History and journalism are inextricably intertwined. One begets the other, then they cross paths as change works on both. With Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic, David Frum treads the line between them with intelligence, craft and wit. Here, journalism is history, frame by sorry frame. Frum demonstrates an ability to maintain the perfect distance from the events he describes. He moves effortlessly from telling details to insightful analysis, and always keeps a journalist’s eye on the narrative arc of history. In his vision, the jumbled mess of news and misinformation we experience in our lives becomes the story of a nation-patient quickly succumbing to a deadly infection.
Frum is clear from the title onward that his book is not a personality study of the current President. Rather, it is an examination of how our democracy can rot from within. “Trumpocracy” quotes Montesquieu, following his lead to examine “…negligence, mistakes, a certain slackness in the love of the homeland, dangerous examples, the seeds of corruption, that which does not run counter to the laws but eludes them, that which does not destroy them but weakens them,” as they apply to the here and now of America. Sadly, these are all happening early and often.
The power of Trumpocracy is evinced in Frum’s ability to wrangle lots of hanging facts into a coherent, if disturbing, story. The book is quite organized, and breaks down both what is happening and why it is happening into easily understandable bits that are readily assimilated. And just in case you thought you had heard it all, rest assured that Frum has managed to find plenty of highly alarming facts that have not had their time in the spotlight. It’s not just worse than you think, it is far worse than you think.
The high tension that turns this book into a sort of non-fiction political thriller derives from the contrast between the theories of conservative philosophy and governance and the actualities of what is happening in the American government that Frum’s journalism expertly exposes. Frum is well-steeped in the ideas of and an excellent spokesman for what night be called “classic conservatism.” “Trumpocracy” is not the classic conservatism you were looking for; instead, it is simple and often-idiotic greed, slathered in the slogans of nationalism at best, and racism at worst. What it is not, Frum warns, is easily dismissed. Even if the man and the enablers are run out of town, the damage they have done will require generations of recovery.
In writing Trumpocracy before the story seemed to be finished, David Frum took a huge chance. Fortunately for readers, for this nation, he was to able use his skills as a journalist and a storyteller to craft an image we cannot ignore, to find a story we discount at our own peril. But ultimately, Frum is (or wants to be) an optimist; he trusts his readers, and his country to recognize the danger, and to see the story he tells as a prelude and not an apocalypse. The book ends on a note of hope, and is itself a reason to hope. If we can understand the story, we can craft a sequel in which the history that follows is happily informed by the journalism and a return to responsible governance.
Here’s a link to my conversation with David Frum about Trumpocracy.