By Jesse Crall
The Atlantic, edited by arch-Neocon Jeffrey Goldberg, continues to provide a reliable slew of articles defending the worst aspects of American systems of power. After using Biden’s troop withdrawals to run cover for the occupation of Afghanistan, the publication once again platforms former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum to print Neoliberal propaganda.
Under Bush, Frum coined the phrase “Axis of Evil” in an attempt to sell the War on Terror. Since those heady days, he’s refused to let the atrocities of the wars he championed keep him from slithering back into the upper echelons of liberal society. A staple on cable news outlets and a well-compensated bloviator on the speaking circuit, Frum and his Republican past give the ostensibly liberal circles he haunts the illusion of open discussion. But his acceptance within these realms instead reveals the ultimately uniform outlooks allowed.
In a piece just published today (9-13-21), Frum offers the Democratic Party advice on how to keep courting “Never Trump” Republicans such as himself and beat back against the clarion call of MAGA. His article features five bullet points, a to-do list for the Democratic Party that ranges from pointlessly vague to deeply sinister. I’ll list them below with my own translation of what he’s really getting at:
Democracy: In Frum’s view, Trump’s actions run counter to democracy. But his own definition of the term doesn’t exist. And why would it? To Frum, “democracy” just means allowing people who vote like him to have a louder voice than those who don’t. He dismisses “economically hard-pressed voters,” insisting that democracy instead motivates well-off Americans. Or maybe those hard-pressed voters know that Frum’s bastardized version of democracy has little to do with their own interests.
Expertise: Frum lambasts the right-wing dismissal of “expertise,” taking care to highlight their hatred of Big Tech. It’s awfully rich for an affluent columnist in one of America’s most (undeservedly) vaunted publications to defend expertise, especially since said expertise championed ruinous wars that destroyed the lives of millions of innocent people. Frum engages in some shallow union-bashing and refuses to engage in how the motives of elite “experts” often run counter to the needs of a broader populace. Thomas Frank, a far better writer and not nearly as welcome in the cable news landscape, detailed this reality in a piece for Le Monde Diplomatique, exploring how our healthcare systems led by “experts” deliberately acts against the interests of poor and working people. The “shut up and listen to me” ethos of Frum and his ilk will naturally produce reactions that can turn irrational. But such consequences result from failures at the very top, ones Frum refuses to reckon with from his unchallenged perch.
Globalism: Frum uses “globalism” as a stand-in for Neoliberalism, explicitly calling for Democrats to place the interests of affluent professionals (like him) above those of working-class Americans either clinging to jobs in fragile sectors or already decimated by trade deals that outsourced industry overseas. Donald Trump enjoyed some support in industrial sectors thanks to his willingness to speak to the destruction wrought by trade deals like NAFTA. His own interpretation of said trade deals was delusional, blaming Mexico and China for screwing us as opposed to recognizing that multinational companies with no inherent loyalty to any one country were screwing over workers both here and abroad. But against the deliberately corporatist values expressed by proud free traders like Frum, Trump’s wrongheaded interpretation at least gave voice to *a* problem endured by many working-class communities. Frum’s naked pitch on behalf of Americans who need economic changes the least works because of his audience. The Atlantic courts readers from the upscale sectors Neoliberal trade deals either bypass or benefit. The workers (and unemployed) in Flint and Allentown, collapsing cities Frum namechecks, aren’t inclined to read this garbage.
Moderation: Frum either fails to understand (or deliberately mystifies) the reality that Democrats tailored their broad agenda to Americans like him for decades. Their new appeal to him speaks less to the supposed failures of the GOP than the rightward shift taken by Democrats over the last 50 years. Trump was uncivil but if Democrats still heralded protectionist trade policy and 90% top marginal tax rates, Frum probably wouldn’t feel so cozy in their lap. Frum calls for austerity and whines about wait times for new cars, an absurd problem to worry over for much of the country. He offers the usual wailing over “defund the police,” a position the vast majority of the Democratic Party, including Bernie Sanders, repudiated. His worrying over “extremism” remains amorphous and likely tied to the socialism he quotes Neoliberal Virginia Congresswoman Abby Spanberger decrying. Joe Biden’s proposed fiscal agenda features tax rates on top earners & corporations roughly half as high as they were under fervent commie Richard Nixon. Like Spanberger, Frum argues on behalf of Americans who don’t want taxes getting in the way of their plans to remodel kitchens. And it’s telling that his complaints about stimulus bills don’t also criticize the effect they had on rising profits for Fortune 500 companies and the wealth of the 1%.
Niceness: Frum offers an anecdote about how a dismissive comment about Kansas from a DNC chair in 1936 provoked swift rebuke from President Roosevelt, who would go on to sweep the heartland. What he leaves out is how in the waning days of that same election, FDR made his famed “They are united in their hatred of me and I welcome their hatred,” a pointed call against the monopolistic interests of American industry. Bush, McCain and Romney provided a superficially civil cover to policies that advanced the interests of Imperialism and corporate theft against the interests of workers, impoverished communities and foreign civilians. Frum didn’t complain then. What he really doesn’t want is people calling him an asshole on Twitter, a position shared by fellow Atlantic warhawk Anne Applebaum, who recently used her sinecure to whine about intolerance against elite landscapes. Since these Neoliberal stalwarts refuse to call for an end to anti-worker policies like at-will employment, their crocodile tears over rudeness and illiberalism ring hollow.
Frum represents a small but influential realm of American political discourse, one present in our media and shared by much of the professional class. By 2020, Democrats represented the 20 wealthiest congressional districts in America. As easy at it is to dismiss Frum’s ramblings as self-serving elitism, he does speak for a growing base of the Democratic Party, one far more influential than leftists seem willing to admit. Progressive Democrats already circled the wagons around a Biden reconciliation bill that’s more moderate than his primary campaign platform. Frum’s a sore winner but a winner all the same. America’s Neoliberal turn flattened the differences between the Democrats and the GOP, ensuring smaller and smaller realms of dissent even as arguments between them grow more heated. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter which party Frum crawls into. He’ll get most of what he wants either way.
A Los Angeles native, Jesse Crall graduated from UCLA’s English Department before working as a copywriter, script reader and project manager for an engineering firm.