Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Trumpocalypse (The Book)

"Over the past four years, I have thought and spoken and written about Donald Trump almost more than I can bear. You probably all feel the same fatigue. We are all just exhausted with this worthless man." So writes former Bush speech writer and author of the phrase "Axis of Evil" David Frum, now a passionate "Never Trumper," in Trumpocalypse: Restoring American Democracy, an appropriately named apocalyptic sequel to his 2018 Trump book, Trumpocracy: the Corruption of the American Republic. More than most "Never Trumpers," Frum has faced up to the fact that Trump represents the fulfillment of what he had once supported: "I came of age inside the conservative movement of the twentieth century. In the twenty-first that movement has delivered much more harm than good. ... It is long past time to correct course."

Frum covers a lot of familiar ground in his depiction of Trump's monumental failures as president (even before they were amplified by the pandemic) - maybe more so than necessary given the book's likely readership. What is of some significance in his critique, given his presumed audience of similarly minded conservative "Never Trumpers," is his scorn for the Republican Party he once worked for. "As the Republican Party becomes ill adapted for political competition on equal terms, it has redefined its political goals. Instead of thinking how to compete in cities, how to reach the religiously unaffiliated, how to appeal to nonwhites, it invests its energies in the brutal project of preventing those groups from voting."

Frum fully recognizes, however, how the opposition could still lose the kind of people he is writing for: "The great Democratic challenge entering 2020 is that the tone and style of much of progressive politics offends large numbers of Americans who have had their fill of President Trump."

Diagnosticians of our American malaise abound. A more fruitful course is the proposing of possible reforms, which Frum attempts to do. Some of his suggestions are obvious attempts to correct our country's increasingly undemocratic character. He wants to mandate the release of a candidate's tax returns, to abolish the filibuster, to grant statehood to the District of Columbia, to pass a new Voting Rights Act "that addresses the abuses of the present,not the memories of the past." He also wants to reduce gerrymandering and depoliticize law enforcement.

Most importantly, however, he wants to overcome the seemingly intractable tribal division of American society. He reminds his readers that as recently as 2006, Republican Mitt Romney supported universal heath insurance and that as recently as 2007 Bernie Sanders opposed immigration reforms he saw as likely to undermine American workers. Referencing those two perennial issues in conflict, he points out that "Ultra-polarization" has prevented both parties from consolidating their most sought reforms.

Frum's bottom line here is that "If Democrats want to perpetuate their health-care reforms, they must do a better job of solidifying  a sense of national belonging. If Republicans want to safeguard the border, they must offer a better deal to those living on that border's American side."

This appeal to a renewed notion of national solidarity that can accommodate the concerns of both tribes depends, he believes, on transcending the "boomer" generation's heritage of "expressive individualism," which has "severed the bonds of solidarity between citizens."

Neither extreme end of the American political-social spectrum will find fulfillment in Frum's agenda. But, if (as seems likely) the next President is a pre-Boomer moderate Democrat, disposed to nostalgia for a less polarized post-war America as an alternative to Trump's apocalypse, then Frum's proposed reforms offer a sound starting point for that constituency to get beyond mere nostalgia and move forward to retrieve that pre-Boomer unity in a sufficiently forward-facing fashion.

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