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Juse over two years ago I wrote an essay for the L.A. Progressive entitled “Donald Trump: Anti-Prophet and Blessing.” In that piece, published in mid-December, 2015, I argued that the rise of Donald Trump in the months before the first primaries of 2016 was really a blessing because it would alert Republicans to how their narrative of fear (of immigrants, gays, big government, etc.) led to a ruthless demagogue like Trump who played upon those fears to secure votes..

fascist momentum

Trump’s rise in popularity by the end of 2015 was, I hoped, also a warning to Democrats who had ignored the real fears of many poor people who saw their jobs disappear and the gap between the rich and poor grow to dangerous proportions while they turned their attention to Wall Street.

I called Trump an anti-prophet because his despicable behavior was giving all of us [Democrats, Republicans, Independents and even some Christians] a second chance to take seriously God’s love for all…and pay real attention and not just lip service to the least among us.” I also wrote at that time that “the Trump movement has shown us how depraved—how downright nasty and immoral—we can become, or indeed have become as we can almost feel through our TV screens the anger and negativity of the Republican candidates for president (with a few exceptions).”

But at the end of my article I ventured the hope “that Republican leaders might bluntly declare that he is not fit to be president and . . . not support his nomination.” I thanked the Donald “for helping us see the right path by dramatically taking the wrong one.”

Boy, was I wrong!

Not wrong, I would still insist, about Trump’s behavior or the reasons why he was popular, but certainly wrong about the hopes that I had placed in the willingness and/or ability of the political class to back away from the cliff toward which the demagoguery of folks like Trump were driving us.

My misjudgments became clearer when I read David Frum’s recently released Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic. Just days before the 2016 election Frum, a conservative who worked in the George W. Bush administration and is the editor of The Atlantic Monthly, announced in his magazine that he would vote for Hillary Clinton, “a candidate who rejects my preferences and offends my opinions” because he truly believed by that time that Trump would not respect the Constitution and rule of law and he wished to vote “to defend Americans’ profoundest shared commitment: a commitment to norms and rules that today protect my rights under a president I don’t favor [Clinton] and that will tomorrow do the same service for you.”

Boy, was he right!

In his carefully footnoted and thoughtfully balanced narrative (the first and final chapters are the best for seeing the latter), Frum reviews Trump’s use of the government to enrich himself and his family, his attacks on the media and his risky foreign policy. He also offers a balanced account of those people and forces that enabled him in his rise, and those who have appeased him since he became president.

In one of his most interesting chapters, tellingly entitled “Autoimmune Disorder,” Frum notes that our national security agencies such as the NSA and CIA are being undermined by Trump’s careless comments about and to foreign leaders, as well as by the incompetence of his White House staff.

Even some folks who patriotically leaked word of Trump administration misdeeds find themselves necessarily undermining our security. For example, government officials who leaked word that Michael Flynn lied about his contact with Russians during the campaign only could do so by revealing to the Russians that we had cracked a communications link that the Russians would now have to change.

The large numbers of former military leaders in the Trump administration could also, under some conditions, pose a danger to our democracy. Trump’s unwillingness to honor the separation of powers by pressuring courts and the Justice Department also weaken our constitutional immune system.

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One reason, I suppose, why I am excited by Frum’s analysis is that we both (he a conservative and I a liberal) attribute the rise of Donald Trump to those on both sides of the aisle, Republicans and Democrats—and perhaps to the American view of ourselves as “exceptional.” Americans. Frum argues that any hope for a way out of the mess we have gotten ourselves into must rely on some rethinking and reworking of both of our political parties.

That last hope might be a version of whistling past the cemetery, a way to ease our own fears. It would certainly be a challenge in our incredibly and egotistically divided nation to bring together moderate Republicans, Democrats, and the few “independents” still left to begin a rebuilding process.

But then, the best way to avoid whistling past the cemetery is to convince ourselves that the inhabitants are not ghosts who can attack us, but just dead bones, and not the kind found in the Bible that “can live” again. Is it naïve or realistic to tell ourselves, in the words of Episcopal preacher / teacher Barbara Brown Taylor, that “bad news is true, but it is not all the news”?

Can those Republicans who have made a Faustian bargain with “the Donald” in order to get taxes cut and executive orders issued ever be forgiven by those of us who believe that God comes to us in the form of our neighbors and strangers and a healthy planet?

Can we recover, not only from my naïve hope (shared by others) that Trump’s behavior would shock us into stopping him? Can those Republicans who have made a Faustian bargain with “the Donald” in order to get taxes cut and executive orders issued ever be forgiven by those of us who believe that God comes to us in the form of our neighbors and strangers and a healthy planet?

It won’t be easy. David Frum, however, is encouraged by the burst of citizen activism that followed immediately upon the 2016 election. “It was as if millions of people awoke the next morning to the realization, ‘I must become a better citizen.” In our small town of 15,000 people we had a rally of 800 plus people march through town to the courthouse chanting “This is what democracy looks like.”

We can, Frum believes ward off authoritarianism from the Left and the Right. He puts Bernie Sanders in the first category, worrying about his utopian “promise of ever-accelerating change, of boundless goals, a politics that offered answer to existential questions” that Frum, as a conservative, thinks should be addressed by individuals rather than by government. But he also wants “to restore moderation to the parties, especially to the self-radicalized Republican party.” Despite Trump, Frum asserts, the Republican Party “will outlast him” and “must be redeemed and repurposed.”

No third party movement, but redemption and repurposing. How interesting. Third parties in U.S. history generally fail to get many folks elected, even as their platforms are often taken over by one of the two major parties, as, for example, Progressive Party ideas were taken over to some degree by both Republican and Democratic parties in the early twentieth century.

But here we seem to have a different sort of problem—a genuine constitutional crisis created by a President who has no regard for separation of powers. We could end up not with two chastened and rebuilt parties but with a single one, ruled by Donald Trump or by someone else (Pence?) willing to do the will of the plutocrats who now control Congress with their wealth and wish to control Department of Justice.

We clearly are in need of some sort of redemption, and one that will manifest itself in the civic spirit of millions of American who still can march, harass their elected leaders and vote before it is too late. Some of my friends fear a civil war involving actual military forces. One friend tells me that he is seriously thinking of moving his family to Norway where his daughter lives—and he said that long before Trump praised Norwegian emigrants.

Such a war will probably not materialize (yet another assertion for which I may have to apologize). Frum makes the point that “liberty is actually threatened in a modern bureaucratic state: not by diktat and violence, but by the slow, demoralizing process of corruption and deceit.”

The problem with a “slow, demoralizing process of corruption and deceit” is that it doesn’t stir the heart of voters; it doesn’t make them angry since such a process is largely invisible to everyone’s “base.” To appeal to voters we need someone with the earnest moral message of a Robert Kennedy combined with the people skills of the “great communicator” Ronald Reagan. Above all, we need someone who can display compassion, an honest integrity, and sense of humor mixed with a dash of class—all of which are lacking in our present leader.

If you are out there, come redeem us from the political and moral mess which we have made for ourselves. And do so soon. Time is growing short.


Ken Wolf

Ken Wolf is a retired professor of History and Religious Studies at Murray State University in Kentucky.