David Brooks and David Frum: A Time to Choose


Essential reading today comes from David Brooks  (The Republican Fausts) and David Frum (How to Build an Autocracy).

To address your existential despair, Aardvark suggests a large bottle of Jack Daniels close by your side. Remember, no matter what time it is in your time zone, the sun is under the yardarm somewhere. My Hungarian readers should feel free to substitute palinka; Aardvark knows form experience that it will also get the job done.

Frum’s essay is an extended think piece for the March issue of the Atlantic (much of which was written, presumably, before the turmoil of the last few days). It is plausible, persuasive, and chilling. I can’t do it justice here, but, in summary, Frum sees a potential future in which many elements of society have gotten what they want from Trump, and are increasingly willing to tolerate a “repressive kleptocracy.” Take Hungary, for example, Frum writes,

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s rule over Hungary does depend on elections. These remain open and more or less free—at least in the sense that ballots are counted accurately. Yet they are not quite fair. Electoral rules favor incumbent power-holders in ways both obvious and subtle. Independent media lose advertising under government pressure; government allies own more and more media outlets each year. The government sustains support even in the face of bad news by artfully generating an endless sequence of controversies that leave culturally conservative Hungarians feeling misunderstood and victimized by liberals, foreigners, and Jews.

The problem, as I see it, is that Frum’s  dystopian prognostication rests on the assumption that the constituencies to whom Trump has made his extravagant promises will actually receive the promised benefits—or can, at the end of the day, be deluded into thinking they have received them.

But that will not happen. The magical health care fix will not occur. The manufacturing jobs will not return. The middle class will not be rescued.

Two thngs to remember.

One. Trump never keeps his promises. If you’re doing the plumbing work for a new Trump hotel, the one thing of which, in an unpredictable world, you may be fairly confident is that you will not actually be paid.

Two. You can food some of the bubbas some of the time, but you can’t fool all the bubbas all the time.

Actually, I’m tempted to add a third: Donald, I served with Viktor Orbán, I knew Viktor Orbán, Viktor Orbán was a friend of mine, and you, Donald, are no Viktor Orbán.

But all seriousness aside, in his column today David Brooks offers four reasons why Republican officeholders will come to rue their Faustian bargain. Brooks’ second point relates to the present discussion:

Second, even if Trump’s ideology were not noxious, his incompetence is a threat to all around him. To say that it is amateur hour at the White House is to slander amateurs. The recent executive orders were drafted and signed without any normal agency review or even semicoherent legal advice, filled with elemental errors that any nursery school student would have caught.

It seems that the Trump administration is less a government than a small clique of bloggers and tweeters who are incommunicado with the people who actually help them get things done. Things will get really hairy when the world’s problems are incoming.

Finally, lest there be any doubt about where this will all end, there are reports today that John Dean—he of the missing moral compass; you younger folk can find him on Widipediapredicts that the “way the Trump presidency is beginning it is safe to say it will end in calamity.”