David Frum Visits Marist College

On Tuesday, October 9, David Frum, senior editor at The Atlantic and a former speechwriter for George W. Bush, took to the Nelly Goletti stage and shared his insights on the ever-changing and often troubling political landscape in the United States.

Frum characterized the past two decades as being filled with shocks and surprises that have impacted our ability to live predictable lives, citing events like 9/11 and the financial crisis of 2008.

“We have lived through 20 years of disruption,” Frum said as he looked out into a crowd filled with both college students and senior citizens, all of whom have been affected by these changes and shocks that he described.

Frum moved on to talk about the improbable rise of Donald Trump. He believes that Trump’s presidency is an indicator of many underlying problems, namely a failure of the democratic system that results from a lack of engagement among Americans. One of Frum’s main assertions was that many Americans have lost their habits of democracy. He said that citizens often look for a charismatic leader to save them from the ills of society, and in Frum’s opinion, this is not the answer to the problem.

“Democracy is not just showing up at a rally for a giant leader with charisma that moves your heart,” Frum said. “Democracy is shown in rooms like this one.”       

He touched upon the importance of civil discourse and the crucial role of informed, active citizens in a healthy democracy. Frum also warned about the true dangers of false news, past and present.

Photo from Politico.com

Photo from Politico.com

“I think the final, most important gift of all is the gift of civic engagement,” Frum said. “I often think that Donald Trump is God’s judgment on Americans for not being good enough citizens. They’re not attending, they’re not going to meetings, they’re not participating; they’re not reading the news. Everything we’ve learned in the past two years was there to be known before the election and not enough people bothered to know. People allow themselves to be manipulated and deceived by false news.”

Frum also brought up the point that often times, politicians and other leaders are not recognized for saving the near-misses that could have easily happened. He referenced an example from the late 1990s when an idea for airline safety was put forth. A task force of airline experts came up with the idea to strengthen the doors of cockpits in airplanes. However, because it would have been extremely costly to do this, it was never done. In a pre-9/11 world, this might not have seemed like such an important decision.

When the floor was opened up to discussion, a student asked Frum about the future of democracy. He responded by saying that the question implies that the future is already decided, when in fact, it is not. He went on to reference A Christmas Carol when Scrooge says, “Is this the vision of things that must be or things that may be?”

Frum emphasized the point that we can make the future different as it doesn’t currently exist. The actions we take today can shape the future into what it needs to be; understanding the importance of and acting through civic engagement can change the course of history.