By Jonathon Van Maren
It seems that wherever you look these days, David Frum is cropping up to talk about his latest book, Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic. He’s chatted with Sam Harris on the Waking Up podcast, he’s sat down with Dave Rubin, and he even showed up in his home country of Canada to chat about Trump with the CBC. His message is a simple one: Trump is demonstrably corrupt, and he is using the highest office in the land to financially enrich himself while degrading the fundamental institutions of the American republic. Frum is no bemused National Review Never Trumper—he seems genuinely passionate about what he believes Trump is doing to America.
He may be right. Trump was never particularly well-known for his high ethical standards—even here in Toronto, there are stories still percolating through business circles about Trump’s willingness to screw people during his brief exploratory visits to this city. I’m fairly certain that it would be difficult to find anyone, Right or Left, who would be willing to defend all of Trump’s previous business practices and his current conflicts of interest. His supporters largely respond to such things with a shrug—after all, this is what they expect from politicians. Trump, at least, is their guy and trying to address their concerns.
I’ve been trying for some months to put a finger on what it is about Frum’s moral outrage that I find slightly irritating, and while sorting books in my library the other day, I figured out what it was. I have four of Frum’s books—his memoir of the time he spent as George W. Bush’s speechwriter, his magnificent book on the 1970s, How We Got Here, and two collections of his columns, What’s Right and Dead Right. Those books contain some of the most eloquent arguments for social conservatism that I’ve ever read—his essays in opposition to euthanasia, for example, are beautifully written. Frum even wrote the foreword to Alberta firebrand Ted Byfield’s The Book of Ted: Epistles of an Unrepentant Redneck.
But that David Frum seems to be gone. Frum seems unflappable in the face of the overwhelming cultural victories of the LGBT movement, and disinterested in what the gender ideologues are doing to the country. Religious liberty (which, granted, he supports) is under threat like never before, and the previous president—for all of his fastidious manners and personal dignity—led that charge, positioning himself as the enemy of conservative Christians. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why Frum seems to think that Trump’s petty corruptions and buffoonish character are more of a threat to the American Republic than Barack Obama was—or Hillary Clinton, for that matter. He even voted for Hillary Clinton, who was dedicated to using the power of the presidency to destroy religious liberty, and said so.
And that is precisely why so many traditional conservatives are suspicious of David Frum. Why does he, and others, appear not to be concerned about what the Left is doing to the country—and what they would have done, if they’d recaptured the presidency? And if they are, why is all the passion reserved for Trump’s sins and misdemeanours, without any correlating recognition of just how terrifying the alternative would have been? It seems to many that there is a certain type of conservative that wishes only to conserve the ceremonial trappings and procedures and etiquette of power while ignoring the fact that people like Obama and Clinton were passionately committed to the abortion industry and the destruction of the traditional family—but apparently everything is fine, as long as nobody frightens the horses. At least No-Drama Obama was dignified, these conservatives huff, forgetting about the White House being lit up with the LGBT rainbow. Things might not be going great, but decline with decorum is a pretty good slogan.
Again, much of what Frum says and writes about Trump is probably true. Frum is a formidable researcher and a great writer. But he simply does not seem to understand that to many people, an empowered and bloody abortion industry, courts stacked with men and women eager to deprive conservative Christians of their liberty, and an equally corrupt candidate (the Clinton years could hardly be called “dignified”)—these things are existential, and far outweigh any concerns about Trump’s Twitter tirades. To many people, the Trump Administration might be a dumpster fire—but all the right wieners are getting roasted, starting with Clinton herself. I wrote furiously against Donald Trump nearly every day until he was the only alternative to Hillary, and even then I was reluctant–but to suggest that Clinton would be better says much about one’s priorities.
I get it—Trump’s personal deportment is often embarrassing. Niall Ferguson noted recently that it is hard to find something nice to say about Trump’s character, and George Will has admitted that a significant amount of his contempt for this Administration revolves around aesthetics. I cede all of these points and more. But at the end of the day, I cannot understand conservatives who thought that, with everything that is at stake, Hillary Clinton was a better alternative—or why their passions seem so singularly aroused by the bumbling of a Manhattan billionaire, while remaining so cool when fundamental freedoms are under threat.
For anyone interested, my book on The Culture War, which analyzes the journey our culture has taken from the way it was to the way it is and examines the Sexual Revolution, hook-up culture, the rise of the porn plague, abortion, commodity culture, euthanasia, and the gay rights movement, is available for sale here.