David Frum is no fun. Unlike Michael Wolff’s side-splittingly funny and politically lurid Fire And Fury — released almost simultaneously — George Bush’s former speechwriter’s Trumpocracy is deadly serious.
That means his examination of the Donald Trump presidency won’t get the same attention as Wolff’s and that’s too bad.
In 10 chapters, each describing a noxious trait of the current U.S. administration, Frum methodically explains how Trump did what everyone thought was impossible — win the presidency — and the impact his victory has had on the American political landscape.
He writes about how the Republican Party caved to Trump, the ways right-wing moral crusaders cravenly ignored the candidate’s “grab ’em by the pussy” values and how the presidency has fallen into the hands of generals and entrepreneurs. Most important, he suggests Trump sought the presidency for two essential reasons: self-aggrandizement and filthy lucre.
Of course, not all of this is new. The chapter on Trump treating the press as an enemy of the people gathers disturbing but familiar information. But Frum is an expert synthesizer and when he runs through the catalogue of Trump’s outrageous claims against the media, he makes a strong impact.
We’re also aware that army brass has been given unprecedented power and privilege in the White House. What’s wild is the appointments of men like secretary of defense James Mattis to a cabinet otherwise filled with Trump toadies was cause for relief among Trump doubters, not anxiety — the theory being that an army general might be able to control him. It hasn’t worked out that way.
Frum turns the tables on Trump’s argument that the voting system was rigged against him, and demonstrates how the reality-TV real estate mogul tried to limit certain voting blocks from exercising their franchise. Most notably, he supported a system that disenfranchised those who couldn’t afford a computer: if you didn’t have one in certain jurisdictions, you couldn’t register.
But the most impressive chapter is entitled Plunder and documents the ways Trump has helped himself to the public treasury and made millions of dollars since he became president. Trumpocracy is worth reading for this section alone.
A few examples: Trump redirected millions of campaign contributions to his own business; lobbiers trek to Washington and stay in Trump hotels, already garnering $4.1 million more in revenue this year than projected; and millions are spent on security so Trump family members can take business trips. The president is on track to spend more on personal travel in one year than President Obama spent in eight. Costs have largely covered sojourns to his Palm Beach estate Mar-a-Lago. It’s estimated that $60,000 has been spent on golf cart rentals for his security detail alone.
I mention this last tidbit to argue against those who claim that a variation on Trumpocracy could happen in Canada. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was pilloried for spending $75,000 in public monies on his holiday with the Aga Khan and had to face the ethics commissioner. Finance Minister Bill Morneau was accused of making policy to enrich his own businesses and came perilously close to losing his cabinet position.
What has happened to Trump? Absolutely nothing.
The U.S. president is volatile and unpredictable and the weekly news cycle is constantly goosed by his tweets and sudden policy declarations. So it’s no surprise Frum pays the price for making statements that no longer apply. He calls Trump’s threat to move the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem nothing but bluster. Trump’s proved him wrong on that.
And what probably sounded like an astute observation when he wrote the book now looks plain wrong. He refers to Trump as the first post-religious conservative, one who doesn’t hate gays and who is pro-choice. Then why did the president cut funds to overseas organizations linked to abortion? And what possessed him to try to keep transgender people out of the military? His base, presumably, which means his pro-choice and queer-positive stances were meaningless.
Frum shows his conservative colours in his final chapter by dismissing “theatrical street protests” and urging Americans to work within the system.
First of all, protests do operate within a system that supports freedom of assembly. Second, don’t think for a minute that the massive protests following Trump’s inauguration haven’t got Republicans worried sick. Many of the women who marched in January 2017 then went door to door to help win elections in Virginia and Alabama for Democrats.
Anti-Trumpers are doing two things: hitting the streets and working the system. So I’m not sure why Frum would diss the former strategy. Whatever your approach, if you need ammunition for your activism, read his book.