Trumpocracy, by David Frum
HarperCollins 2018, 9780062796738 (USA edition)
For lefties like me this is an odd but worthwhile read. David Frum is a dyed in the wool Republican, he wrote speeches for President George W. Bush. Yet the first part of his book is as sharp and critical an analysis of all Trump’s errors as anything the Left has written.
Frum then looks at what he thinks the Republican Party needs to do to repair the damage and hold on to power.
The chapter headings are pretty clear, such as: Enablers, Appeasers, Resentments, and Rigged System, as well as Hope at the end.
At the start of this book I was expecting the approach would be along the lines of – Trump has torn up the gentlemen’s agreement of two-party politics, when he’s gone the gentlemen can return to doing their business as usual, or in Latin the status quo ante as the gents would probably say.
But not so much, actually.
Frum is not a fan of Bernie Sanders, but he does agree that both main parties were serving an elite agenda rather than a popular one. Tax cuts for the rich, insecure low-pay work, reduced healthcare coverage, corporate greed. Trump appealed to a popular base, in complex ways that the book explores. This is worth close study: it isn’t just the stereotypes of rust belt unemployed men, of red neck hill farmers with gun in hand, nor of young lonely white males in basements with video games but no job or education. Though I think Frum gets a bit muddled here, as these are his most developed examples.
Gender is a key factor, as is race. “Male resistance to Hillary Clinton animated not only the Trump campaign … On average, white male Democrats backed Sanders by 26.4 points more than white women did.” (p197) Clinton scored badly with white women without a college degree. (p 212) And the proxies for Trump’s racism throughout have been immigration, Muslims and crime.
And enabling all this, “The affluent and the secure persisted with old ways and old names in the face of the disillusionment and even the radicalization of the poorer two-thirds of society. They invited a crisis. The only surprise was … how surprised they were when the invited crisis arrived.” (p13) and how it works is that “Trump operates not by strategy, but by instinct. His great skill is to sniff out his opponents’ vulnerabilities”. (p xi)
For Frum (and myself) the core of understanding Trump’s appeal is in a quote from an essay by Dale Beran who concluded with, “Trump is the loser who has won.” (p199)
So, bearing in mind his audience is the Republican Party, Frum sets out a post-Trump agenda of “a conservatism that is culturally modern, economically inclusive, and environmentally responsible, that upholds markets at home and US leadership internationally.” (p 207)
These are in priority order, and I paraphrase:
– making affordable healthcare work for everyone
– limiting immigration
– no more tax cuts for the rich
– honesty shown in government.
He adds two more items in another chapter, “issues neglected by more conventional politicians: the ravages of drug addiction … [and] the cultural and economic decline of the industrial working class.” (p 220)
How would a Left agenda be different, I wonder?
I read this book as a Brit while visiting Canada. More specifically in Calgary, a city known for the Stampede, its annual cowboy rodeo, a vast open area of “prairie and farming culture” due north of Montana. Red neck country? No, partly because it is Canada not the USA, so public health care and gun control. But still the prairie and the mountains are culturally core and deeply held here.
Yet it is also a city with an annual four-day outdoor folk music festival – which we greatly enjoyed – with music from Aboriginal peoples, from First Nation groups including hip hop, from Black protest musicians from Fergusson Alabama, alongside blues, country, folk and rock all referencing each other. With one MC who is a Nicaraguan lesbian comedian.
So lets put the stereotypes of despair to one side.
I guess the Left would have common cause with much of the above agenda for post-Trump Republicans, except on immigration. The long-overdue question is, I suggest, what is modern internationalism?
– Is it open borders, as in a device used by the globalisation agenda of rich elites to drive down wages and job security?
– Is it xenophobic racism and nationalism (and frankly violence) against people of colour?
– Is there a possible method to have unapologetic migration without low pay? And even if it is possible, will “indigenous” local communities accept incomers who are different?
As with the EU freedom of movement discussions (and silences) in the UK at the moment, I wonder if the post-Trump agenda around the world will pivot left or right on immigration.
I feel there ought to be an answer here, possibly with open borders alongside strong pay and conditions safeguards, with residency civil rights and obligations, and with a graded response to entitlements depending on the years of residency. For the UK, the parallel issue is uneven job prospects between London and regions further away which fuels racism and xenophobia, similarly for Washington DC and many poorer States in USA.