Conservatives must focus on policies that enhance their cultural power and prevent the weakening of bonds between Americans and the state, David Frum, political commentator and senior editor of The Atlantic, said in a lecture on Wednesday.
Frum said that his lecture, “How to Be a Conservative in the Age of Trump,” focused on a more personal topic than he typically discusses. A CNN contributor and former speechwriter for former U.S. President George W. Bush, Frum was one of the first eminent conservatives to express opposition to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. His tenth book, entitled “Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic,” is due to be released early next year.
“You cannot escape the fact of this presidency,” Frum said. He added that as a conservative opposed to Trump, he is often accused of bad faith by members of his party. However, he believes that Trump doesn’t endorse a conservative vision of American unity.
According to Frum, Trump stirred conservative fears that if the Republicans lost, they would never win a democratic election again. While Trump portrayed himself as an anti-establishment candidate, Frum believes that there is more to gain from the present state of America’s political system than there is to lose.
Frum explained that he has seen a deterioration of American pride and unity since the 1980s, which enabled Russian intervention in the 2016 election. To combat this, Frum said, conservatism must change — and this change must begin with a strong commitment to American nationalism and the promotion of a unified sense of American identity.
From the 1980s up to last year’s election, Frum said, American politics have not fundamentally changed; they continue to feature the same families, such as the Clintons and the Bushes, and center around the same issues of health care and taxes.
“We had 25 years of quite frozen politics — it polarized, became more intense, but did not change in shape,” Frum said.
Frum also identified a deviation of Republican political power from cultural power. Today, the places where movies and media are produced are the places where Republican presence is weakest, even though Republicans remain politically powerful on the national stage.
According to Frum, who has dual Canadian and American citizenship, one way that Republicans can develop a stronger national identity is to make it more difficult to obtain citizenship. He said that his friends with dual citizenship, as well as his own family, maintain residences and ties to their home countries.
“We are going to have to find ways to thicken the bond of citizenship in material ways,” Frum said.
An example of this “material” tie to citizenship is the National Health Services in England. The NHS serves as a tangible symbol of British citizenship, Frum said, since even those who have recently obtained their citizenship are a part of it while those who leave the country for tax breaks are not.
Questions from the audience dealt with whether conservatism will be able to make inroads into traditionally blue areas, whether it’s effective to work to change politics from within the system, and how Frum connected an increase in immigration to the degradation of American society.
“It was interesting to hear David Frum’s complete thesis of what ‘conservative’ means now that Trump is president,” Luis Guerra GS said. “In the end, I think it’s such an incredibly naive worldview because David Frum is part of the Bush presidency, and throughout his entire lecture didn’t touch upon the Iraq War and the political trauma that it introduced in our country.”
The lecture, sponsored by the Wilson School as part of its Christian A. Johnson Endeavor Foundation Leadership through Mentorship Program, took place in Robertson Hall at 4:30 p.m. on October 18th.