The Current

How Trump can build a U.S. autocracy: David Frum

Conservative commentator David Frum shares his grim vision of America under Trump. He says democracy could be giving way to autocracy — and what can make it possible is citizen indifference.

David Frum on Donald Trump and 21st century authoritarian rule

6 years ago
Duration 0:58
David Frum on Donald Trump and 21st century authoritarian rule

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David Frum says this is a moment of danger for American democracy.

The conservative commentator and outspoken critic of U.S. President Donald Trump says the conditions exist for Trump to create an autocracy in the United States.

In an article in the March edition of The Atlantic called How to Build an Autocracy, Frum outlines a dystopian vision of the near future in 2021 where Trump has won re-election and has rolled back democracy and consolidated his power — an America where Trump's powers are unchecked.

Frum says that the preconditions for this scenario exist in America today.

"Americans are about to discover that their system is more vulnerable than they thought. There's a lot of complacency in American politics," Frum tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti. 
The Atlantic's senior editor David Frum warns Americans on Donald Trump's presidency: the path to autocracy banks on public indifference; and what happens in the next four years is up to them. (Daniel Lombroso, Video Producer, The Atlantic)

While the American political system rests on checks and balances, Frum says the U.S. Congress won't stand in the way of Trump. 

"Congress could but it won't. We have seen the Republicans who hold a majority in both houses of Congress again and again accept things that weeks before they would say are unacceptable," he tells Tremonti, adding they need Trump to achieve their agenda.

"They don't insist he release his tax return, they don't insist on divestment of his investments, they do not insist on things that every president since Gerald Ford has had to do." 

According to Frum, we're in a period of democratic deficit around the world and that liberty is threatened in modern times through a process of corruption and deceit.

Trump isn't setting out deliberately to create an autocratic state, Frum tells Tremonti.

"He's not so strategic. He's setting out to steal. That's his big goal is to become the richest man in the world abusing the powers of the president."

Frum argues that mass demonstrations like the Women's March and the protests against the visa ban that restricts travellers from seven Muslim-majority countries actually help Donald Trump.

"Civil unrest, civil turmoil, is not a challenge to President Trump, it's a resource for him. He needs to create an image of a polarized country in which people who are against him are somehow alien or anti-system," Frum says.

"One of the things that made Trump possible was that many people have a view of politics as something dramatic and exciting and thrilling and emotional."

He adds, "Democracy is not about protest, democracy is about meetings. The Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) not the protest is the incubator of democracy."

Frum says a scenario like this is not impossible in Canada, despite systemic differences.

"No one should be smug about this. Democracy takes work. That's the thing we're really finding out."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Willow Smith and John Chipman.