After the Trumpocalypse: How to Restore American Democracy
On this episode of democracy-ish, Danielle and Toure talk to David Frum: senior editor at The Atlantic, former speechwriter for George W. Bush and the author of 10 books, including the just-released “TRUMPOCALYPSE: Restoring American Democracy.”
Another week, another batch of fresh hell: A new handful of viral videos from Georgia exposes more cops behaving badly.
How can we reform our broken government despite our deep political divides?
What will ever erase the stain Trump has left on America? (It’s not Clorox.)
Our hosts chat with David in the midst of another week of national outrage and calls for police reform –– or something new entirely.
Last Friday in Atlanta, police shot 27-year-old Rayshard Brooks after an altercation in a Wendy’s parking lot in response to complaints that he was sleeping in his car, blocking the drive-thru lane. Rayshard later died in the hospital.
The incident was captured on video from multiple sources, including the officers’ body-cams and dashcam as well as bystanders and the restaurant’s surveillance camera. But we wouldn’t even need all that footage to be outraged: Rayshard was shot three times in the back as he tried to run away.
Unlike many of the recent murders of Black people caught on tape, Atlanta’s response was fairly swift. The police chief resigned. The officer who shot Rayshard was fired, and his partner was placed on administrative leave. Within a week, both were charged with murder.
That’s cold comfort for Rayshard’s family –– and for every person of color in America. Especially in the age of Trump.
In David’s new book, he proposes a number of ways to repair American democracy after all the damage this jackass has caused. Let’s dig in.
Episode Highlights –– Trump’s a Jackass
Crazy train to Georgia
“Deadly force” takes many forms –– chokeholds, for example, but the majority of people killed by police are shot.
“American police forces are very militarized compared to police forces anywhere else,” David says.
In his native Toronto, each police officer has a button on their gun holster, and if they draw the gun at all, they’re required to file a report.
“But that's in the context of a world in which police do not face a heavily armed society,” he adds. “So a big part of this discussion is about how to reduce the prevalence of private firearms. How do we make sure ... there isn't a Glock in the glove compartment of every car [the police] stop?”
Toure acknowledges that cops’ fear of the American citizenry, especially those who are Black and Brown citizens, is “palpable, and so much a part of this moment,” he says, pointing to yet another viral video from Georgia.
Stacy’s sob story
Elsewhere in –– you guessed it –– Georgia, a blonde female police officer named Stacy livestreamed her tearful breakdown in a McDonald’s drive-thru. Apparently, she had to wait so long for her order that she grew suspicious about it: “I'm too nervous to take a meal from McDonald's because I can't see it being made," she says in the video.
The tacit accusation is clear: Everyone’s out to get the police.
“I'm like, oh my god, the victimhood, especially now, is so frightening,” says Toure. “If this woman approached my car at a traffic stop, she's assuming I'm a mass murderer. It's really her fear. And I am paying the price for her fear.”
That’s why Toure doesn’t have high hopes for incremental changes in American law enforcement.
“I don't see how we reform this without completely burning police into the ground and starting over with an entirely different approach to public safety,” he says.
America, armed and dangerous
David is skeptical of a clean-slate strategy.
“We never have the power to make things new. You always start from where you are. Any process of reform has to begin with where we are and what's possible, what's feasible.”
He agrees that many aspects of police officers’ fear are “irrational and bigoted and biased,” he adds. “But there are parts of it that are rational.”
That’s because we are, as a nation, armed to the fucking teeth.
In the cop-versus-teenagers scenario, David suggests that the officer is “fusing together some combination of his own prejudiced feelings and his own awareness that in any group of five Americans over the age of 12, statistically, there are probably two firearms.”
The numbers are staggering: Americans collectively own about 300 million firearms; half our households have at least one. “And they often show up in crazy places like the glove compartments of people's cars,” he adds. “Police confront that. And in other societies they don't.”
Protect and unnerve
Danielle counters David’s argument: “If you are going into a job that you know is dangerous, and you fear for your life, maybe you should be a mail person,” she says. “Because the reality is … statistically, there are more armed white people in this country than there are Black folks.”
And there’s a stark difference between how police treat five Black teenagers and “the Dylann Roofs of the world,” she notes. “Their complexion offers them protection. That’s problematic to me.”
She’s also weary of the widespread deference to police officers: “Oh, their job is so dangerous. Okay. So is a firefighter’s … [but] they put out fires regardless of who the hell's house is on fire.”
To put it another way, nobody’s ever written a protest song called “Fuck the Fire Department.”
But police tend to protect only people who look like them.
“Until we can move away from the historical context of policing, which is based in the slave-catcher mentality, we're never going to be able to build something new or different or innovative. We can't change the psyche of the people who are going after this job in the first place.”
Offense isn’t the best defense
David asks Toure what he means by (metaphorically) burning down the police.
“The overwhelming majority of police calls don't require violence, don't require guns. We need to have an entirely different system,” he says. “Right now we have a system in which crime generalists run around with a warrior mentality addressing a wide array of situations and addressing many of them poorly.”
Danielle and Toure discussed this in detail last week: Instead of John or Jane Q. Anycop, trained specialists could respond to specific situations like domestic violence, mental health issues or the aftermath of a robbery –– “not with a gun, but with an incredible amount of expertise,” Toure says.
“There may be a small group of people with firearms who are able to deal with a current, violent situation. But for the most part, we are over-policing.”
To make matters worse, cops aren’t incentivized even to create public safety. They're incentivized to make arrests, he adds.
“That creates an offensive force. We don't need an offensive force in most of America.”
At the root of this evil, says Toure, is the broken windows theory –– “the smallest infraction can lead to stopping something much larger. It criminalizes every citizen.”
David, who turns 60 later this month, sees that theory as a vestige of a previous era.
“As you move through life, you increasingly find yourself living in a different country than the one in which you were educated to live,” he says. “Americans don't believe this, but your chance of being a victim of a crime is lower today than at any time in the organized history of the United States.”
Toure pipes in: “We’re at the lowest level of homicide in 100 years.”
That’s true, says David. But when he was young, NYC saw 2,000 homicides annually. Now, it averages 250.
It can be difficult for older folks to adjust to today’s reality, and their misperceptions affect every area of public life. The makeup of Congress is overwhelmingly aged 50-plus (and 48% of senators are over 65).
Our country is governed by people from “the previous generation, and the generation before that, who cannot absorb the ways things are different,” David says.
Revival of the ‘American conscience’
So how does David propose we restore American democracy?
He begins with a caveat: “I am not an optimist by temperament. But … through the Trump years, I’ve become an optimist by conviction. The America we believe in –– it's underneath the rust and the dirt. It's there.”
One of the most important legacies of the Trump presidency –– and what he hopes is the only one –– is that we’re in the midst of one of the “periodic revivals of the American conscience that glows at intervals, every generation or so,” David says.
He thinks we’re in the midst of a collective wake-up call –– and the alarm is coming from the White House.
“Life is full of petty cruelties, and it's easy to just take them as part of life, especially if you're on the fairweather side of those cruelties,” he says.
Whether it’s men who don’t understand what women experience, older folks who can’t see the burdens of the young, the affluent who ignore the plight of the working classes, and so on: “Black/white, native born/ immigrant –– every day, Trump takes something that’s a petty cruelty and puts it on the jumbotron in the middle of Times Square,” David explains.
Temperance and suffrage
Our current moment reminds David of the temperance and women’s suffrage movements a century ago –– which didn’t (at least initially) have political agendas.
“There's no #MeToo law anybody’s going to pass,” he says. “These are cultural changes. And I think you see them all over the place arising from [Trump]. There's this impulse to do things better. The 2020s may not be a period of enormous party political movement. It may be much more a period of cultural and social movement, powered above all by the departure of the Baby Boom generation from active political life.”
He says that as someone who was born in 1968. (Okay boomer… lol.)
Trump’s ‘support’ is fake news
Danielle does believe that most Americans are repulsed by Trump’s behavior. But she’s confused and disturbed by the large percentage of voters “who will follow this man off of a cliff,” she says.
“They are literally signing waivers in Oklahoma that say if they fall ill from the Coronavirus –– because [Trump] doesn't want them to wear masks, because he thinks they're creepy –– that they can’t sue.”
How does David explain that? He starts with the real math.