In Brennan Center dialogue, David Frum and Trevor Morrison discuss the Trump administration and the future of democratic norms

At a February 21 event organized by NYU Law’s Brennan Center for Justice, David Frum, senior editor at the Atlantic and a former special assistant and speechwriter for President George W. Bush, discussed the themes of his new book, Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic. Trumpocracy argues that the Trump administration has undermined important public institutions and offers an analysis of ways to protect American democracy.

In a dialogue with Dean Trevor Morrison, who served as associate counsel to President Barack Obama, Frum explained that he wrote the book to help mobilize citizens to defend endangered institutions and the structure of American world leadership that has promoted world peace since the end of World War II.

Select remarks from David Frum:

“The analogy I keep using is that Trump isn’t the heart attack of democracy; he is the gum disease of democracy. You can die from gum disease if it’s left untreated, but you have some time…. Unlike the democratic breakdown of the 1930s, which actually turned off democracy altogether, modern authoritarians have discovered they can be much more economical with their use of applications of antidemocratic pressure.”

David Frum
David Frum

“Americans tend to think if it’s not illegal, then it’s OK. And so every time you pass a law, yes, you prohibit certain activities, but you in effect give a blessing to others. One of the things I really dread is the coming debate over collusion. Because as the facts come into view, if it turns out that lower-level people did things that broke laws but higher-level people did things that did not break laws but are just shocking, we are going to end up, in effect, legitimating the things…. They’ll begin by saying, ‘I don’t like it, but it’s not a crime,’ and they’ll end by saying, ‘Well, it’s fine.’”

“The democratic norms and institutions that grew up after the war…had two selling points. One was they respected human dignity and human rights and protected people from the midnight knock on the door. And the second, especially after World War II, was they delivered material goods to ordinary people in a way that had never been seen before. People don’t separate these things in their mind; they seem the same. What has happened, beginning in the early 1990s and especially since the Great Recession, is these systems, and not just in this country, are not delivering the goods for ordinary people in the way they used to. And so we’re urging ordinary people to care about the procedural benefits, the dignity part, and what we’re discovering is that was only part of the deal, and maybe the less powerful part.”

Watch the entire video (1 hour, 10 minutes):

Posted March 9, 2018