cup overflowed when reading, in the “Trumpocracy” introduction, “The thing to fear from the Trump presidency is … not the defiance of law, but an accumulating subversion of norms.”
That’s what I’ve been trying, clumsily, to tell friends.
There is nothing normal about what has happened to our presidential politics. Despite the not-infrequent mewling that “Trump is just being Trump,” or “he’s just telling it like it is,” what’s happening is neither normal nor benign. The president’s followers luxuriate in his refusal to equivocate on anything, but Frum warns, “To be unequivocal is not the same as being honest. Politicians equivocate precisely to avoid lying. Trump lies without qualm or remorse.”
“Trumpocracy” went to press before the president was able to sign a sweeping tax reform and claim a legislative victory, but the case this author makes doesn’t turn on that kind of specific, although his book is densely detailed and lavishly footnoted. The real virtue of Frum’s jeremiad is its insight into the broadest implications of Trump and Trumpism.
My wife, a credentialed expert in early childhood language development, explains, “Trump is constantly writing his own story, the way children create stories as they go along, without forethought.”
That’s a frightening truth when it applies to the chief custodian and spokesman for the traditions and institutions that make American democracy durable.
Frum makes a case that we should be frightened, but also that we can have hope.
Among other things, thanks to President Trump the national political class, along with the rest of us, may now have a “wider vision,” finally including the issues he seized and others neglected: “the ravages of drug addiction, the costs of immigration, the cultural and economic decline of the industrial working class.”
As Boston College presidential scholar Marc Landy put it, in the latter half of 20th century America “fundamental change simply came faster than some could absorb it.” “Trumpocracy” argues that a political outlier has created a real, malign “Third Way” in American politics by recognizing and exploiting that truth.