Living in the academic world, I have taken up peer therapy with anguished colleagues over the election of Donald Trump. My standard refrain is to wait and see what he actually does because his words have run in too many different directions. Build a wall? We’re not really sure. Kill Obamacare dead in its tracks? Maybe, maybe not. We just have to see.
But one thing seems fairly certain: a Donald Trump presidency is likely to have little regard for decreasing the national debt (the cumulative amount owed by the federal government) or the annual budget deficit. Some of us are shocked that the national debt has nearly doubled (from roughly $10 trillion to nearly $20 trillion) on President Obama’s watch, but that number will likely grow under President Trump, perhaps even on a similar scale.
Why do I say this? First, consider what Trump himself had to say on the subject during the campaign: “I’m the king of debt; I understand debt probably better than anybody. I know how to deal with debt very well. I love debt.” I guess that’s one approach to a growing federal debt: hire the self-proclaimed “king of debt” to oversee it. His other campaign comment was that if we started to get into real trouble because of our debt, he would go to other countries and renegotiate our debt, persuading them to take less than we owe. Good luck with that.
But under Trump the supply-siders are coming back, arguing that all this will grow our way out of economic difficulty. But let’s be realistic: if we’re at 1-2% growth today, even doubling the rate of economic growth only takes us to 3% or maybe at the outside 4%. The numbers don’t add up. Moody’s Analytics estimates his infrastructure plan would add just 0.4% in growth. The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center estimated that his tax cuts will raise the federal debt by $7.2 trillion over the next decade and the Congressional Budget Office sees the annual tab for interest on the debt doubling between now and 2020.
One underlying question is whether Americans really care about government debt anymore. In several polls leading up to the election, concern about the federal debt ran well behind jobs, health care, education and terrorism (all expensive propositions by the way). Seemingly gone is the day when we worry, as President Calvin Coolidge did following World War I, about “carelessness” in the “expenditure of public money” as a “condition characteristic of undeveloped people, or of a decadent generation.” We no longer vote as if we are concerned about transferring the costs of our generation to a future one. We no longer view debt as a moral concern; rather it is just one more tool of economic policy to deploy when we want more growth.
I know this sounds positively premodern, but I still share the concern of President Herbert Hoover when he said: “Blessed are the young for they shall inherit the national debt.” And I would submit that the one thing President Trump and the Congress could do to begin to rebalance the scale would be to address the runaway deficit in our entitlement programs (Social Security, Medicare, Obamacare and the like). Progress there could compensate for some of their other grandiose spending plans.
To view the column Forbes.com:
I’m pleased to share that Gordon Lloyd’s and my new book, “Rugged Individualism: Dead or Alive?” has been published by Hoover Press and will be available for purchase on January 1.
Following up on our 2013 book, “The New Deal and Modern American Conservatism: A Defining Rivalry,” Gordon and I explore the powerful metaphor of the American rugged individual, tracing his birth at the founding, through his growth on the American frontier, into the life-threatening Progressive Era and New Deal, to his fragile existence today. We close by seeing some hope for rugged individualism in the coming decades.
You can preorder the book at Amazon:
Hoover Press, the publisher, tells me they will be able to sell copies early (in a few days), hopefully in time for your Christmas shopping!
Cracking the Blue Wall (National radio commentary, Salem/Townhall) November 27, 2016Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
This is David Davenport of the Hoover Institution for Townhall.com.
The surprise of the 2016 election was Donald Trump’s ability to crack the Democrats’ blue wall of industrial states in the upper Midwest and East. He accomplished this by beating Hillary Clinton by a 40% margin among white working-class voters.
Now we are learning that most of these Trump voters were not poor or unemployed themselves, but worried about the American dream for their children. They want a more robust economy with good jobs, not more welfare. American dream. Jobs. Trump. That was the winning formula.
Obama’s big accomplishment, adding health care to the welfare safety net, remains unpopular, with exit polls showing voters felt it went too far. Obamacare. Welfare state. Clinton. A losing formula.
Maybe there’s still some rugged individualism left in America.
I’m David Davenport.
To listen: http://www.townhallreview.com
Trump’s Forgotten Man (National radio commentary, Salem/Townhall) November 21, 2016Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
In his first tweet as president-elect, Donald Trump echoed a theme from his campaign, promising that “the forgotten man and woman will never be forgotten again.”
Funny, but in one of his first radio addresses to the nation in 1932, President Franklin Roosevelt introduced us to “the forgotten man.” His forgotten man became the focal point for the New Deal, growing the government, expanding the welfare state and rejecting American rugged individualism.
But Trump’s forgotten man and woman seem to be different. They are people who have jobs, pay taxes but for whom the government just does not work. Trump’s forgotten man does not want more government and welfare, but instead a growing economy and a fair shake.
Let’s hope Trump can actually do something for his forgotten man and woman.
To listen: http://www.townhallreview.com
Experts are still dissecting the vote to better understand why Donald Trump was elected. But one message seems relatively clear: Trump voters wanted jobs not welfare. Their concern was protecting the upside promise of the American dream for their children, not expanding the downside safety net with Obamacare. In that sense, it was a reminder that Americans still have some rugged individualism in their blood and are not yet content to see their government grow an extended welfare state or become a democratic socialist country like Bernie Sanders’ (and even Hillary Clinton’s) highly-praised Denmark.
The big story of the 2016 vote was that Donald Trump cracked the Democrats’ solid blue wall of industrial and rust-belt states in the upper Midwest and East (winning in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and the more volatile but crucial state of Ohio). But Trump did just that by winning blue-collar working class white voters by a 40% margin over Clinton, by 49% among white blue collar men. Drilling down a little deeper, analysis shows that Trump did especially well in counties with weaker job growth since 2012 and with lower average earnings among full-time workers.
But the narrative behind the statistics is more compelling—it was about jobs and the future. In Minnesota, for example, Trump won Itasca County, which has not voted Republican for president since 1928. As a former Democratic Farm Labor lobbyist, Gary Cerkvenik said, “You have this cascading economic impact for people who work with their hands” in the mines and in the woods. Mike Lindell, an entrepreneur with a successful small business in Minnesota said, “The American dream is possible. Donald Trump understands how to get the jobs back.” American dream. Jobs. Trump. That was a winning formula.
By contrast, the Democrats were still caught up in building the welfare state and extending the safety net. Obamacare, which was President Obama’s signature accomplishment and the most important addition to the welfare state since Franklin Roosevelt’s social security and Lyndon Johnson’s Medicare, continued to be unpopular among voters. Its negative polling remains about 10% higher than those who favor it. Nearly half the voters in exit polls said they thought Obamacare “went too far,” with Trump beating Clinton 83%-13% among that group. Obamacare. Welfare state. Clinton. That was a losing formula.
Further, Hillary Clinton was perceived as a candidate whose concern about environmentalism and other priorities transcended her commitment to creating jobs. It didn’t help her win votes among this group of blue collar workers when she said things like, “We’re going to put a lot of coal mines and coal miners out of business.”
I call now as witnesses two experts who understand well what the voters are saying. First, from the Left, Willie Brown, former Mayor of San Francisco and, before that, the powerful Speaker of the California Assembly. In his Sunday column in the San Francisco Chronicle, Brown tried to explain the surprising Trump win and concluded: “Trump voters were not looking to keep funds coming into their social programs—they just wanted to be self-sustaining again.” Then from the Right, Diana Furchtgott-Roth, an economist at the Manhattan Institute, points out: “No one wants to be dependent. No one wants to grow up and live off food stamps. Even those who are no longer upwardly mobile…want their children and grandchildren to have opportunities.”
People want to hear their leaders talk about hopes and dreams, not needs and safety nets. This was where Obama outdid Clinton as a candidate, talking about his agenda as “hope and change.” In this election, Trump became the hope for blue collar white workers and, of the two candidates, he clearly was the change agent, the outsider. With 61% of Americans saying the country is on the wrong track, compared with 31% on the right track, it should not be such a shock that the candidate offering hope and change once again won. Now whether Trump can deliver jobs and a shot at the American dream is, as they say, a whole ‘nother question.
To view the column at Forbes.com: http://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddavenport/2016/11/15/voter-message-jobs-and-the-american-dream-trump-the-welfare-state/#a57ae1b37c3d
The Forgotten Man Rises Again–But Which One? (Forbes.com) November 9, 2016Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.
In his first tweet as president-elect, Donald Trump promised that “the forgotten man and woman will never be forgotten again.” Indeed, the forgotten man and woman were recurring characters in Trump’s flurry of campaign rally speeches on Monday, the day before the election. In Sarasota, Florida for example, he said, “We are going to massively cut taxes for the middle class…who I call the forgotten people.” These “forgotten men and women” are the ones who “built our country.” He made similar references to this key constituency at pre-election rallies in Raleigh, N.C. and Grand Rapids, MI.
But this begs an interesting question: Who are Trump’s “forgotten man and woman?” Are they related to Franklin Roosevelt’s famous “forgotten man” around whom he built his New Deal in the 1930s? And, going even further back in history in order to come back to a deeper understanding today, what was the origin of the term? What we find is a flexible expression that has varied widely in its meaning, a character that Donald Trump resurrected and reinvented to fuel his political victory.
President Franklin Roosevelt’s “forgotten man” became the centerpiece of his New Deal policies and political constituency. Blaming Herbert Hoover’s “rugged individualism” policies for the Great Depression, Roosevelt said that he would focus government’s efforts instead on “the forgotten man.” When Roosevelt incorporated the term in his fireside radio chat—the 20th century Twitter—on April 7, 1932, the new president said: “These unhappy times call for the building of plans that rest upon the forgotten, the unorganized but the indispensable units of economic power for plans…that build from the bottom up and not from the top down, that put their faith once more in the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid.”
Roosevelt’s forgotten man would become the object of government policy not only during the New Deal, but arguably for the next 84 years and still counting. The welfare state that Roosevelt began to construct with social security, and which President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society expanded with Medicaid and Medicare, and to which President Barack Obama added “Obamacare” has all been carried out in the name of the forgotten man. And Roosevelt’s implementation tool was bigger government, especially the executive branch of the federal government, and more central planning and control. It was, in today’s parlance, the elites holding the reins of power in the name of helping the forgotten man.
But the origin of the forgotten man held a different meaning still. A Yale professor, William Graham Sumner, coined the term to describe the man who pays for someone else’s reforms that, in turn, benefit yet another person. In some ways he sounds more like Richard Nixon’s “silent majority” than Roosevelt’s forgotten man. Sumner said, “The forgotten man…works, votes, generally he prays—but he always pays.” Indeed, Trump did appeal to a silent majority, even a politically disengaged population, who are frustrated that they always pay for more and more government, but feel like they gain nothing from it.
Perhaps Trump brings together both the original Sumner and the revised Roosevelt understandings of the forgotten man. By winning the largest share of white working class men than any presidential candidate since World War II, and also winning white working class women at high levels, Trump has reached down to the lower rungs of the economic pyramid, as Roosevelt put it. Like many victims of the Great Depression of the 1930s, many of these are unemployed or underemployed. But they are not impressed by what big government has done for them. They seem to want more of the American dream rather than more government welfare.
The important question now is: What can Trump, what will Trump do for the forgotten men and women? He says he will cut their taxes. Of course he alone cannot accomplish that, but with a Republican congress, perhaps tax reform is possible. It seems that the rest of his solutions are more like Hoover than Roosevelt, more about building walls and rebuilding the economy, allowing them to create more jobs, rather than providing more government welfare or control.
So the forgotten man and woman rise again. Each president who embraces them sees them a bit differently, but they have become a convenient political appeal and a way to structure domestic policy.
To view the column at Forbes.com:
Fear and Loathing of the Electoral College (Forbes.com) October 20, 2016Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.
Consider a couple of seasonal trivia questions: Where in the Constitution is the Electoral College established and where does it meet? The answers are the same: Nowhere. The Constitution speaks of “electors,” but not a college, and the electors meet only in their respective state capitals.
Now a more serious question: Why is there so much fear and loathing of the Electoral College? The origin of the modern backlash against it is pretty clearly the 2000 presidential election when Al Gore defeated George W. Bush by approximately 500,000 popular votes (half a percent difference with over 100 million total votes cast), but lost the electoral vote 271-266 and the election. A huge hue and cry erupted that the election was undemocratic since the people’s choice did not win. It didn’t help matters when another arguably undemocratic institution, the U.S. Supreme Court, weighed in to settle the election outcome.
This result, where the winner of the popular vote lost the presidency in the Electoral College, has occurred two other times, in the elections of 1876 and 1888. In one additional case, John Quincy Adams lost both the popular and electoral votes to Andrew Jackson but, since neither candidate mustered enough electoral votes to win, the election was decided by the House of Representatives in favor of Adams. So this hasn’t happened often but, if people don’t understand or appreciate the purposes of the Electoral College, even once is an undemocratic outrage to them.
Although Trump’s concern about a “rigged election” is apparently not the Electoral College, there is popular sentiment in that direction. Gallup has polled the matter over the decades finding in 1948, for example, that 31% thought it should continue and 56% said it should not. More recently, a 2013 Gallup Poll revealed that 63% of Americans would, if they could, vote for a law to do away with the Electoral College. There have been on the order of 700 amendments proposed over time to reform or do away with it. But since that would require a constitutional amendment, with its high bar of two-thirds of Congress and three-fourths of the state legislatures in favor, there has been no change.
The most recent effort to do away with the elector system is the clever end-run proposed by the so-called National Popular Vote Bill. When passed in a sufficient number of states to total 270 electoral votes, this bill would require their electors to vote for the winner of the national popular vote, not the winner of their state vote. Besides the unseemly circumvention of the Constitution, it seems undemocratic that a vote for candidate X in California turns out to count for candidate Y instead if Y wins the national popular vote, even though not the California vote. Talk about your vote not counting, a common complaint about the current system.
What all this fear and loathing misses is that there is both a strong historic case and also a modern one for the Electoral College. At the Constitutional Convention, at least four ways to elect the President were on the table: election by Congress, by the state governors, by the state legislatures and a direct vote of the people. The founders chose a hybrid system, giving both the states and the people a role in electing a president and, with their other checks and balances, helping protect the republic. The latter term is important since the founders were clear they were not establishing a democracy, which they considered dangerous. Many Republicans now wish they had a similar hybrid system at their convention, with more super-delegates to block Donald Trump.
Today, without the Electoral College and its state-based voting, we would be looking at national recounts—not just Florida in 2000—with results delayed for weeks, perhaps even beyond Inauguration Day. And instead of flying around the country in the campaign seeking electoral votes in a variety of battleground states, candidates would concentrate their efforts in the big population centers such as New York or Los Angeles. Neither outcome seems preferable to the present system.
If you want electoral reform, a better way to go about it would be for states to decide not to award their electoral votes on a winner-takes-all basis. Two smaller states, Nebraska and Maine, have done this with, so far, little effect, but it could be a better way of allowing people’s votes to count.
Otherwise, don’t close the Electoral College. It was and is a valuable part of the republic.
To read the column at Forbes.com: http://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddavenport/2016/10/20/fear-and-loathing-of-the-electoral-college/#443d45a66d54
“Socialism’s Empty Promises” (Hoover Institution video) October 16, 2016Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
The Hoover Institution’s new policy education initiative (www.policyed.org) uses the scholarly work of Hoover fellows to develop educational and teaching materials. One of my Forbes columns from earlier this year was a source for a new short video on socialism:
Why Not Prosecute ISIS for War Crimes and Genocide? (National radio commentary, Salem/Townhall) October 12, 2016Posted by daviddavenport in Radio Commentaries.
International courts love to take on political cases, such as those against Israel or the U.S., but when there are obvious and serious international crimes, they often take a pass. The latest examples of obvious war crimes and genocide come from ISIS … but there is no prosecution in the works.
Investigators have collected evidence of kidnapping women as sex slaves, genocide against ethnic Kurdish religious communities and other atrocities, yet no one wants to bring these matters to court. They clearly constitute war crimes of the worst sort and the ISIS leadership is nothing but a criminal syndicate.
The U.N. Security Council could refer these matters to the International Criminal Court which, frankly, needs more to do. Or a special court in the region could be established for this purpose.
It’s time for international law to stop talking and do something useful. Bringing cases of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity against the ISIS leadership would be a good place to start.
To listen to the audio: http://www.townhallreview.com
Perhaps the perfect story to describe the Donald Trump phenomenon and the 2016 campaign is a reported conversation in which Trump’s eldest son spoke with a John Kasich advisor about the vice presidency, proposing that as veep Kasich would be in charge of foreign and domestic policy. Asked what his father would be in charge of, Donald Jr. responded: “Making America great again.” The accuracy of the story is disputed but, even if apocryphal, it points to the reality that the only hope conservatives have in 2016 is that Trump might delegate a lot of policy-making to his vice president, Mike Pence.
It’s been a rough several decades for conservatives and the presidency. Mitt Romney, like Trump, more a pragmatic businessman than a philosophical conservative, had trouble selling himself as he described: “severely conservative.” In campaigning for the presidency in 2000 George W. Bush said he would be a “compassionate conservative.” There may have been some compassion, but there wasn’t much classic conservatism in the Bush administration: running up deficits, federalizing K-12 education through No Child Left Behind, expanding the welfare safety net with prescription drugs for seniors, and so on.
In fact, Republicans don’t seem eager to embrace the “conservative” label, at least without a nice adjective to limit or spin it. John McCain was known as a “maverick conservative” and Jeb Bush tried out running as a “reform conservative” in the primaries this year. Isn’t anyone content to be just a conservative anymore? The only real national electoral success conservatives have enjoyed in recent years has been Paul Ryan as the vice presidential candidate in 2012 and now Mike Pence in the same role in 2016.
One challenge is that there are lots of flavors and nuances to conservatism. There are national security conservatives, fiscal conservatives (who are often socially liberal), social conservatives, the religious right, constitutional conservatives, libertarians, and so on. Increasingly Republicans have become big government conservatives, admitting that a smaller federal government isn’t likely so, instead, they seek to turn big government more toward conservative causes. But there are political leaders out there like Mike Pence and Paul Ryan who manage to combine several flavors of conservatism into one brand.
So if traditional conservatives—who haven’t really run a strong candidate for president since Ronald Reagan—have any hope in this election, it would turn on the role Mike Pence might play in a Trump administration. Besides the reported approach the Trump campaign made to John Kasich about the vice presidency, Trump said in his search that he was looking for a Washington insider, someone who understood the federal government and how it operates. And a businessman running a multi-billion-dollar empire must have learned something about delegating to subordinates.
For his part, Pence has demonstrated some ability to work around a few of Trump’s more outrageous positions, exhibiting talent for “managing up” or “managing the boss” as they say in the business world. In the recent vice presidential debate, Pence warned of Russian leader Vladimir Putin as a “small and bullying leader,” in contrast to Trump’s praise of Putin. Pence seemed far more willing than Trump for the U.S. to engage militarily in Syria. Pence has diplomatically kept his free-trade positions quiet, but in direct contrast to Trump’s opposition to the TPP and NAFTA, he has consistently voted for free trade, calling it wise economically and for national security. He has previously expressed discomfort with Trump’s anti-Muslim and anti-Mexican rhetoric.
Trump is hardly a classic conservative. A national security conservative, perhaps, but his positions on free trade and his lack of understanding for and support of constitutional limited government are deeply concerning for conservatives. The key for conservatives is Mike Pence. He is one of them. But would he have room to maneuver, and even take the lead, in a Trump presidency? Might Trump relish being king and allowing Pence to serve as prime minister? For now, at least, there are some encouraging signs. It’s really all conservatives have.
To view the column at Forbes.com: http://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddavenport/2016/10/07/conservatives-only-hope-if-trump-delegates-to-pence/#38c8f88c4424