jump to navigation

The Trump Flurry (National radio commentary, Salem/Townhall) February 14, 2017

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
comments closed

Not since the days of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, under the pressures of the Great Depression, have we seen an opening presidential act like Donald Trump’s. We have sent special forces to Yemen, left the Trans Pacific Trade Agreement, reopened major pipeline projects, nominated a Supreme Court justice, and changed the rules of immigration. At least one of his executive orders on travel is likely on its way to the Supreme Court.

We’ve seen strange scenes—Democrats holding a Senate sleepover to oppose a cabinet nominee, followed by the Vice President showing up to break a tie vote. We have praised old enemies and insulted allies.


How do we account for this presidential flurry of activity?  Some think Trump likes to create distractions, overwhelming the media and the government.  Perhaps it’s his businessman’s inclination to tackle several things at once.

But clearly both the media and the government will need to adjust to a new pace and a new style.  If people wanted change in Washington, they are certainly getting it.


To listen to the audio:  http://www.townhallreview.com

The Power and Peril of Executive Orders and Party-Line Votes (National radio commentary, Salem/Townhall) February 13, 2017

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
comments closed

In his first week in office, President Donald Trump managed to undo much of President Obama’s legacy via executive orders. This is a cautionary tale that presidents who lead by unilateral action, and pass important laws with party-line votes, can see their legacy quickly undone by the next president using the same tools. Immigration, health care, pipelines and environmental regulations—all changed with the stroke of pen.

How could that happen to Obamacare?—arguably the most important piece of domestic legislation in 50 years? It’s easy—when Democrats chose to pass it quickly on a party-line vote, the new Congress can repeal it on their own party-line vote.

Government used to be about deliberation, sitting down together to discuss policy, make amendments, build support. Now it’s about action and war on both sides.

The seeds of the Trump revolution were planted in the Obama years when he went too far left without broad support. A cautionary tale, but is anyone listening?

To listen to the audio:  http://www.townhallreview.c0m

How Trump Managed To Undo Obama’s Legacy In One Week (Forbes.com) January 27, 2017

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
comments closed

Week One of the Donald Trump presidency is a cautionary tale that presidents who build their legacy on executive orders and party-line votes may find their work undone rather quickly by the next administration using those same tools.  Donald Trump provided strong evidence for that proposition this week, signing four executive orders and eight presidential memoranda that, in just a matter of days, undercut key accomplishments of the Obama presidency.

It is a mistake to measure presidential power by simply counting the number of executive orders issued, as many have done.  On that score, Trump trailed his predecessor, issuing only four executive orders in his first week, compared with Obama’s five.  The important question is one of quality, not quantity:  what kind of issues did the president tackle via executive action?

Donald Trump’s executive orders were not addressed to the usual housekeeping functions of a new president.  Instead his four executive orders began to undo the signature legislative accomplishment of Obama’s two terms, Obamacare, while also ordering plans for a multi-billion dollar wall on the border with Mexico, defunding sanctuary cities, and expediting environmental reviews and approvals.  Huge issues:  health care, immigration, the environment, transformed with the stroke of his Century II Cross pen.

But the new president didn’t stop there.  He also issued eight presidential memoranda in his first week.  What is the difference between executive orders and presidential memoranda?  It’s a subtle one, with memoranda being less formal, not required to be publicly released, not published in the Federal Register, more easily overturned.  But still, using this tool, he took down even more of the Obama legacy:  withdrawing America from the TPP trade agreement, restricting funding for international organizations that provide abortion services, restarting two major pipeline projects, streamlining regulations on manufacturing and so forth.  Again major rollbacks of major Obama policies with the stroke of a pen.  Those whose legacy is built on executive orders may die by executive orders.

Meanwhile, no one doubts that Congress will in fact repeal and replace the signature accomplishment of the Obama administration:  Obamacare.  A major transformation of health care, and a huge expansion of the welfare state, Obamacare is arguably the most important piece of domestic legislation passed in 50 years.  So how could it be undone so easily?  Again the seeds of its undoing were planted in the process by which it was enacted.  When you pass a revolutionary reform such as Obamacare quickly, on a strict party line vote, it sits too lightly in the water, it has no ballast of support to make it through the changing tides and storms of politics.  It was passed by Democratic votes entirely, and it can now be undone by Republican votes alone.

The underlying problem is that policy is now made in Washington not by deliberation and compromise but by using the metaphors and strategies of war and action.  We do not seek broad-based support for new ideas, but rather a coalition of the willing who will vote to put something into action, or later vote to eliminate it.  No less a policy expert than a Fram oil filter installer said on a car repair commercial years ago: “You can pay me now or pay me later.”  In other words, you can do preventive maintenance up front, which will be cheaper and last longer, or you can wait until things break down and pay a higher price.  That’s where we are on policy.  By not taking the time up front to develop broader coalitions in favor of some kind of incremental step on something like healthcare or immigration, instead we bet the farm on more grandiose ideas, implemented with the weak tools of executive orders and party-line votes in Congress.

The seeds of the Trump revolution were planted in the Obama years, not only by going too far left, but by enacting changes with limited support and weak tools.  But so far Trump is traveling the same path.  The road back to deliberation and compromise will be long, hard and difficult, but it’s the only way to ensure long-term changes.

To view the column at Forbes.com:


Donald Trump’s Inaugural Address: Can You Hear Me Now? (Forbes.com) January 20, 2017

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.
comments closed

Did anyone seriously expect to hear a different Donald Trump as president than they experienced as a candidate?  If so, they were disappointed by Trump’s inaugural address.  It was direct, it repeated his campaign promises, and then, in about 16 minutes, it was finished.   Referring to politicians who are “constantly complaining and never doing anything about it,” he said “the time for talking is over, now is the time for action.”

The big question going into the speech was whether Trump would follow the path of most inaugural addresses and seek to heal the nation from the divisions of the political campaign.  Although he spoke words of unity, his basic approach to this question was to double down on his populist campaign.  His idea of healing America is to put people back to work and to carry out policies that are aimed at putting America first.  If you have different ideas, he didn’t really seek to embrace you or bring you into the fold.

In particular, he did not offer any love to the politicians with whom he must now work.  Clearly, in his mind, they are part of the problem, not part of the solution.  He said that “Washington has flourished” and “the establishment has protected itself” while “the people have borne the cost.”  The peaceful transfer of power was, Trump said, not just from one president to another, but from Washington, D.C. to the people.  The outsider president seems content for now to remain outside.

The 2016 election has been called the “can you hear me now?” election.   To this end, Trump continued the theme from his first tweet as president-elect about the forgotten men and women who will never be forgotten again.  In his inaugural address he said “the forgotten men and women of the country will be forgotten no more, everyone is listening to you now.”  Trump’s forgotten men and women are different, however, from President Franklin Roosevelt’s “forgotten man” for whom he built his New Deal policies.  Trump’s forgotten men and women are not, by and large, on welfare, but they are hard-working Americans who feel the government has let them down.  They are closer to President Richard Nixon’s “silent majority” than Roosevelt’s “forgotten man.”  But clearly this is Trump’s constituency, one he says he will not forget.

He doubled down on his campaign themes about the problems of trade, immigration, and putting people back to work.  He said “we will follow two rules:  buy American and hire American.”  A “new vision will govern our land,” he added, saying from this day forward it will be “America first, America first.”  He repeated his promise to build highways and airports, putting Americans to work rebuilding our infrastructure.  One wonders how conservatives will handle so much federal spending.

On foreign policy he promised to eradicate radical Islam, but otherwise sounded more of an isolationist tone: “We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone.”  Still, for those concerned about NATO, he said we would strengthen existing alliances and build new ones.  But clearly economic concerns at home are likely to build tensions abroad, since Trump’s concern is that the people’s “wealth has been ripped from their homes and redistributed around the world.”

There was no memorable rhetoric, no “ask not what your country can do for you,” or “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”  On the other hand, with rain starting to fall as Trump began his speech, he didn’t fall into the abyss of Benjamin Harrison’s inaugural address which went on so long he caught a cold and died of pneumonia the following month.  No, this was a workmanlike address, doubling down on his campaign promises and rhetoric, from a president who himself is ready to make the transition from mere talk to action.

To read the column at Forbes.com:



Battle Lines are Redrawn as Democrats Rediscover the 10th Amendment and State Power (Forbes.com) January 13, 2017

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.
comments closed

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.”

Democrats are stronger in the big cities than they are in the states so look for their new progressivism to face challenges.  We are already seeing Republicans at the state level telling cities that their progressive policies on the minimum wage, or fracking, or bans on plastic bags are “preempted” by state laws to the contrary.  Ohio, for example, has preempted local efforts to raise the minimum wage, saying it is a state matter.  And legislatures in Michigan and Wisconsin have both passed laws saying local governments are preempted from banning plastic bags.  Other states have preempted cities from banning fracking.

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.

To view the column at Forbes.com:


A Tale of Two Trumps (National radio commentary, Salem/Townhall) January 13, 2017

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
comments closed
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.


Original posting at:

Rugged Individualism (Interview with Mary Kissel, Opinion Journal, WSJ) January 12, 2017

Posted by daviddavenport in Television.
comments closed

I will spare you most of the interviews related to the release of Gordon Lloyd’s and my new book, but here is a short one with Mary Kissel of the Wall Street Journal that might be of interest:


Rugged Individualism: Dead or Alive? (Essay at Defining Ideas) January 10, 2017

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
comments closed

“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

Fear More Federal Deficits (National radio commentary, Salem/Townhall) January 7, 2017

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
comments closed
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.

Rugged Individualism Book Now Available January 1, 2017

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
comments closed

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