Americans have been losing trust in the presidency and the Executive Branch in general. Until 2006, the majority of Americans trusted the federal Executive Branch “a fair amount” or “a great deal.” The one exception was 1974 with its recorded-setting low of 40 percent, due to the Watergate crimes. By contrast, in 10 of the 14 years from 2006 through 2019, most people reported they trusted the Executive Branch “not very much” or “not at all.” In fact, trust and distrust of the presidency (and of government in general) was an issue from the very beginning, when the framers were debating how to design our Constitution.
When the framers created the presidency, they were intent on solving two trust-related problems. One problem was how to harness political competition for the public good without the polarizing consequences they observed in England and Europe. The other problem was how to balance the need for an empowered executive to get things done against the risk of a tyrannical executive. Their ultimate goal was to create a republic where supreme power would be invested in its citizens and their elected representatives, and where the laws would serve all citizens equally, rather than the interests of a royal family or a partisan president.
The framers overcame their distrust by using the Constitution to limit the authority and autonomy of the presidency and by requiring accountability to Congress. How they did this – and what happened after – is the subject of our new short course entitled Trust & The Presidency. Part One describes how and why the framers designed the Constitution as they did. Parts Two through Six review the many ways that the presidency changed after the Constitution was made effective. Part Seven proposes some ways that citizens can help “keep the republic,” and some ways citizens can make it more likely the Executive Branch will serve them better.
- Part 1: Learn how the framer’s distrust motivated constitutional constraints on the presidency. Learn the main parts of the President’s job description.
- Part 2: Learn how voters and political parties affect presidential power and accountability.
- Part 3: Learn how the original powers assigned to the presidency were deepened over time.
- Part 4: Learn about how Congress delegated powers to the presidency: budgetary, regulatory, and bureaucratic.
- Part 5: Learn about implied constitutional powers, including the ability to issue executive orders and use discretion in which laws to enforce and how.
- Part 6: Learn about presidential accountability, executive privilege, and immunity.
- Part 7: Learn about our role in keeping the Republic. Learn what citizens can do to get the best from the presidency.
Complete this short civics course and decide for yourself: is the Office of the President (past, present, or future), too strong or too weak? Do most modern presidents serve all Americans or just some Americans? Who is the President accountable to, if anyone? Staying vigilant to these issues and the evolving nature of the presidency (and the Constitution itself) is critically important to any American who loves liberty, fairness, and accountability.
You may also be interested in our additional short civics courses entitled America: Republic or Democracy, Democracy is Precious, What Governments Do, Trust & Distrust, and Fear & Fear-Mongering.
If you liked this course, please do share it with others. And let us know what other topics you are interested in. Write to us at team@CFFAD.org.
Photo credit: whitehouse.gov