During his victory speech after the shocking conclusion of America’s Next Top President, I heard Trump use a phrase that had me immediately running to my bookshelf. It was the title of a promo book I had grabbed while I was still back at the commercial radio station (probably off of Lars Larson’s book pile). I knew that the use of the phrase was important and that it would be a part of the context of the coming Trump administration. That is, unless, some giant war comes along to take away our worries about what’s happening at home – but what are the odds of that?
In an Orlando Sentinel article from January 2nd, “Trump Dare Not Forget His Promise To “The Forgotten Man”,” it notes that:
One key to Trump’s victory was his ability to break through the Blue Wall of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. A clue to how Trump breached this Democratic stronghold can be found in one line of his victory speech: “The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.“
Who is the forgotten man? That depends on whom you ask.
On April 7, 1932, the forgotten man was thrust onto the political stage during a fireside chat made by Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt to the American public on a new medium — radio. During his address, Roosevelt referred to “… the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid.” The phrase described Depression-era men who were poor and needed a New Deal.
At the time, Roosevelt’s supporters feared he was sowing the seeds of class conflict. Undeterred, Roosevelt believed his party’s future depended upon casting the poor as a community of victims of the rich who never pay their fair share. For the past 80 years, the fires of class warfare have been stoked by the left’s appeal to the forgotten man on the bottom rung of the economic ladder.
Author Amity Schlaes reminds us that to accomplish his political objectives, Roosevelt, and those who followed in his footsteps, highjacked the original meaning of the phrase. In “The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression,” Schlaes reports the phrase originated with Yale professor William Graham Sumner.
An illustrated edition of Amity Shlaes’s #1 New York Times bestseller, featuring vivid black-and-white illustrations that capture this dark period in American history and the men and women, from all walks of life, whose character and ideas helped them persevere.
This imaginative illustrated edition brings to life one of the most devastating periods in our nation’s history — the Great Depression — through the lives of American people, from politicians and workers to businessmen, farmers, and ordinary citizens. Smart and stylish, black-and-white art from acclaimed illustrator Paul Rivoche provides an utterly original vision of the coexistence of despair and hope that characterized Depression-era America. Shlaes’s narrative and Rivoche’s art illuminate key economic concepts, presenting the thought-provoking case that New Deal regulation prolonged the Depression.
When this graphic edition was released in 2014, the Washington Times wrote that:
“The Forgotten Man” is, above all, a critique of the Progressive effort, and the artistic rendering of a cast of Progressive characters uses shadow and obscurity to emphasize the top-down, faceless, bureaucratic style of managing the economy… A customer insists to the authoritarian poultry inspector, Mr. Alampi: “The Schechters know their business, mister,” to which Alampi replies, “That’s for the code to decide, pal.” Roosevelt’s face itself is never seen, what we are often treated to is a looming cigarette holder protruding from a silhouette of his head…
Also powerful is the constant refrain of “the forgotten man,” a phrase originally used to refer to the public victimized by redistributionist schemes. “The Forgotten Man,” wrote Charles Sumner in 1883, “is the man who pays. The man who prays. The man who is never thought of.” … The same “Forgotten Man” phrase was later co-opted by Roosevelt to strike a chord with the economically downtrodden, an irony that Ms. Shlaes, Mr. Rivoche and Mr. Dixon do not let us forget.
A significant dimension, no doubt intentional, to the work is the political and policy similarities of the 1930s and the 2010s…
Now if you go to YouTube, you find that most of the people and places praising and pushing Amity Shlaes’ work are the not quite the so-called free market champions we’d like to see, instead it’s just the same old usual suspects: the Council On Foreign Relations (of which she is a member), the Hoover Institution (where that clip of the author talking about the Schechter Brothers comes from), the Charles Koch Institute (yes, of the infamous Koch Brothers).
After Obama’s win in 2008, Shlaes wrote an Op-Ed for the Washington Post called, “A Chilling Uncertainty: The Lessons of Roosevelt’s Experimentation”. The CFR has a copy on their website. Eight years later, after the inauguration of America’s Next Top President, she wrote another piece, this time for Bloomberg. In the article, “Defining ‘Forgotten Man’ Is Key to Trump’s Presidency,” Shlaes writes:
“The Forgotten Man” is not likely to be forgotten in the Trump presidency. In his inaugural address, the new chief executive promised that “the forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer. Everyone is listening to you now.” Trump was reprising a mention of “forgotten men and women” made back in November, in his victory speech…
So who precisely is this Forgotten Man?
In fact, two opposing Forgotten Men figure in American history. Which one Trump actually backs will determine what kind of presidency his ends up being.
The more familiar Forgotten Man was the brainchild of another populist campaigner, Franklin Roosevelt. During the 1932 presidential campaign, a point when two in 10 workers were unemployed, Roosevelt expressed concern for “the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid.” The New York governor meant the poor man, whose poverty he blamed on a failure of Wall Street…
Roosevelt’s is the first Forgotten Man who comes to mind now. But in those days, another version was just as familiar. That was the one captured by a legendary Yale professor named William Graham Sumner. His Forgotten Man was an anonymous figure, suffering the collateral damage of a project advanced to help the group identified as vulnerable. In Sumner’s definition, he was “the man who pays, the man who prays, the man who is not thought of.”…
So which Forgotten Man will Trump make his own?
That 2014 Washington Times review we mentioned earlier also illuminates us on some of the fans of Shlaes work – we just didn’t really know their names yet – unless you were from Indiana. The Times notes that the original 2007 version of “The Forgotten Man” was “denigrated by intellectuals like Jonathan Chait and Paul Krugman, but praised by former Sen. Jon Kyl and former Rep. and now Gov. Mike Pence.”
So it seems we reach another false choice between fake heroes and villains. The new swamp-fillers in the District Of Criminals aren’t going to do anything real for any of the real forgotten men or women – or anyone else that doesn’t come from Goldman Sachs, Exxon, Raytheon and the rest.
The real forgotten men or women need to forget about relying on the state – and remember to try and empower themselves the best they can.
Monarchy Marketplace: Buy “The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression (Graphic Edition)” on Amazon and Support Our Work
Donald Trump’s Entire Election Victory Speech
Transcript: Donald Trump’s Victory Speech
YouTube: “Amity Shlaes The Forgotten Man”
New Yorker: Amity Shlaes’s Anti-New Deal Graphic Novel
Washington Times: “The Forgotten Man” Book Review
Orlando Sentinel: Trump Dare Not Forget His Promise To “The Forgotten Man”
Whatever Gods There Be: Comic Book Site Reviews “The Forgotten Man”
Amity Shlaes: “A Chilling Uncertainty: The Lessons of Roosevelt’s Experimentation”
Amity Shlaes: “Defining ‘Forgotten Man’ Is Key to Trump’s Presidency”