David Frum has written an erudite, scholarly, entertaining, coruscating, and, ultimately, both deeply scary and hopeful book called Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic (HarperCollins, 2018, 320 pages, $25.99/12.99). Using elegant, nuanced writing and thoughtful analysis based on deep, and wide research, fully thirty percent of the text is taken up by footnotes, Frum carefully builds his argument using well-recognized sources from across the political, historical, and media spectrum. He presents a clear-eyed vision of Trump world from a Republican intellectual who wants him to do well and achieve the conservative goals his party has long felt powerless to achieve. Frum carefully uses what Trump says about his goals both as a candidate and as President, as well as a wide array of his allies, the media from Fox & Friends to Meet the Press, from Hugh Hewitt to Mark Levin. He’s careful, judicious, and, ultimately…damning.
David Frum, born in Canada, has degrees from the University of Toronto, Yale University, and Harvard Law School. As he said in Newsweek, “I’m a conservative Republican, have been all my adult life. I volunteered for the Reagan campaign in 1980. I’ve attended every Republican convention since 1988. I was president of the Federalist Society chapter at my law school, worked on the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal and wrote speeches for President Bush—not the “Read My Lips” Bush, the “Axis of Evil” Bush. I served on the Giuliani campaign in 2008 and voted for John McCain in November. I supported the Iraq War and (although I feel kind of silly about it in retrospect) the impeachment of Bill Clinton. I could go on, but you get the idea.” He has been an American citizen since 2007, while having been active in American politics for most of his adult life.
Frum, who appears to be no admirer of Trump, nevertheless paints what seems to me to be an accurate and un-frenzied picture of how Trump uses real and imagined power along with blunt bullying and lying to force people not his natural allies to line up with him and do his bidding, while many of them have taken positions in the government which will allow them to create no end of un-doing a generations long pattern of increasing governmental oversight of their enterprises. Meanwhile, useful regulations and protections are thrown out with the bureaucratic overburden and there’s so much self-dealing the public becomes inured to it. He demonstrates how the use of language in the Trump administration masks the goals of those he’s appointed to make America a more dangerous, dirty, and divided country.
The structure of Trumpocracy lays out the ways in which Donald Trump behaves to bring maximum attention to himself while having limited interest in the history, laws, traditions, and structure of our country. He consistently acts in such a way as to increase his own power while not seeking advice or counsel from those who truly understand how the government works, especially with reference to our hallowed separation of powers and reliance upon them to come to reasonable governance for all. Frum writes that under Trump, “The government of the United States seems to have made common cause with the planet’s thugs, crooks, and dictators against its own ideals—and in fact to have imported the spirit of thuggery, crookedness, and dictatorship into the very core of the American state, into the most solemn symbolic oval center of its law and liberty.” He continues, “Trump’s hope was that an unconstrained America could grab more power for itself (and thereby for him). He never understood that America’s power arose not only from its own wealth and its own military force, but from its centrality to a network of friends and allies.” For Trump there is no win-win, he can only win if someone else loses, and he will never share his wins with anyone.
The author treats extensively the web of associations, betrayals, and the apparent idea that America itself must not only be first, but alone at the top. “Trump throws everyone under the bus in his eager embrace of…Himself! He seems totally unaware of the intensely interwoven mutual dependency that exists between the President and members of Congress in seeking to enact his agenda. As a man with no knowledge of how government works or the place of the Presidency in it, he continues to show no interest in policy, the rule of law, or political realities. Frum emphasizes his treatment of Carmen Yulin Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, and Senator Jeff Flake, from Arizona, as examples of people whose support he needed who he gleefully destroyed in his own interest. His cruel decision not to allow Sean Spicer to meet the Pope stands as a testimony to his willful nastiness. Trump’s insistence on flattery and abject adherence to his neediness is stomach turning. Frum details a televised cabinet meeting during which a round-table of cabinet secretaries vomited out flattering lies about the fine job Trump was doing. He contrasts that to George W. Bush’s deep skepticism to anything that smacked of flattery.
A major advantage of a book from a person like David Frum is that it steps back a little way from the day-to-day cascade of cable news, or even from the weekend talk shows to take a wider and more comprehensive portrait of Trump and the Trump administration. As such, it can be both nuanced and comprehensive. By battling against everything the press says that could be mildly seen as critical, Trump actively works to reduce the influence of the press at home and abroad. His and his surrogates, particularly at Fox News, encourage discrediting even the most reliable and honest reporters. Furthermore, he actively supported authoritarian leaders in other countries when abroad in their efforts to muzzle their own press.
Frum argues that Trump’s negligence and laziness actually strengthens him through eliminating all normal checks and balances. He shows how Trump relience on outmoded and failed Republican ideology has replaced conservative thinking. However, Frum despairs at the ability of the incumbent to see or understand what that might be. Nevertheless, he concludes his very fine book on a note of hope generated from reactions to the negative affects of the Trump administration. David Frum’s Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic (HarperCollins, 2018, 320 pages, $25.99/12.99) stands as a sober, yet often frightening, at least to me, assessment of the Trump campaign and most of his first year. The book has earned the highest of recommendations I can give it. I received a free copy of Trumpocracy from the publisher as an electronic pre-publication through Edelweiss and read it on my Kindle App.