The Presidency in the Twenty-First Century

The Presidency in the Twenty-First Century

The Presidency in the Twenty-First Century

The Presidency in the Twenty-First Century

Excerpt

The tyranny of the legislature is really the danger most to be feared,
and will continue to be for many years to come. The tyranny of the
executive power will come in its turn, but at a more distant period.

—Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, March 15, 1789

Isaac Newton’s first law, the law of inertia, states that an object once in motion will continue in motion unless acted upon by outside forces. In 1787 when the Founders of the United States set presidential power in motion, they created a force far more powerful than their intentions. Now for 225 years the momentum of presidential power has gradually accelerated. And as its power has increased so, too, have the public’s expectations. The combination of increasing power and rising expectations has generated friction as outside forces have acted to limit presidential power and as presidential performance has failed to live up to expectations. Simply put, the history of the presidency reveals a disparity between the power and the promise of presidential leadership and presidential performance.

Thomas Jefferson understood that presidential power and presidential leadership were like an optical illusion. They are not what they seem, especially in the twenty-first century. So it was that in 1789 Jefferson forecast the fundamental problem of today’s presidency. He foresaw that while the Constitution of 1787 appeared to create a presidency constrained by constitutional boundaries, it actually created opportunities for expanded power. Now, more than two centuries of expanded . . .

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