The Broadbent Blog


Broadbent Reads: Trumpocracy by David Frum

In David Frum’s recently published book, Trumpocracy –  The Corruption of the American Republic, Frum explores the conditions that allowed for President Donald Trump to take over the oval office. However, Frum seems to have missed the mark, by failing to appropriately cite the rise of inequality and neo-liberalism as the primary drivers of Trump’s victory.   

David Frum's recently published book, Trumpocracy - The Corruption of the American Republic, definitely provides some insights into what is happening in America today, why it is happening, and what the long term significance of it may be for America in particular and democracy in general.  

But it would be setting oneself up for disappointment to expect much of a contribution to the debate about economic inequality that is taking place in the world today, despite there being widespread agreement that the causes of this inequality are associated with some of the objective conditions that made a Trump win possible.

At first of course there is much pleasure to be had in the severity with which someone associated with the political right in America savages Donald Trump. Frum goes after those who enabled and appeased Trump, especially those who did so even after they had once denounced him, relying heavily on the theory of negative partisanship that is claimed to dominate America (whereby one's hate for either of the two parties is so strong that it makes voting for the other compulsory no matter what the moral cost, or who the candidate is).

Frum also provides insightful analysis into the proclivities of Trump for betrayal, for plunder, for exploiting resentments, and for demonizing the press. He also covers well the way in which Trump was the beneficiary of years of Republican gerrymandering at the state level, and court decisions that have weakened voting rights, that have both hurt the Democrats, and made Republicans more captive to particular elements of their base. One of the more notable quotes is when he compares Trump and his "shamelessly grasping extended family" with another wealthy American family that once occupied the White House: The Kennedys.  He goes on to state, “The Kennedys’ many faults were joined to an undeniable grace and generosity of spirit, to authentic public service and a large vision of America. Not so for the Trump family. They have come to loot."

But it is in his analysis of the preconditions for Trump's ascendancy that Frum reveals his continuing inability to name what part of the problem actually was and still is. Frum spends too much time on the challenges of growing demographic diversity, on immigration, white American economic insecurity and cultural anxiety across all classes, as the reasons for the conditions that resulted in a Trump presidency. But it is as if neo- liberalism and the debate about the hegemony and consequences of this free market fundamentalism and the free trade agreements it has spawned are non-existent and have occurred on another planet for Frum. The closest he gets, descriptively, is in claiming that Trump won because the status quo "was ceasing to work for more and more of them", with no hint as to the role that neo-liberalism played in creating and legitimizing that status quo. In fairness, Frum's language about inequality is no more ideologically empty than some of the things I heard Obama say in his recent interview with David Letterman on his new Netflix show.

The Frum quote I liked best was "The Republican Party was built on a coalition of the nation's biggest winners from globalization with its biggest losers." In Frum's view Jeb Bush embodied this coalition.  Bernie Sanders might have made a similar claim about the Democrats. In any event, Trump was able to identify with the losers, like those who lost their jobs to outsourcing; and by cultivating the right enemies, like the established media, and being laughed at by the right people, like the cultural elite. Despite the fact that he has and will continue to betray those who supported him, it seems the left may have some work yet to do in relating to them as effectively as Trump did.