- - Tuesday, January 30, 2018


By David Frum

Harper, $25.99, 301 pages

“We are living through the most dangerous challenge to the free government of the United States that anyone alive has encountered.”

Once again, David Frum sets out, rhetorically, to rescue a complacent nation from mortal peril, as he convinced many he was doing when he sounded the alarm about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction and the urgent need to invade and occupy Iraq, a move that many believe resulted in the permanent destabilization of the region.

Mr. Frum’s most memorable contribution to that epic battle came during his otherwise brief and unremarkable stay on the White House writing staff, when he laid claim to creating the phrase “Axis of Evil,” used in a speech by President George W. Bush. Mr. Frum’s claim of authorship was disputed, however, and it was left, semi-resolved, as being a joint effort (which meant, some conjectured, that Mr. Frum might have been responsible for the “of” in the Axis of Evil.)

At any rate, Mr. Frum moved on shortly thereafter, as he frequently does, often under what appear to be strained circumstances, as in his departure from AEI. He found a spot at National Review as an online blogger, which he left after writing an infamous indictment of many of the country’s most respected conservatives, among them Pat Buchanan and Robert Novak.

Career ender? Not at all. As one commentator observed, there’s always a place in Washington for a self-styled conservative who consistently attacks the right. Most recently, Mr. Frum has found a perch as a senior editor at the Atlantic, a magazine currently in search of its soul, from which he issues this anti-Trump polemic, packaged as coming from a conservative, and designed to delight liberals — as some might say, Mr. Frum’s forte.

President Trump, we’re told, “is cruel, vengeful, egoistic, ignorant, lazy, avaricious, and treacherous,” appealing in the 2016 election “to what was mean and cruel and shameful.”

“Trump drew support from crackpots, extremists, racists and neo-Nazis” (In authenticating this latter charge, he refers to a video of someone giving a Nazi salute, reportedly seen by a couple of his Atlantic colleagues.)

The president’s staff and supporters, to whom Mr. Frum refers as “enablers,” are “careless, cynical, shortsighted, morally obtuse, and rancorous.” He attacks the “unpopular” Republican Congress, speaks well of Bernard Sanders, praises Barack Obama, and issues an odd apologia for having voted for Hillary Clinton.

He has no patience with those “enablers” who claim that after one year, the achievements of the Trump administration are considerable — a soaring economy, resulting in no small part from the realization that there is no longer a reflexively anti-business administration in control; unemployment at record lows and stocks at record highs, business booming, more of everything for most Americans — working people, old people, pensioners, entrepreneurs, even the denizens of think-tanks, who depend on American business to fund their grants.

But Mr. Frum will have none of it. He dismisses the whole idea of the Trump tax reform program as successful, claiming, perhaps to the amazement of some, that John Kerry had a much better idea. This despite the first real reforms in three decades, always promised by both Republicans and Democrats, but never delivered.

The historic opening of ANWR and the necessary pruning of federal regulations are not discussed, nor in the area of foreign policy does he acknowledge the defeat of ISIS. Given his record, and his role in helping to bring on what he briefly refers to as the “Iraq trauma,” you’d think he’d welcome news of anything positive involving his old area of claimed expertise. But he belittles the efforts, despite the results.

The confirmation of Judge Gorsuch, along with the most appellate judges in any president’s first year? For the most part, says Mr. Frum, done badly, with future negative consequences.

What then does Mr. Frum propose we do about this mess? Apparently, like the major media that largely provided him with the secondary material for this book, he wants Mr. Trump to depart, period. After which, he suggests, there might be reconciliation councils set up, as was done in Bishop Tutu’s South Africa.

Perhaps, before we unseat the tyrant and purge all the legislators of his party, we might ask for something a bit more substantial. But enough. As Mr. Frum writes, “Every book is a journey, and the wise reader will examine the credentials of the guide.”

Precisely. And if those credentials are suspect, perhaps we’re allowed to get off before the end of the journey — or not get on in the first place.

John R. Coyne Jr., a former White House speechwriter, is co-author of “Strictly Right: William F. Buckley Jr. and the American Conservative Movement” (Wiley).

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