Will we be a functioning democracy after Trump? After I finished Trumpocracy, I was both more frightened and more hopeful. In this book, David Frum explains how our entire system of government (which was designed to make sure that a casually cruel, corrupt person such as Trump could never assume power) failed. It did not fail overnight and we will not fix it overnight. David Frum makes that ever clearer with each chapter.
In a chapter titled “Enablers” he points out that Trump became president and stays president because “a conservative entertainment complex propagandizes for him; [other Republican presidential] candidates appeased him; a Republican Party apparatus submitted to him; a donor elite funded him; a congressional party protected him; writers and intellectuals invented excuses for him; and millions of rank and file Republicans accepted him.” And then he gives (or rather re-reports) outrages that I had forgotten because there had been so many scandals it’s hard to keep up. For example, he recounts Trump’s fight with the Pope and how Fox News made it seem like Hillary anti-Catholic; he tells how Russia-aligned Wikileaks dumped Hillary’s e-mails on the day we saw the Access Hollywood tape; and he recalls how the intellectuals on the right defended Trump (remember the ‘at least he fights’ defense?) and on and on. In Appeasers, Frum documents how Trump’s erstwhile opponents came over to his side. Why? Because he wasn’t a Democrat.
In “Plunder” (for me the most chilling chapter), Frum catalogues how the Trump family and their hangers-on used their official positions to rip off anyone they could. Before his father in law won, Jared’s building on 666 Fifth Avenue was in trouble. It was losing business and the interest rate on his loan was about to double. Then in November money poured in from all over the world, including China and the building is now doing quite well. Trump himself did even better. After president-elect Trump mentioned during a call with Argentina’s president that a Trump building was stalled in the permitting process, a miracle happened. The building moved forward. China approved thirty-eight Trump trademarks in March 2017 alone. By the end of May, the Chinese government had granted Trump seventy-seven trademarks and even threw in a trademark for Ivanka. China experts described the speed and ease with which these approvals happened “weird”.
I won’t give away the rest of the book but I will tell you that the other chapters are titled: Betrayals, Enemies of the People, Rigged System, America Alone, Autoimmune Disorder, Resentments, Believers. They tell us about how deeply our government and our nation has been corrupted and the price we are paying. Much of Puerto Rico (still) has no power. Flint, Michigan (still) has no potable water. We may be days away from (yet another) government shutdown. Our government and our politics are broken. And yet, David Frum’s last chapter is called Hope.
He is hopeful because elites have finally seen that working class Americans are dangerous. He doesn’t say this but allow me to interject my opinion here. For too long the rich have bought off the working class with non-political “issues” like abortion and same sex marriage. As in: vote for us and we will enact policies that will hurt you and your family economically but we will “do something” about people being gay and women having abortion. Spoiler alert: all that happened is that poor people got poorer. And of course that was result because no matter what you think the good human is, passing more laws isn’t going to make people “good”.
But in 2016 that deal fell through. The working class nominated a guy who was not socially conservative; a guy who promised to take care of them (not the rich). Yes, he lied but that’s what he promised. And now the working class suddenly seems dangerous again. And as Frum points out, elites have ever only enacted policies to help working men and women when they seem dangerous.
He is hopeful because we have rediscovered how valuable truth and facts are. For a long time, it was fashionable (and on both sides) to deny that there is an objective reality. On the left, we took the Michele Foucault approach and said that any “truth” is just a reflection of power and that there only White Truth and Black Truth and Native American Truth. On the right we now have a mirror image of that. Any news that is not to one’s liking is (by definition) fake. But now, confronted with a politician who lies about the things he said on national television all of us are rediscovering the value of objective reality.
Finally, and most importantly, Frum finds some hope because people are re-discovering the value of compromise and democracy. Because democracy is the small, everyday things we do to understand how our country works, the small acts of listening to one another and then compromising with each other to make our country a little better. In a democracy none of us will ever get exactly what we want. But that’s OK because that imperfect solution will have broad buy-in.
We are beginning to re-learn that lesson. And that, indeed, is reason for hope.
Product Description: Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic by David Frum