David Frum is a contradictory character in the world of many on the left. Frum was arguably my favorite intellectual conservative in the 1990’s but became George W. Bush neoconservative propagandist in the 2000’s (I’d argue this was more from idealism than any sort of broad agreement with the Cheney’s of the world, but I realize this is a minority view on the left), then went back to a more intellectual conservative in the eras of Obama and Trump. Since the election of Trump, he’s been an indispensable read, far more detailed and logical than some of the reactionary writings and comments of those on the left when it comes to really understanding the danger from the Trump phenomena.
In Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic, Frum has penned a masterpiece that actually makes the Trump connections to places like Russia, Turkey. China and Saudi Arabia much clearer unlike the hysterical half-baked explanations Democratic politicians and activists give publicly. Given the understanding of global affairs Frum has, which allowed him to help pen the term “Axis of Evil” for George W. Bush, while being aware of implications of throwing certain countries in that group (Frum was conscious that Libya might be a country willing to buckle to US pressure so the Qaddafi regime was omitted from the speech) the book flows and makes perfect sense if you understand global affairs.
Equally important is the emphasis Frum puts on the factors of Trump as a wannabe tin-pot-dictator who isn’t in any way a traditional capitalist or businessman. Trump’s businesses depend on cronyism, graft and political contacts. His repeated failures in the domestic marketplace leading him to make alliances with governments abroad, many of which were autocracies of varying degrees.
Trump himself surrounded himself with people, be it family members like Jared Kushner or professional lobbyists for foreign governments like Paul Manafort, who have significant and extensive contacts with those in power in some of the least-democratic corners of the world. The influence of Manafort and those like him cannot be understated. From those relationships developed Trump’s admiration for the likes of Viktor Orban, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and of course Vladimir Putin
An illustrative point of how Trump works is the relationship with Saudi Arabia which Frum outlines in the later stages of his book. By being so easily manipulated by the oppressive Saudi royal family, Trump gave tacit approval to the diplomatic isolation of Qatar which took place ironically shortly after the President visited Riyadh. I have articulated for years my opposition to Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers, particularly South Asian ones, however Qatar’s real sin in terms of the Saudi’s probably was twofold, 1- to try and cultivate ties with Iran, and 2- continuing to allow Al-Jazeera, the most independent television voice in the Arab world to operate.
Autocracy is a a goal of the Trump movement as Frum clearly demonstrates but it would be impossible to achieve without another consistent strain in american history – anti-intellectualism. Trump’s ability to create a propaganda machine from FOX News, to Newsmax to his own Twitter feed taps into the general lack of critical thought many of his supporters demonstrate from time to time. His brandishing of anything he disagrees with as “fake news,” allows him to control the narrative and retain the base of his support even when facts get in the way – in this he’s learned the techniques of foreign dictators.
An irony that Frum doesn’t mention in the book, but I take away is the role of Paul Manafort and Roger Stone. Manafort even more than Stone pioneered the export of american political consulting and lobbying to different corners of the globe, usually to help right-wing causes, candidates or leaders. In Trump, we’re seeing the return from Manafort’s travels, with the tools of oppression pioneered by some of those Manafort and Stone have networked with used to control American public opinion and government. It makes the US nothing more than a Trumpocracy.
If you really want to understand the drift of the nation and the challenges we face, buy this book. It’s the most important read on contemporary politics you’ll find anywhere.