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What’s So Good About Donald Trump? (Forbes.com) September 2, 2015

Posted by daviddavenport in Newspaper Columns/Essays, Op/Eds.
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It seems like everybody has something bad to say about Donald Trump—everyone except Republican voters who are speaking through the polls. One headline says he is a “mortal threat” to the GOP. Former Congressman Anthony Weiner calls him “outrageous.” Jeb Bush screwed up his courage and charged that Trump is a “germophobe” over his reluctance to shake hands. Trump piñatas are flying off the shelves in immigrant communities in California. And that’s just this week.

So let me tell you what’s good about Donald Trump and why his candidacy makes sense at this stage of the presidential campaign. Republicans can thank him later.

First, Trump is the voice of midlife crisis, the answer to voters’ disappointing question, “Is this all there is?” Voters are obviously tired of the same old roster of candidates talking about the same things in the same ways. We all recognize if there was a place on the ballot for “none of the above,” that listing would win a lot of races. It’s no accident that joining Trump at the top of the polls right now is the other political novice and outsider, Ben Carson, with businesswoman Carly Fiorina charging hard from the rear. Voters in midlife crisis need a voice and Trump provides it. But they won’t marry him later.

Second, Trump is talking about things that some voters care about. While everybody else discusses building a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, Trump speaks for those who are still concerned about the rule of law in rewarding those who are in the country illegally. Voters hear his cockiness and bluster and think, “Well, at least he won’t be leading from behind in the world.” A guy who has made a ton of money might know something about economic growth, instead of the stagnation we’ve been living through for years. So rather than Common Core or teacher unions or issues other candidates are advancing, Trump seems to articulate things at least some people would like to hear.

Third, Trump is reminding the other Republican candidates of how to run to the right. Richard Nixon, who campaigned twice for the vice presidency and three times for the presidency, used to say that in order to win, a Republican had to first run to the right to consolidate his own party, then run to the center to win the general election. Today’s Republicans are having trouble with the first part, running to the right. Presumed front-runner Jeb Bush, who has characterized himself as a reform candidate, wants a lot of the same big government reforms as liberals and Democrats in education and immigration, for example. As Mitt Romney learned in 2012, Republicans will not win without energizing their conservative base and a candidate like Trump will force the conversation in that direction.

A classic political book, E.J. Dionne’s Why Americans Hate Politics, sets up Trump’s early success beautifully. Dionne points out that typically in political campaigns, candidates run around chanting and beating their chests about things voters don’t care about. Then, when they win, they go back to Washington or their state capitols, do nothing, and then go back out in two or four years for more pitched battles. It is precisely this paradigm that Trump breaks through—a guy who is not a professional politician who is talking about things that at least some regular people care about.

Of course the professional politicians won’t like a candidate like Trump. Who could like the star of “Donald Trump and the Sixteen Dwarfs,” especially if you are one of the dwarfs? As Jeb Bush whined, “He should be treated like a front-runner, not like some kind of alternative universe to the political system.” But that’s the point isn’t it? A year out, people who are frustrated about the political system and those who lead it have the time, and thanks to Donald Trump, the opportunity, to fantasize about life in an alternate political universe.

Read Column at Forbes.com:


Is Saying “American” Now a Problem on Campus? (National Radio Commentary, Salem/Townhall) August 27, 2015

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
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This is David Davenport of the Hoover Institution for Townhall.com

A faculty and student committee at the University of New Hampshire has published a “Bias Free Language Guide” and boy (oops I can’t say that), is it a doozy!

“American” is a problematic word there now, along with mothering, fathering, illegal alien, older people, rich person and poor person.  As an older, rich American who has done his share of fathering, I’d be in real trouble there.

Speech codes have been a problem on college campuses in recent years.  In order to promote political correctness, these codes limit First Amendment free speech.  And even when they aren’t mandatory, such as the one in New Hampshire, they limit the terms of debate.  How can you really discuss immigration, for example, if you can’t talk about Americans or illegal aliens?

Unfortunately, limiting debate is the point.  The Committee that drafted this admitted they were trying to get at “the truths of hierarchy and oppression.”

Colleges need to be open to broad ideas and language as tools of learning.

I’m David Davenport.

For audio link to Salem/Townhall:


Ordinances Banning Public Sleeping Are Unconstitutional Cruel And Unusual Punishment? Seriously? (Forbes.com) August 17, 2015

Posted by daviddavenport in Newspaper Columns/Essays, Op/Eds.
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At first I didn’t even read the story about whether laws against the homeless sleeping in public places violated the 8th Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. I figured it was just one more crazy story to filter out in the effort to retain my sanity when reading our local paper, the San Francisco Chronicle. Boy was I wrong. This wasn’t just another “only in San Francisco” story—this was the Obama administration’s Department of Justice (DOJ) telling the Federal District Court in Idaho that Boise’s ban on public sleeping as applied to the homeless was cruel and unusual punishment. And it’s getting the attention of cities everywhere.

You really have to appreciate all those lawyers back in Washington acknowledging that homelessness is a huge problem, pointing out that on any given night in America half a million people are homeless, with 42% sleeping in public locations. And then going on to tell the nation’s cities and mayors, “Sorry, but the way you are dealing with it, banning public camping and sleeping, is unconstitutional. Oh, and by the way, good luck with figuring out a different solution to this huge social problem. We’ve got your back—with a sharp legal filing sticking in it.”

Let’s agree that homelessness is a huge and complicated issue, compounded in recent years by the recession, tight housing markets, and less money for mental health, public housing and other social services. While cities, churches and nonprofits try to establish shelters and services, local governments also seek to keep the problem away from public parks and spaces, with laws against camping or sleeping in public or in vehicles. The latter is admittedly a bit of a defensive holding position while trying to build up the resources to tackle homelessness in more productive ways.

So into that delicate policy balance steps a team of federal lawyers from Washington, D.C.—“I’m from the government and I’m here to help,” Ronald Reagan liked to joke. And with the crudest of instruments, a legal filing, they seek to change hundreds of local policies with a creative interpretation of the constitution and a word processor. Historically, there is judicial precedent for the notion that one should not be punished for one’s condition (for example, addiction), but obviously what cities are seeking to ban is certain conduct. Now the argument becomes more complicated when you weigh whether the homeless, in certain cities at particular times, have a choice in where to sleep. But this feels more like a dilemma to be managed than a law seeking a ban. We await the court’s decision on this, but already many cities are nervous about the DOJ’s opinion.

This is but the latest example of a growing problem—lawyers and courts as engines of social change. As Chief Justice Roberts recently wrote in the his dissenting opinion in the gay marriage case: “Federal courts are blunt instruments when it comes to creating rights. . .[T]hey do not have the flexibility of legislatures to address concerns of parties not before the court or to anticipate problems that may arise from the exercise of a new right.” This is far too complicated a matter to resolve with a quick and relatively easy constitutional ban.

Let’s face it, these DOJ lawyers are, as our son used to say about his big sister, throwing their weight around. Courts have gone from being “beyond comparison the weakest of the three departments of power,” as Alexander Hamilton put it in Federalist 78, to the strongest. As recently as 1989, legal scholar Bruce Ackerman described courts as sitting in the last car of the train and deciding whether to throw on the brakes—now they’ve moved to the engine, powering social policy and deciding which track to take. Courts are now the quick and easy route to change, but representative government, with its ability to study matters, engage in debate and experimentation, is the better way to tackle social problems.

To read story at Forbes site:  http://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddavenport/2015/08/17/ordinances-banning-public-sleeping-are-unconstitutional-cruel-and-unusual-punishment-seriously/

Making Sense of the Republican Presidential Race: It’s Like Major League Baseball in August (Forbes.com) August 12, 2015

Posted by daviddavenport in Newspaper Columns/Essays, Politics.
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How do you make sense of a Republican presidential race with 17 candidates running 15 months before the election? It’s a lot like making sense of the Major League Baseball season in August, two months before the World Series. My logic parallels that of former Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda who said: “There are three types of baseball players: Those who make it happen, those who watch it happen and those who wonder what happens.”

For starters, you have to know what you are trying to “make happen” at this stage of the season. No team is trying to win the World Series in August; instead the goal is to get in position to be one of the 10 (of 30) teams to make the playoffs where, as they say, anything can happen. Likewise, 17 Republicans are not trying to be the final party nominee this early, they’re just trying to be one of the 3-5 candidates left standing next summer. As in baseball, that’s really about developing momentum and finding the money to remain in the race as long as possible.
Then to understand baseball at this stage, you’d have to look at the races within the race: which teams are competing for the automatic playoff berths of division championships and which teams are realistically positioning themselves for the less secure wild-card slots? Fewer people understand that, among 17 candidates, there are mini-races as well. Jeb Bush and John Kasich are vying for the “moderate” slot in the final rounds. Donald Trump can afford to stay in the race as long as he wants, holding the special “reality star” berth. All the rest are competing to be among two or so “conservatives” left standing a year from now.

Of course, many teams are not realistic contenders this year and are positioning themselves for the future, and so too are some of the candidates. Some are staking out particular issues and constituencies, such as Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum with conservative Christians. As a woman, Carly Fiorina is useful in attacking Hillary Clinton and her record. Some are really running for vice president (Carly Fiorina, Bobby Jindal, and even Marco Rubio come to mind) and several are building war chests and name recognition for the future.

So in Tommy Lasorda’s trilogy, who is making it happen? I would say Bush, Walker and Trump, with Rubio still a possibility. Bush will be the moderate finalist, Walker the conservative, and Trump the reality wild card. Rubio, or someone else, might join Walker as a conservative near the end.

Notably, Donald Trump is this year’s wild card who may become a new norm. As a reality television personality, he uses his platform to connect with people’s anger and frustrations about politics. He has the money to stay in the race as long as he wants to and you know what? Staying in the race helps build his personal “brand” no matter how well he fares politically. The last time we had a candidate of this sort was Ross Perot in 1992, who ran as an independent and collected an amazing 19% of the popular vote but none of the all-important electoral votes. He arguably did split the Republican votes sufficiently to prevent George W. Bush’s reelection, which is a problem for the party again this time if Trump continues next fall as an independent candidate. Imagine 2020’s version of the Kardashians or Jenners running next time.

A few are, in Lasorda’s words, at least watching it happen: Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Chris Christie, and perhaps Carly Fiorina. And the rest, well no one is likely to even remember that they ran once it’s all over. Polls are already at work deciding who will be in the field when the next debate moderators say: Play ball. Like baseball, presidential politics is a long season.

See the article at Forbes.com:


Language Police At University Of New Hampshire: Saying ‘American’ Is Now Politically Incorrect (Forbes.com) July 30, 2015

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
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No wonder many Americans question the value of sending their kids to universities for four years. Oh wait, I better not say “Americans” since, at least at the University of New Hampshire (UNH), that is now a “problematic” word. The “Bias-Free Language Guide” at UNH also has problems with mothering, fathering, illegal alien, older people, rich person, poor person, etc. It’s a good thing I don’t teach there since, by now, I might well be charged with being an older rich American who has done his share of fathering.

Speech codes have been a problem on college campuses in recent years, with their direct clash with First Amendment rights to free speech. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education produces an annual report on the subject, finding most recently that 55% of 437 colleges and universities studied had such codes. They come in all shapes and sizes, but the University of New Hampshire guide is especially rich (oops, I should have said “an individual of material wealth”). Apparently a group of students and faculty, concerned with “the truths of hierarchy and oppression,” spent considerable time developing it. It was on the University’s official website in a section on “inclusive excellence” until it blew up in the media this week and the University removed it, or at least restricted access to it.

The school motto “Veritas” (truth) at Harvard University. Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg

Although this particular “guide” was not a mandatory or enforceable speech code, it is nevertheless troubling. At the core, colleges and universities are supposed to be engaged in the difficult, and often messy, search for truth, as promoted with the motto “Veritas” at the entrance to Harvard University . Yale’s statement on “freedom of expression” captures this search well when it says students must be able to “think the unthinkable, discuss the unmentionable, and challenge the unchallengeable.” Acknowledging that students will encounter people who think differently than they do, at Yale everyone is expected “to honor their free expression, even when what they have to say seems wrong or offensive to you.” In a debate on immigration, for example, if I am not supposed to comment on the illegality of someone’s presence in the country, that rules out an essential portion of the debate.

But limiting the nature of substantive debate is precisely the effect, and arguably the underlying purpose, of such a guide.  On the surface it purports to be a speech code about “awareness of any bias in our daily language,” but the guide goes on to say that it is also about the deeper questions of “hierarchy and oppression.” Since debates are about ideas, and ideas are expressed in language, limiting the language necessarily limits the debate. If students are not supposed to argue policies pertaining to the “rich” and “poor,” or should avoid talking about “Americans” or “illegal aliens,” obviously a lot of robust debate is lost. The chilling effect on free speech is precisely why the First Amendment guarantees it, and a government-run university is especially vulnerable to constitutional challenges to speech codes.

College stakeholders who read such a guide or policy would also wonder what in the world they are doing with all that time and taxpayer funding at UNH. The New Hampshire Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley quite reasonably said in response to the guide: “The University System of New Hampshire should concentrate on educating students to compete in the 21st century economy rather than taking political correctness to farcical levels.”

Colleges and universities are supposed to be the realm of ideas where students learn. Unfortunately they have become bastions of political correctness, championing seemingly every kind of diversity except the most important educational diversity of all: a diversity of ideas.

Link to article at Forbes.com:


Elites and Courts Push America Into a Post-Christian Era (Forbes.com) July 29, 2015

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
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“My country ‘tis of Thee, sweet land of Secularity” will be our new national hymn as America enters the uncharted territory of a post-Christian era.  Long known as “a Christian nation,” the U.S. has turned sharply in a secular direction, thanks to the trickle-down influence of elites and handed-down dictates from courts.  This historic shift will affect everything from elections to education to ethics and beyond.

How can a nation be Christian (or post-Christian) in the first place?  America has never been a theocracy, following the direct rule of God in the manner of the Islamic Republic of Iran or the Vatican (or Israel in Old Testament times).  Rather America has been referred to as a Christian nation because of the core beliefs and world view of a majority of its people and an acknowledgement of God by its public leaders and symbols.  But as Americans, especially the young, move away from faith in large numbers, and courts systematically dismantle religious symbols and influences, the post-Christian era has arrived.

Recent polls confirm the increasing secularization of our people, especially the young.  A poll by the Pew Foundation shows that the number of Americans describing themselves as Christian has declined by about 10% between 2007-2014.  Meanwhile, those professing no religion grew by 50% in that same time frame.  Fewer than 6 in 10 millennials (ages 18-33) affiliate with any branch of Christianity.  A recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute shows that 66% of those age 65 and over believe being Christian is an important part of being American, while only 35% of those ages18-29 agree.  These numbers are changing remarkably quickly as Americans are seemingly losing their faith and becoming more like secular Europeans.

Another lens into post-Christian America is the declining impact of traditional Christian teaching on social mores.  The sexual revolution continues to redefine the nature of sex, relationships and the family away from orthodox Christian teaching.  Young people increasingly see science as a challenge to the teachings of the Bible.  The rise of tolerance as the ultimate value in society sometimes clashes with religious notions of absolute truth.  In short, a new and more liberal orthodoxy is tipping the scales of public dialogue and conventional wisdom away from the narrower views of traditional religion.

Finally, the courts have begun to chip away at religious influence and symbolism in the public square.  I mean, when the Oklahoma Supreme Court votes 7-2 that a monument of the Ten Commandments must be removed from the state Capitol, as it did recently, you know times are changing.  It probably will not be long before “one nation under God” in the pledge and “in God we trust” on the currency will be ruled unconstitutional by courts.  Of greater significance was the Obergefell v. Hodges decision about same sex marriage, in which the traditional Christian understanding of marriage received so little attention and support that the justices could only uphold Christians “teaching” and “advocating” their views, rather than quoting the more muscular language of the First Amendment about “free exercise.”  In his dissenting opinion, Justice Samuel Alito warned that the court’s opinion “will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy.”

In one sense, Christians need not despair.  Christianity has survived governments and societies of all kinds throughout the ages.  But the losers in this may be less the Christians than the larger society.  The Founders consistently warned that in order for a free republic to work, a virtuous people would be needed, and the source of that virtue, in their experience, was religion.  So the question we must answer in post-Christian America is this:  What will be the sources of our virtues and values?  My own uneasiness about this was reflected on a bumper sticker I saw on a Los Angeles freeway:  “THERE IS NO HOPE (but I could be wrong).”

Link to column at Forbes.com:


America Enters the Post-Christian Era (National Radio Commentary, Salem/Townhall) July 22, 2015

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This is David Davenport of the Hoover Institution for Townhall.com.

Although it has been building for a while—with polls showing fewer people believe in God or attend church—mark Justice Anthony Kennedy’s Supreme Court decision about same-sex marriage as the beginning of the post-Christian era in America.

The decision was an amazing turn against the core beliefs and practices of conservative Christianity and other religions. The currency may still say “in God we trust” but that means only when we agree with God or when God keeps up with the times.

A new liberal post-Christian orthodoxy is sweeping the country, and sweeping out the historical notion of America as a Christian nation.

This will challenge churches, whose ancient beliefs in absolute truth will at least challenge their tax exemptions and may be considered hate speech.  Religious schools and hospitals will be at risk.  Religious people who feel obligated to follow their faith as bakers or florists or artists of various kinds will face impossible choices.

Welcome, America, to the post-Christian era.

I’m David Davenport.

(Suggested Air Date: 7-22-2014)

Link to audio at Townhall.com:  http://townhallreview.com/2015/07/davenport-america-enters-post-christian-era-7-22-15/

California Raisins and the New Deal (National Radio Commentary on Salem/Townhall) July 21, 2015

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Home / Blog / Davenport: California Raisins and the New Deal 7-15-15

Davenport: California Raisins and the New Deal 7-15-15

For those discouraged over other late-term Supreme Court decisions, you might have missed one they got right.  The Court held that taking a farmer’s raisins as part of a New Deal-era price support and subsidy program was a “taking” under the 5thamendment of the Constitution and had to be compensated.

Although the Department of Agriculture is studying the matter, this could be a blow to other antiquated farm subsidies from the 1930s.  And it is a strike against the New Deal policies themselves which, unbelievably, are still on the books.

This is the problem with grand government programs to deal with emergencies—the laws don’t end when the crisis is over. Other New Deal era gifts that keep on giving today include the president’s aggressive use of executive orders, the growing federal deficit and Social Security.

The Great Society gave us Medicare. And today, of course, we have Obamacare. Eighty years later, we’re still fighting big government solutions dating back to the New Deal.

The Supreme Court’s Newly Invented Right to Equal Dignity and the Problems It Will Cause (Forbes.com) July 8, 2015

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
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In case you missed it, Justice Kennedy and the majority of the Supreme Court invented a new constitutional right when they overruled bans on same sex marriage.  In the closing line of the opinion, the Court said that those seeking the right to gay marriage “ask for equal dignity in the eyes of law.  The Constitution grants them that right.”

Read the Constitution front to back and tell me where you find the section about the “right to equal dignity.”  Sorry, but like a lot of things people mistakenly assume must be in the Bible or in the Constitution, it’s not there.

What is in the Constitution is the 14th Amendment, on which the Court said this decision was based.  It promises that no “state [shall] deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”  Even there, Kennedy’s decision is awkward and unclear, claiming to base its decision on a deprivation of liberty, namely the fundamental right to marry the person you want.  Equal protection seems the less strained basis.

But then Kennedy, writing for the majority, waxes eloquent about equal dignity, as he has done in the past.  It’s in many of his Supreme Court opinions, from the Casey abortion case to the Lawrence sodomy decision to his opinion in the Windsor Federal Defense of Marriage Act case.   So some kind of dignity right is in Kennedy’s mind and jurisprudence; the problem is that it is not in the Constitution.  And it is so broad and vague it shouldn’t be.

One unanswered question is what equal dignity, or even dignity itself, might mean under the law.  None of the cases attempts to answer that question.  Webster’s Dictionary says dignity is the “quality or state of being worthy, honored or esteemed.”  The Oxford Dictionary adds the term “respect.”  Does this mean, then, that when people in our litigious society feel disrespected, their constitutional rights are violated?  Or, with some limitation, if government is somehow involved in that disrespect, there is a legal cause of action?  In some countries and cultures, even jokes have prompted arrests and prosecution on similar grounds.  Will the First Amendment protection of free speech still win out over this new “constitutional right?”

Less speculative is the looming clash between First Amendment free exercise of religion protections and this new right to equal dignity under the law.  Although many religions, including conservative Christianity, do not accept gay marriage, the Supreme Court’s opinion gave scant attention to their concerns.  Justice Kennedy said they may “continue to advocate” their view and “teach the principles…they have long revered.”  But wait, isn’t the First Amendment stronger than that?  Doesn’t it protect free exercise of religion, not just advocacy and teaching?  If a Christian or Muslim school or agency does not deal with same sex couples and their families in the same way as heterosexual couples, does that not violate Kennedy’s principle of “equal dignity?”  But at the same time, is that not protected by the free exercise of religion clause in the First Amendment.?  Or how about the bakers or florists or artists who feel they must exercise their religious beliefs and decline to participate in gay marriages?

Equal dignity looks like Pandora’s Box to me.  It is not in the Constitution and is ill-defined, vague and uncertain.  No one really knows what it means in a legal context.  It is overly broad—there is indignity everywhere in a crowded and busy world.  And it has now been attached to a new practice, same-sex marriage, that clashes and jars against other rights, most notably free speech and the free exercise of religion, also guaranteed by our Constitution.

Equal dignity under the law—coming soon to a courthouse near you.

See article at Forbes.com:  http://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddavenport/2015/07/08/the-supreme-courts-newly-invented-right-to-equal-dignity-and-the-problems-it-will-cause/

Roberts Moves from Umpiring to Batting on Healthcare–National Radio Commentary, Salem-Townhall July 6, 2015

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Roberts Moves from Umpiring to Batting on Healthcare

This is David Davenport of the Hoover Institution for Townhall.com.

Somewhere we have lost Chief Justice Roberts.  I mean the Roberts who told the Senate Committee in his confirmation hearing that his judicial philosophy was to be an umpire calling balls and strikes, not a batter or pitcher.

But twice now Roberts has rewritten the Affordable Care Act in order to save it. First he changed the law from an unconstitutional penalty to a constitutional tax. Now he’s ruled that “state exchange” is ambiguous and includes a federal exchange, rescuing it again.

Roberts apparently feels the need to step in the batter’s box and engage in judicial activism in order to protect the Court from having to invalidate Obamacare and be accused of, yes, judicial activism.

And so Chief Justice Roberts joins Harry Blackman, David Souter and Anthony Kennedy in the hit parade of supposed conservative justices who took big turns to the left once seated on the Court.

I’m David Davenport.

(Air Date: 7-6-2015)

Link to Salem/Townhall Audio:



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