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Are We Going to Fist City?

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Claremont Review of Books

These ugly books put to the test any hope that the divide in our country can be resolved peacefully.

Douglas A. Jeffrey

Too much of journalist David Frum’s Trumpocalypse and most of political scientist John Pitney’s Un-American could be reassembled into a day-by-day catalog, spanning five years, of anti-Trump talking points aired on CNN. To this extent the books are dull as ditchwater.

It is easy to make light of the lengths to which the authors go to press their case. Frum’s analysis of Trump’s base, for instance, includes the category of “people who would not conventionally be thought of as white.” (To support Trump, Frum explains, “you just have to agree that white is best.”) His examples include Dinesh D’Souza, Candace Owens, and—perhaps Frum is simply an underperformer on cognitive tests where you identify which item in a list doesn’t belong—Santino Legan, the shooter who killed three and wounded 17 at last year’s Gilroy Garlic Festival.

Pitney is if anything less circumspect than Frum. While Frum at least qualifies, with the word “reportedly,” the claim that Trump ordered fleeing border crossers shot in the legs—the claim, after all, was reported in the New York Times, citing anonymous sources—Pitney presents it as a simple fact. It is safe to say there is no fake news about Trump where Pitney is concerned. Indeed, he argues that Trump got the idea of decrying fake news from 1970s mob boss Joe Colombo, who denied the existence of the mafia. Pitney’s proof? As a reader of tabloids, “Trump surely took note of Colombo’s public relations strategy.” QED.


So Frum dissembles: the speech explicitly appeals to human rights and liberty. But more important, he confuses the idea of Western civilization (symphonies not excluded) with the idea of “whiteness”—the very same confusion (though Frum expresses it in the politically correct way) that befuddled Iowa Congressman Steve King early last year and got him unanimously censured by the U.S. House of Representatives. The same confusion, one might add, that rendered America’s educated class unable to condemn lawless violence during the riots this summer.

Writing the introduction to his book as this year’s pandemic was breaking, Frum was a pioneer in the art of politicizing a virus. Predicting that “many in [non-Trump America] would blame those in [Trump America] for the miseries ahead,” he asked: “How do you listen to people if you blame their votes for killing your mother before her time?” That question, of course, answers itself: you don’t. And when talk, the medium of politics, no longer works, where does that leave us? Intentionally or not, these ugly books put to the test any hope that the divide in our country can be resolved peacefully.

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