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The Unraveling 3: How the Character of America Changed

February 2, 2017 0 Comments

theunravelingIn a recent post, I made mention of something Pastor George Docherty had said regarding his sermon that led to the inclusion of the words “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.  In that post, I noted that Dr. George Docherty preached a sermon to commemorate the 150th birthday of Abraham Lincoln.  The year was 1954.  Drawing from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, Docherty declared that to omit the words “Under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance was to omit “the characteristic and definitive factor in the American Way of Life.”  Reflecting back on that time in his autobiography, I’ve Seen the Day, Docherty went on to say:[i]

“I still consider my reasoning to be valid, but the times should have overruled my philosophical arguments as irrelevant in light of the greater issues at hand. … As such, the new Pledge unfortunately served as one more prop supporting the civil religion that characterized the institutional Christianity of the fifties.”

In other words, something had changed such that the words “Under God” no longer served as the definitive characteristic of the American Way of Life, as it had in Lincoln’s day.  What had happened?  Writing for the Hoover Institution’s Policy Review’s August/September 2001 issue, Lawrence M. Stratton and Paul Craig Roberts wrote:

“The great depression’s most serious and long-lasting consequence was not the collapse of prices and employment, but the displacement of the traditional reliance on individual responsibility with government guarantees of security. Beginning with Social Security, these guarantees have grown into the all-encompassing welfare state. This has changed the character of the American people, and it has changed the character of their government.” (emphasis added)

responsibilityvssecurityAmity Shlaes expanded on this topic in her seminal work The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression.  She focuses on the year 1936 as the year we created the “modern entitlement challenge” as Roosevelt figuratively re-wrote the definition of the word “liberal,” changing its application from individual liberty and individual rights to that of group identity and rights.[ii]

Shlaes explains that the title of her book comes from an essay by the same name written in 1883 by Yale professor William Graham Sumner.  Sumner posited four men.  Two of them, A and B, observe a third man, X, who is in need.  They decide to use the machinery of government bureaucracy to transfer wealth to this third man, X.  But the man who pays for this wealth transfer is neither A nor B, but a fourth man, C, whom we today might say is among the middle or lower middle class.  In Sumner’s original construct, C was the forgotten man.

Shales noted that the Roosevelt Administration took this concept and made the welfare recipient, X, the “forgotten man,” rather than C, the man Sumner first wrote about.  Shlaes continued: “To justify giving to one forgotten man, the administration found, it had to make a scapegoat of another.  Businessmen and businesses were the targets.”

If you click on this link you can see a history of income tax rates for the US.  Take a look at what they were in 1928, and compare that to 1932.

There, did you see that in 1928, the poorest earning less than $4,000 paid 1.5%, while the richest earning over 100,000 paid 25%?  In 1932, we passed a massive tax increase, resulting in the poorest were paying 4%, and the richest earning over $1,000,000 were paying 63%. And those earning more than $38,000 saw their income tax rate rise from what it had been before (15%) to 25%.

Now, if you saw that your income taxes were going to triple, what would you do?  If you said “try to avoid paying income taxes,” you’re not alone. Rich people started investing in municipal bonds and other things that are not taxed.  As a result, the proportional income contribution of individuals making over $300,000 actually declined from a 23.5 percent share of total revenues to 18.4 percent.  On the other hand, people earning less than $25,000 saw the percentage of the total tax bill they were paying increase from 21 to 36.5. (See, for example, ).

In other words, trying to get the rich to pay more in taxes backfired:  It was the middle class that ended up carrying more of the load.

In recent years, this effort to blame the rich and successful business people came to a head in 2008 while then Senator Barack Obama was campaigning for President in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio and met Joe Wurzelbacher.  From the following interview, in which President Obama mentioned the need to “spread the wealth around,” Mr. Wurzelbacher became known as “Joe the Plumber.”

Today, the stigma of being a “welfare recipient” has been all but removed, as we now refer to such individuals as “welfare clients.”  In 2016, the Forgotten Man spoke out.  Millions of “Joe the Plumbers” rose up and objected to having their hard earned cash given to those who did little more than fill out a form to apply for food stamps or other form of welfare.

The concept of the Forgotten Man is not confined, however, to the idea of one man, C, being taxed to finance the lifestyle of another man, X.  In the next article in my series of posts on The Unraveling, I will explore how the Forgotten Man analogy can be applied to the issue of education and what I call “The Forgotten Student.”   Click to read the first and second posts in this series.

This series is based on an essay that I have written which you can find at  In that essay I lay out my thoughts as concisely as I can, with a full series of references endnotes (27 for those with a scholarly bent).  In this series of posts, I wish to expand on the original essay, and make it easier to digest via social media.

I also wish to invite a discussion on this topic.  To do so, please see my posts at DISQUS.

It’s time that all of us work together to reverse course, and restore the American spirit of self-reliance and pride in self-accomplishment exemplified the American spirit.

[i] Docherty, George M. (1984) I’ve Seen the Day, p. 160. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI.

[ii] Shlaes, Amity (2008). The Forgotten Man:  A New History of the Great Depression, p. 11.  New York, NY, Harper Collins

About the Author:

David Lantz is a self-published author, adjunct college professor and leadership consultant. Visit my online courses at and like my facebook page at and

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