Trumpoca­lypse—Restor­ing Amer­i­can Democ­racy David Frum

Policy - - In This Issue - Re­view by An­thony Wil­son-Smith

David Frum

Trumpoca­lypse—Restor­ing Amer­i­can Democ­racy. Toronto and New York, HarperColl­ins Pub­lish­ers, 2020.

Cana­di­ans, the late, great home grown jour­nal­ist Peter Jen­nings used to say, have an edge over Amer­i­cans at his old craft be­cause “we’re used to be­ing ob­servers on the world stage, while Amer­i­cans ex­pect a lead­ing role.” One ex­cep­tion is an­other ex­pat—Cana­dian-raised, Wash­ing­ton-based author and com­men­ta­tor David Frum. For decades, Frum en­joyed a place in the higher reaches of the Repub­li­can Party through books, speeches, col­umns and tele­vi­sion ap­pear­ances in which he pro­vided eru­dite pro­mo­tion of tra­di­tional con­ser­va­tive philoso­phies and poli­cies. But he has never gone along with pre­vail­ing thought just for the sake of it.

Trumpoca­lypse, Frum’s sec­ond go at ex­co­ri­at­ing the present pres­i­dent of the United States in book form, is the lat­est ex­am­ple of that trait. (His pre­vi­ous was the 2018 Trumpoc­racy.) The ti­tle ar­guably does the book a dis­ser­vice, be­cause Frum does more than just pro­fess his dis­gust with Don­ald Trump (al­though there’s plenty of that.) He an­a­lyzes Repub­li­can pol­icy shifts and prob­lems— re­gret­fully con­clud­ing the party has done the U.S. more harm than good so far this cen­tury. He dis­sects the so­cial and po­lit­i­cal con­di­tions that led to Trump ‘s elec­tion; ex­plains why the Democrats may still blow the elec­tion this fall; and pro­vides ideas to bridge the enor­mous dis­con­nect be­tween Wash­ing­ton and much of the rest of the coun­try.

Frum has two qual­i­ties nec­es­sary for a suc­cess­ful author and polemi­cist—the abil­ity to turn a neat phrase, and the dili­gence to sup­port his as­ser­tions with a moun­tain of re­search. He lists well-es­tab­lished crit­i­cisms of Trump such as his ha­bit­ual lies; con­tempt for demo­cratic norms and tra­di­tions; dog-whistling to­ward mi­nori­ties; and so on, with plenty of ex­am­ples. Then, this deft take on the dif­fer­ence be­tween the two dom­i­nant po­lit­i­cal lines of thought: “Amer­i­can con­ser­va­tives take pride in their na­tion but mis­trust the na­tion’s state. Amer­i­can lib­er­als value the state but feel dis­com­fort with the con­cept of ‘na­tion.’” Those views, in the ex­treme, ex­plain why masked, armed dis­si­dents tote Amer­i­can flags even as they threaten the lives of elected of­fi­cials in state leg­is­la­tures. It also ex­plains why Democrats em­brace what he calls ‘The Great Awo­ken­ing’, em­brac­ing iden­tity pol­i­tics at the ex­pense of united in­ter­ests—and main­stream voter sup­port.

Even if Trump loses this fall, Frum ar­gues that the rub­ble in his wake won’t be swept away eas­ily. He pro­poses steps that in­clude abo­li­tion of the right to fil­i­buster; a dif­fer­ent ap­proach to cli­mate change to bridge fears over the eco­nomic im­pact of en­vi­ron­men­tal mea­sures; a tar­geted ap­proach to im­mi­gra­tion (sim­i­lar to Canada) aimed at match­ing new­com­ers with needs in the work­place; and, last but far from least, Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic par­ties that re­turn to the cros­saisle prag­ma­tism of decades gone by.

Frum—who voted for Hil­lary Clinton in the last elec­tion—re­mains an un­re­pen­tant tra­di­tional con­ser­va­tive of the ‘com­pas­sion­ate’ va­ri­ety. He has re­counted how, in the Trump era, he runs into one­time ide­o­log­i­cal soul­mates who sup­port Trump and ask, in dis­may; “What hap­pened to you?—to which, he has said, he in­vari­ably re­sponds; “what hap­pened to you?” It is one thing to leave a party—and quite an­other, as is the case with Frum, to have your party leave you. Not to men­tion the coun­try that Frum moved to some three decades ago—mea­sured against the one that he finds him­self liv­ing in to­day.

Con­tribut­ing Writer An­thony Wil­sonSmith, Pres­i­dent of His­tor­ica Canada, is a for­mer Editor of Ma­clean’s.

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