A funny thing happened on the way to the new Donald Trump administration: Democrats have rediscovered states’ rights and local government powers under the 10th Amendment to the Constitution. Why? With Republicans now in control of the White House, the Senate and the House in Washington, D.C., Democrats want to shift to a ground game in state and local government where they have a better chance to win. But it won’t be easy, since Republicans have a head start there, at least in most of the states, if not the major cities.
In case you’ve forgotten the 10th Amendment, it provides that powers not delegated to the federal government “are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Along with checks and balances and balances of power, the 10th Amendment is part of the constitutional foundation for federalism, which requires that government ask which branch (executive, legislative or judicial) and which level (federal, state or local) should act on a particular matter. Among other benefits, it allows states to act, as Supreme Court justice Louis Brandeis said in a 1932 case, “as a laboratory” trying “social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.”
As a matter of principle, Republicans have been more interested in state and local power and the Democrats more focused on federalizing things in Washington. But, in reality, federalism has become the tool of whatever party is not in power in Washington. The Republicans favored it in the Obama years and now it’s the Democrats’ turn. It would be nice if state and local power were more a matter of principle than politics, but I guess the 10thAmendment will take whatever support it can get.
As usual, California is leading the way, setting up elaborate defenses of favorite Democrat party policies at both the state and local level. Governor Jerry Brown has his own foreign policy on climate change, for example, saying California would move ahead aggressively even if Trump withdraws from the Paris climate accords. Now the state has its own anti-Trump lawyer, too, hiring former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to represent the state against federal intrusion on California’s policy preferences. The mayors of both Los Angeles and San Francisco have made it clear that their cities will still be “sanctuary cities,” resisting federal immigration policy. There has even been talk of a “Calexit” vote to leave the union, though few think that is a serious threat. I suppose we could call this defensive federalism, seeking to protect a true-blue state from federal intrusion by Trump.
Although California has a two-thirds Democrat majority in the legislature and all Democrats in statewide offices, it could be tougher sledding elsewhere. Republicans control 32 state legislatures and 33 governors’ offices. Democrats hold the majority in only about half as many state legislatures as they did seven years ago, and Democrat governors have been reduced from 29 when President Obama took office to 16 today. But it is precisely this imbalance that Obama seems ready to tackle in his post-presidency. He recently said that “over the long haul” we need to “rebuild the Democratic Party at the ground level.” His long-time adviser David Axelrod added that with Congress gridlocked, perhaps too much emphasis was placed on the presidency, “when maybe we have to be more innovative.”
So it’s a new day, not just in Washington, D.C. but across the country as Democrats seek to promote a new “progressive federalism” and Republican-controlled states exercise their powers of preemption. Politics is bringing the often-neglected 10th Amendment back into play in unexpected ways.
Abraham Lincoln appointed three men who competed against him for the presidency to his cabinet, creating a talented and now famous “team of rivals.” Donald Trump’s cabinet has its own unusual flavor, creating a kind of dual presidency.
On one hand, Donald Trump himself and appointees like businessman Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State represent a pragmatic “get things done” approach to government. On the other hand, the appointment of several traditional conservatives to posts at Energy, the Environment and the Office of Management and Budget signal a shrinking of the federal role.
All this represents a dualism in Trump himself. On one hand, he is a pragmatic businessman lacking a strong political philosophy. On the other, he ran as a Republican, chose traditional conservative Mike Pence as his vice president, and stocked his cabinet with several conservatives.
Which Trump will win out? I think on economic matters, Trump will be pro-growth, but on social and other matters, the role of the federal government, if not its size, will shrink.
“Defining Ideas” has published an edited excerpt of Gordon Lloyd’s and my new book–released and available January 1. It is too lengthy to reprint in full here, but here are the first few paragraphs and a link to the rest:
The famous philosopher Yogi Berra said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” In order to assess the health, much less predict the future, of rugged individualism in America, it should help to recount briefly what it is and is not. President Obama, no great fan of rugged individualism, has acknowledged that it is nevertheless “in America’s DNA” and that it “defines America.” Reaching back to the founding, rugged individualism has defined American character and uniqueness. It has been described as the “master assumption” of American political and economic thought. The combination of individual liberty in America’s founding and the frontier spirit provided the rich soil in which it has grown and developed.
Equally, it seems important to note what American rugged individualism is not. It is not, as Alexis de Tocqueville acknowledged, the selfish, isolating self-absorption of the French individualisme, since Americans temper their individualism with other qualities such as pragmatism and a disposition toward forming voluntary associations. It is not a purely economic idea, as the Progressives and New Dealers suggested, since it is grounded in a political philosophy of individual rights. As Herbert Hoover, who coined the phrase “rugged individualism,” pointed out, it is not a laissez-faire, devil-take-the-hindmost philosophy for the wealthy since, in America, it is accompanied by equality of opportunity. It is not, as it is sometimes perceived to be, some form of selfishness or greed that demands it be regulated, presumably by government.
In order to evaluate the future of rugged individualism, it is also useful to review the environments in which it has fared well and those that have hampered and undermined it. In general, rugged individualism is closely tied to frontiers, not just frontiers of the Old West but economic, social, and political frontiers. Where there are new frontiers to conquer, Americans are more likely to launch out in a spirit of rugged individualism. Further, those political climates that tend to favor individual liberty have been most hospitable to rugged individualism. To put it another way, when the American tension that Tocqueville observed between equality and liberty tends toward liberty, rugged individualism has prospered. When the political climate has shifted more toward equality, it has not. Indeed, one could well argue that, since the rise of Progressivism and the New Deal in the early twentieth century, rugged individualism has been under rather steady attack and has often fought even to maintain a seat at the public policy table.
In order to undertake a balanced assessment of the future prospects for American rugged individualism, we should consider both reasons to be pessimistic as well as reasons to be optimistic about it. Such an evaluation might also indicate where supporters of rugged individualism might focus greater encouragement and resources, and where it seems important to stand and fight.
To read the rest of the essay: http://www.hoover.org/research/rugged-individualism-dead-or-alive-0
One topic that has pretty much been dropped from the political conversation is the federal debt. Under President Obama, the federal debt has nearly doubled, from around $10 trillion to $20 trillion. Unfortunately, it could grow even more under President Donald Trump.
In the campaign, Trump said he loved debt, having built a successful business career with it. If debt becomes a problem, he said he would renegotiate it with other countries, a very tough sell. And he talks about lots of federal spending, rebuilding the military and spending $1 trillion on infrastructure, while lowering taxes. It would take an unrealistic amount of economic growth to balance that budget.
The growing federal debt is a national security risk, placing too much of our economic future in the hands of other countries such as China. And it is an unfair transfer of responsibility from this generation to the next.
One meaningful step would be to finally address overblown entitlement programs. But something must be done about the debt.
Gordon Lloyd’s and my new book, Rugged Individualism: Dead or Alive?, is now available in both hard copy and e-reader formats.
It is available at Amazon.com, hooverpress.org and elsewhere.
Here are a few early comments on it:
“Davenport and Lloyd do an exquisite job in reminding us that ‘rugged individualism’ is and was a central feature of American character and civilization. More important, they detail the sustained attack on such individualism that commenced at the end of the nineteenth century, came to the forefront during the New Deal, and threatens to overwhelm us in the present. By focusing on the metaphor of ‘rugged individualism’ they have made a major contribution in the ongoing debate about American national identity.” —Nicholas Capaldi, Legendre-Soule Distinguished Chair of Business Ethics, Loyola University New Orleans
“What is ‘American rugged individualism’? In this short volume the authors not only answer that question but also provide a thumbnail historical sketch of its friends and opponents, a discussion of the ways in which it continues to shape our political debates, and a meditation on its future. Most importantly, they encourage the reader to engage these concerns and to come to their own conclusions on its importance and what its future should be.” —Steven D. Ealy, senior fellow at Liberty Fund, Inc., an Indianapolis-based educational foundation
In Rugged Individualism: Dead Or Alive?, David Davenport and Gordon Lloyd have produced a fascinating and insightful examination of a concept that is an essential part of the history and philosophy of the American spirit. This masterful analysis of a critical component of our national DNA, and the cogent exploration of its current status and future prospects, are most timely in view of our existing cultural confusion and moral ambiguity. —Ed Meese, III, former Attorney General of the United States
Since Ronald Reagan, Republican and Democrat presidents alike have grown the federal government and its role in our lives. From No Child Left Behind to environmental laws, the pattern has been more and more federal regulation.
The Trump administration may finally swing the pendulum of government power back toward the states. As a conservative former governor, vice president Mike Pence will champion state control. The new Secretary of Education favors vouchers, which means less government power over education. The heads of Energy and the Environment are both state officials who have fought federal power.
The most important questions the Trump administration can ask are: should the government act and, if so, which branch and which level? When the federal government has taken over everything from healthcare to the environment and education, it’s high time for an administration that asks those important federalism questions and returns power to individuals and to the states, as promised in the 9th and 10th Amendments.
To the list of 23 celebrities who have said they are leaving the country if Donald Trump became President, we can now add one of the 50 states. An effort is under way for California to secede from Donald Trump’s United States. “Calexit” seeks a ballot initiative or a constitutional amendment for California to leave the Union.
Perhaps they should study their American history because the last time this was tried, by the Confederate States in the 1860s, it ended rather badly. There is simply no constitutional basis for nullification or exit from the Union.
Meanwhile, San Francisco’s Mayor said they are doubling down on being a sanctuary city, openly welcoming and harboring people who violate the federal immigration laws. San Franciscans are incensed that Trump might pull their federal money for this.
Californians live in a bit of a dream world, voting radically differently than most any place else in the U.S. But even California must learn that elections have consequences.
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.
Beyond Trump’s rhetoric, two of his key economic programs are also likely to grow the budget deficit, not shrink it. He seems bound and determined to cut taxes, and the Republicans in Congress largely agree with him. And everyone—Republicans and Democrats alike—are ready to jump on the infrastructure bandwagon, spending upwards of $1 trillion in the coming decade to, as he said in his victory speech, “fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals” so that our infrastructure “will become second to none.” Reduce revenue by cutting taxes and increase spending on infrastructure—even I can do the math on 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.