David Frum, author and former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, spoke at an event held by the Rotman School of Management on January 24.
The event served as a promotion of Frum’s new book, Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic, which provides an analysis of the effects the Trump administration has had on democratic institutions in the United States.
The event featured a discussion with Frum and Jeffrey Goldberg, the editor-in-chief of The Atlantic magazine, and it was moderated by Heather Reisman, CEO of Indigo Books & Music, Inc.
Before getting into discussions based on the content of the book, Reisman asked Frum about the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 US federal election. Frum said that, with what we already know about the Russian investigation, this is “one of the biggest scandals in American history.”
He explained that while there still remains a lot of unanswered questions in the investigation, “to sit down” and to “take a meeting with a foreign intelligence agency” with the specific purpose of collaborating on defeating another political candidate is enough of a scandal, without even beginning to answer the questions currently being investigated: “to what degree did the Trump people coordinate [and] how much did they share back with the Russians?”
His book attempts to address the current Trump administration’s impact on the US political landscape. The two speakers offered their insights and perspectives on the current status of democracy in the US the role of immigration in the country’s political polarization.
Frum argued that democracy is on the decline, citing a widespread survey from his book that posed the question, “Is it essential to you to live in a democracy?” Among Americans over the age of 70, over 80 per cent of the responses said yes, while with the people under the age of 30, only about 25 per cent said yes.
Frum said that this is due to the fact that, for younger generations, wars fought on the basis of democracy are too far in the past to have the same impact they had on older generations.
Goldberg added that, from World War II, the Nazis “were so heinously awful that one could make a shortcut mentally to say, ‘Well obviously [democracy] is enormously useful because look at what we defeated,’ but people don’t have these memories anymore.”
Frum argued that immigration will always be a “source of stress,” using the 2016 election in the US and the Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom as examples of the right-wing backlash to immigration.
Goldberg said he does not view the United States’ current political turmoil as a consequence of immigration but as a backlash to the US electing its first African American president.
Barack Obama was more than just a president, he said, but rather a “symbol that a country is changing, that the colour of a country is changing.”
Moving forward, both Frum and Goldberg said it is difficult to predict what kind of long-term impact this administration will have on the United States.
Goldberg said that he has two theories that he alternates between, depending on “the day of the week.” On the one hand, he said that America has resilience “built into the system,” and that one day Americans will “wake up” and “snap back to some behaviour” that he considers to be more reasonable. However, he also acknowledged the fact that “all empires decline.”
Frum said that the long-term implications of the Trump administration depend on how long Trump remains in office. With the current economic growth and the “higher spending power” of after-tax income due to the Republican tax bill, he added that the odds could potentially be in the Republican party’s favour for the 2018 midterm elections.