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Podcast and Column on Rugged Individualism March 2, 2017

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Radio Interview Podcasts.
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The Washington Times has a syndicated column today with a segment on Gordon Lloyd’s and my new book on rugged individualism:


Also, the Conservative Book Club has released a podcast interview I did recently in their Washington, D.C. office about the new book:



Donald Trump Rediscovers Franklin Roosevelt’s Forgotten Man–Or Is It Someone Else? with Gordon Lloyd (History News Network) February 20, 2017

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
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With many uncertainties about Trumpism, one thing we know for sure: Donald Trump’s key constituency is “the forgotten men and women.” His first tweet as president-elect promised that “the forgotten man and woman will never be forgotten again.” Indeed, the forgotten men and women were recurring characters in a flurry of campaign speeches he gave just before the election, the people who “built our country,” he said, the “middle class.”

In his inaugural address, President Trump doubled down on this theme, saying “the forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer. Everyone is listening to you now.” He described them as holding a “crucial conviction that the nation exists to serve its citizens,” not the politicians and elites of Washington. What they want, Trump said, is “great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families and good jobs for themselves.” He called these “just and reasonable demands of a righteous people and a righteous public.”

Over 80 years ago, another wealthy New Yorker elected president with populist support, Franklin Roosevelt, introduced “the forgotten man” on the national stage. About a month after his inauguration, Roosevelt delivered a radio address—a 20th century version of Twitter—in which he 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 wished to replace an American icon, the rugged individual, with a new one, the forgotten man. For Roosevelt and the Progressives, rugged individualism only existed on Wall Street, where the business titans ruled and market forces had failed to protect Americans from economic disaster. Rugged individualism, Roosevelt said in a May 22, 1932 speech at Oglethorpe University, results in a lot of “haphazardness … gigantic waste …. superfluous duplication … dead-end trails … and waste of natural resources.” Roosevelt’s close advisor and Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes concluded that “we have turned our backs for all time on the dreadful implications in the expression ‘rugged individualism.’”

Instead the forgotten man, the man at the bottom of the economic ladder who needed help and support from the government against the vagaries of the market and the power of the business titans, would become the focus of federal policy. As New York Times columnist Timothy Egan would say 76 years later, with that radio talk lifting up the forgotten man, Roosevelt “found his theme, and the Democratic Party found its agenda for the next half-century” (or longer, we would argue).

But the origin of the term “forgotten man” was different from Roosevelt’s understanding. 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. Sumner described him this way: “The Forgotten man … works, votes, generally he prays—but he always pays.” Sumner’s more libertarian take on the forgotten man opposed special interest legislation, such as earmarks or targeted tax relief or protectionism, that benefited only a narrow group. In a sense, his forgotten man was more like President Richard Nixon’s “silent majority,” people who paid for the government but were unhappy with how things were going. But Roosevelt had a larger platform than Professor Sumner and it was his forgotten man, at the bottom of the economic pyramid, who is best remembered from history.

Which brings us to Donald Trump’s forgotten men and women: who are they? Are they Roosevelt’s forgotten man, or Sumner’s, or someone else altogether? Trump’s forgotten man and woman seem different from Roosevelt’s. If Roosevelt’s forgotten man had been overlooked and beaten down by the financial markets and needed government help and support, Trump’s forgotten men and women have been overlooked and beaten down by the federal government itself, and need a new set of government policies to make things right. Trump’s supporters, as he said in his inaugural address, were loyal tax-paying Americans but the government wasn’t working for them. Instead the government was made to work for the political elites. They paid their taxes but the roads, the schools, safe neighborhoods and things they cared about from government were neglected. Because of bad government trade policy, the forgotten men and women have seen their wealth shipped off to other countries.

Trump’s forgotten men and women need new government policies, but what kind? Does Trump want to return more power to rugged individuals and to state and local governments? Or is he more of a big government conservative who would keep the federal government large and active, but in favor of different policies to benefit the forgotten middle class? At this point, we simply don’t know the answer to this question. On one hand, Trump’s appointment of traditional conservatives to his cabinet and administration might suggest a reduction in the federal role, for example in education and the environment. But Trump’s stated desire to spend lavishly on infrastructure suggests big government and an even bigger federal debt. Which of these Trump’s will win out? Only time will tell.

In the end, Trump’s forgotten men and women sound more like, but not just like, Professor Sumner’s origin of the term. They are, like Sumner’s forgotten man, those who pray and always pay, but for whom the government has not by and large worked. In Trump’s view, the special interests that Sumner abhorred have gained more from government policy than the solid, tax-paying middle class.

Over 80 years, the primary rival to the forgotten man has been the rugged individual, who has been in constant retreat. We wish Trump’s revival of the forgotten men and women might mean room for greater individualism, but making America great again isn’t the same as making the individual central again. Trump is no Ronald Reagan, who said in his first inaugural that government was not the solution to our problems, government is the problem. Trump is no Herbert Hoover, who argued that the American system of rugged individualism need not be undone in order to deal with the economic crisis of the Depression.

Are Trump’s forgotten men and women more like Sumner’s or Roosevelt’s, or might they even be first cousins to Herbert Hoover’s rugged individual? So far Trump seems to be content with an unsatisfying mix, but time and policy will tell

To see the article at History News Network:


Religious Liberty Questions are in the Courts and Agencies (National radio commentary, Salem/Townhall) February 17, 2017

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
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Some churches took heart when President Trump said he would work to do away with the Johnson Amendment, part of the tax code that prohibits churches from endorsing political candidates.

But the really difficult and important issues of religious liberty lie elsewhere in the courts and federal agencies. And the question is what happens when civil rights protections based on the “equal protection” clause of the 14th Amendment clash with religious rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights recently found that exemptions for religious groups infringe on civil rights. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the Supreme Court in the gay marriage decision, said religious groups could teach their traditional values, but he ignored the stronger language of the First Amendment allowing them to actually practice it.

The most important steps President Trump can take to protect religious liberty are to appoint Supreme Court justices such as Neil Gorsuch and leaders of federal agencies who respect the First Freedom—religious freedom.

To listen to the audio:


Will Trump Get Past the Easy Religious Liberty Questions to the Hard One? (Forbes.com) February 15, 2017

Posted by daviddavenport in Newspaper Columns/Essays, Op/Eds.
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President Donald Trump recently announced in his own colorful way that he would “destroy” the Johnson Amendment, a 1954 amendment to the tax code that prohibits churches and other nonprofits from endorsing or opposing political candidates.  This appeared to be a gift from President Trump to the evangelical Christian community that ultimately supported his candidacy.  Shortly afterward, bills were introduced in both the House and the Senate to carry out the repeal.

Although this would be appreciated by some in the religious communities, endorsing candidates is not really the hot public policy issue in the evangelical world, nor is it clear parishioners would even appreciate hearing such political endorsements from their pulpits.  Oh occasionally you see something crazy, like the mayor of Houston who, in 2014, started to subpoena ministers’ sermons to see if they were opposing the city’s new Houston Equal Rights Ordinance the mayor had championed, leaving churches to wonder if their tax-exempt status was at risk.  But after a huge hue and cry erupted over her chilling religious rights under the First Amendment, the mayor backed down.

No, the pressing issue for evangelicals is the rapidly developing clash between the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the First Amendment right to free exercise of religion.  It reared its head in the Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) gay marriage case when U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, said that religious groups could “continue to advocate” and “teach” their views on marriage, but came short of saying they were free to “exercise” their views about marriage, which is the language of the First Amendment, if they came in conflict with the civil rights the Court affirmed for gay marriage.

The justices who dissented in the 5-4 case pointed out this looming conflict between the civil rights increasingly extended by court interpretations of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the First Amendment right to “free exercise” of religion.  Chief Justice Roberts acknowledged that the decision “creates serious questions about religious liberty” while offering “people of faith…no comfort.”   Justice Clarence Thomas was even more direct: “The majority’s decision threatens the religious liberty our Nation has long sought to protect.”  Expressing concern about Kennedy’s slight nod to religious groups’ ability to teach their values, Thomas said “religious liberty is about freedom of action in matters of religion.”

The same underlying issue—the clash between equal protection and free exercise of religion—was raised a few months ago in a report of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.  Lawyers and commissioners wrestled over this for three years, finally concluding that religious exemptions from civil rights protections “when they are permissible, significantly infringe upon these civil rights.”  All that basically tell us is that it’s a problem, a conflict that one commissioner, Peter Kirsanow, called “profound” noting that “the passions involved may be fiercer than in any civil rights since the 1960s.”

What seems to be developing is a very constrained view of exercising one’s religious liberty.  It’s ok as long as you confine it to the worship hour in the church house, but don’t try to exercise it in the work place or the larger world the rest of the week.  If you’re a religious college that doesn’t believe in gay marriage, good luck when a gay couple wants to live in your married housing, or when a Christian baker feels a constraint of religious conscience decorating a wedding cake for a gay marriage.

Ultimately, there are only a few ways presidents can address a tough dilemma likes this.  One would be to issue an executive order, or propose legislation, beefing up religious exemptions to civil rights laws.  Another would be to nominate judges, such as Neil Gorsuch, who have a record of supporting religious liberty.  Appointing new commissioners of federal agencies, such as the Civil Rights Commission, could also make a difference.

President Trump’s willingness to address the growing conflict between civil rights under the Fourteenth Amendment and free exercise of religion under the First Amendment, will be his big test on religious liberty.  Indeed it’s a huge and important test for our country as a whole.

To view the column at Forbes.com–


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

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.


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