“We are living through the most dangerous challenge
to the free government of the United States
that anyone alive has encountered.”
Juxtapositions, oxymorons and other somewhat paradoxical encounters can presents useful intrigue, piquing our interest considerably more than more mundane occurrences. David Frum and his new book Trumpocracy, might present just such an experience for you.
We like to apply labels to people. Labels represent shorthand we use to keep from having to constantly explain what we mean. We bite into an apple and describe it as “sweet”. We encounter a store clerk and describe her as “rude”. We travel to the distant home of a relative and describe the journey as “long”. Labels can be really helpful, keeping us lazy…eh…that is allowing us the luxury of brevity. Of course, you know where this is going. The apple might be sweet to you, the clerk might seem rude and the journey might feel long. To someone else, the apple is bland (compared to the candy s/he is used to eating). The clerk could come off as puckishly provocative, attempting to shock you into engaging in some form of jocularity. And the journey for an avid thrill seeker could be “an adventure”.
David Frum identifies himself as a Republican. Many would describe him as “a Republican but…”. He has been described as “one of the country’s leading conservative commentators”. Is he “a conservative” or is he “conservative” (not necessarily the same thing)? Or is he merely David Frum, author (someone who writes and publishes stuff he has written), a former speech writer for George W. Bush (a guy who wrote some stuff for his presidential boss), or a senior editor at The Atlantic (someone who writes and oversees other people who write stuff). Rather than finding a box in which we can stuff Mr. Frum, just watch an interview or listen to what he has to say.
Mr. Frum has recently published a book called Trumpocracy: Corruption of the American Republic. While a supporters of the current chief executive of the U.S. might balk at the title, the book as Mr. Frum describes it is not about a person but about “a system of power”. In the current era in the United States, we are experiencing the systematic (and intentional) degradation of “democracy” (or what Zareed Fakaria calls “constitutional liberalism”). The current “system of power”, according to Mr. Frum, has been begun to erode the very fabric of the American system of governance in the following ways:
- politicization of law enforcement
- politicization of law enforcement
- loss of independence of the judiciary
- informal pressure on the press
- collapse of ethical standards
- “a maligning of the press in talking about the press as the enemy of the people”
- “a president who thinks he is above the law”
- “the use of slogans to generate even more division”
- “a lack of sense of what democratic institutions are about”
A Blessing in Disguise?
Not unlike the partial optimism of Robert Reich we previously mentioned (sG: Truth as Common Good), David Frum has an interesting way of seeing the glass half full. For example, referring to himself and his conservative brethren, — “we’ve had a vice of understanding the unfairness of life as just part of the price of being human…” Applying that same observation to the Oval Office, Mr. Frum continues, suggesting that the person currently in the White House has put those “’casual cruelties’ on a jumbo Tron that is on display in front of the nation. “When such behavior was on a small screen, most people would had simply shrugged off such behaviors. In the current situation, people as seeing such indecent behavior and expressing a dislike for it (‘I don’t like that at all’. That is horrible to see. I won’t put up with it anymore.” To Mr. Frum, this jumbo Tron display is a gift (albeit inadvertent) to the nation. He is not saying such behavior is “good”, he is suggesting that seeing and responding appropriately to it is “useful”–a blessing in disguise.
As noted in previous weeks, we need to take a long, hard look at what we have done—whom we have elected and what we are allowing. When we know ourselves, the truth will make us free—or possibly condemn us by our own standards. Perhaps Mr. Frum’s optimism is warranted. Considering our possible electoral “failure”, he remarks “…three-fifths of the nation are building toward a spirit of unity on what is acceptable and what is not.” Three-fifths. Well, that’s a start.