In “How to Build an Autocracy” (Atlantic, 3/17), George W. Bush speechwriter David (“Axis of Evil”) Frum begins his warning about Donald Trump’s authoritarian tendencies by imagining Trump’s second inauguration in 2021:
Fortunately for him, he did not need to campaign hard for reelection. His has been a popular presidency: Big tax cuts, big spending, and big deficits have worked their familiar expansive magic. Wages have grown strongly in the Trump years, especially for men without a college degree, even if rising inflation is beginning to bite into the gains. The president’s supporters credit his restrictive immigration policies and his TrumpWorks infrastructure program.
Personally, I’ll be surprised if there is strong wage growth over the next few years; putting economic policy in the hands of Goldman Sachs, and appointing a secretary of Labor who opposes minimum wage increases and objects to paying for overtime, do not bode well.
But Frum suggests Trump could raise wages for workers without hardly trying, implying that any halfway competent administration could do as well or better—if it wanted to. That wages have instead stagnated over a series of Republican and Democratic administrations makes Frum’s scenario an unconscious indictment of the political establishment that he belongs to.
How to build an autocracy? Frum leaves out the first step, which is to create an oligarchy that chooses to serve an economic elite rather than improving the lives of the majority—leaving the public ready to listen to a demagogue who promises to look out for them.
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