The American Presidency in Historical Perspective with David Kennedy, '63
Even though it's only virtual, i'm just very pleased that you're all here and happy that we have this time together if only in this, oddball. Circumstance. So, my subject. Today is the american, presidency. In historical. Perspective, or context, and i essentially want to do three things. I want to, rehearse, a bit of a brief, constitutional. History of the presidency, that is how it. Got established, in the first place and what its strict constitutional. History looks like. Then i want to spend some time talking about what i'll call extra constitutional. Developments. That have. Evolved, over two plus centuries of american history and how they have affected. The presidency. And indeed how the presidency. Has interacted, with these various developments. Three in particular. Political, practice. Secondly. Developments, in society, and the economy, and thirdly. And where i will, place a certain amount of emphasis. Uh technological, innovations, especially, in the realm of mass. Communication. Which have put, significant, pressures on the presidency. To be a different kind of institution. Than the constitution, provided, for so the tension between. The evolution, of society. And technology. And the, more or less constitutionally. Static, character of the presidency. Is sort of the major running theme, of this presentation. I also, will try to conclude, with some remarks, about how. The presidency, looks today. And what the presidency, looks like as an item. In our larger. Political. Culture, and. I, put you on notice here this i hope will be enlightening. But i don't promise that it will be uplifting, because i think we have some we're going to see some deep structural, issues. In the nature of our political, system and institutions. That are. Approaching, some kind of an acute phase. So let me begin with some numbers. Uh there have been 45. Presidencies. But only, 44. Persons who have served as president. Thanks to the peculiar, way that we count the, two non-consecutive. Administrations. Of grover cleveland, back in the 19th century. All 44. Of those, presidents, have been males. All but two of them have been white. Protestant, males. 17, of them. 17, of the 44. Have been elected to second terms, which is some kind of a rudimentary. Indicator. Of the character of our political system, and its volatility. That scarcely, more than a third, of our chief executives. Of, beginning in the 18th century. Have been elected to a second term for one reason or another. Eight have died in office. Four have been assassinated. Five, have been elected, without, popular, majorities. Uh three have been impeached. Two of those, in, the lifetime, of many people. Uh with us here today. But of all those numbers. The one that i want to emphasize. The, most. Is simply the number, one. By that i mean that the president. Is simply, one. Of the, 536. Elected officials. In washington d.c now he's five strictly speaking it's 537.. 535. Members of the united states congress, 100 in the, senate, 435. In the house. And i'm treating the president vice president for this purpose as a single political. Entity, so the president. Is one of. 536. Elected officials. And when i reflect, on that, asymmetry. Between the one, president, and 535. Other elected, federal officials. I'm reminded, of a. Quip by. The journalist. Theodore, white who wrote several books on presidential, elections, beginning 1960.. In one of those books he said. The supreme, duty. Of the president. Is to protect. Us. From each other's, congressmen. Now he meant it humorously, but there's i think a kind of a deep political, insight, contained, in that uh quip.
So Let's keep that in mind that the president, is one of, 536. Elected officials, in washington dc, but one. The only one elected, nationally. As distinct, from the, geographically. Specific, places from which representatives. And senators, come. So let's go back to uh philadelphia. In the summer. Of 1787. When those. Founding fathers, sat down to draft the constitution. We've lived under. Ever, since. Uh it's worth remembering, that among the innovations, that the founders. Came up with at that constitutional, convention, 1787. Independence, hall. You see here the room the outside of the building. The lower right the room in which they sat. And today. In independent solar nearby, actually. You can. Visit a room in which there are life-size, statues, of. The various people who attended that constitutional, convention. A reminder, that we remain historically, fascinated, with that moment and we live with its consequences. Still after. All these, years. But among the things that was, among the innovations. That the founders came up with in 1787. Was the institution, of the presidency. There was no, comparable. Institution. Or office under the articles of confederation. And there was no executive, function of the articles, and there was nothing resembling. What we think of as the presidency. In the colonial period of american history. The, rough equivalent, to the president, in the colonial, period were the colonial, governors. But the governors in each of the 13, colonies, were royally, appointed, not elected locally. And they were often royally, resented. Because of the distant, arbitrary, basis, of their, authority, in the crown. And in parliament. So, james, wilson, is, represented, from pennsylvania. Is often thought of as the person who thought most. And advocated, most for the creation, of a. Strong presidency. Replacing, the. Well, making up for the fact there was no president under the articles of confederation. And. Wilson said that the method of choosing the president, was the. Single. Most perplexing. Item. That the constitutional. Founders. Had to address, in 1787.. So, the debate about the nature of the presidency. And, what it would be, is. Was there from the outset, it's been a controversial. Institution, an innovative, institution. But one that's been beset by controversy, i daresay contradiction. Uh ever since. So alexander, hamilton was another, person who in the, debates over the constitution. Excuse me was. Also an advocate, for a strong, executive. James wilson, wanted, the, president, elected, by popular, vote. Uh what i would call a kind of plebiscitarian. Institution, as he saw it. And he wanted. The direct election of the president by the, voting citizenry, at large. He and alexander, hamilton, both, wanted, a pretty robust, executive. Here's what hamilton, had to say about the presidency. In federalist, number 70.. He said a feeble executive, implies, a feeble, execution, of the government. Of feeble executions. But another phrase for a bad execution. And a government, ill-executed. Whatever it may be in theory. Must be in practice a bad government. Again a remark, worth keeping in mind as we think about. The history of this institution, and how it is, that history has deposited, us. At the place where we are. Today. So to repeat, james wilson, wanted, a direct or plebiscitarian. Electoral, mechanism, to choose the president united states. He recognized, as we've recognized, ever since that the president, is the one. Single, actor in our political, system. Who represents, the country, at large, not simply. Individual, congressional, districts, or individual. States. But of course as we know that's not what we got we did not get a direct election the president we got the electoral. College which is still with us. And the electoral, college, is but one reminder, among several. Of how wary, our founders, were, of direct. Democracy. Another reminder of that is the fact that down until the early 20th century. United states senators, were elected not directly, by popular, vote.
But They were appointed by state legislatures. Another indirect, method of selecting, popular. Representatives. So, it's again, these items are both reminders, that the founders, had a certain degree of skepticism. About direct democracy. But the evolution. Of, various political institutions. Has been in the direction of more and more, direct democracy. And, though it may be heretical, to say it, that may be a source of some of the problems. That we've. Faced in our own time. Here's another reminder. About something, that is important to remember, about the, presidency. That's another set of numbers if i can do that again. Article, one. Of the constitution. Comes first, the first thing to notice that's why it's called, article one. And it deals with the legislative, branch. And it describes, the method of electing, the two chambers, of the legislative, branch, and, the functions, and rights and responsibilities. Limitations. On the congress. That article contains 51, paragraphs. Article, 2. Note the sequence. Deals with the executive. And it, contains, just 13, paragraphs. And, the majority, of those paragraphs, have to do with the way. The president, is elected. And one of those, paragraphs, has to deal, deals with the way the president can be impeached. So again here's another reminder. In the numbers. The asymmetry. Between 51, paragraphs. Devoted, to the. Definition. Of the legislators. Legislatures. Functions, and prerogatives, and so on, and just 13 paragraphs. Devoted, to the executive. Is another reminder. Of where the founders, thought the seat of government, the seat of authority and legitimacy. In the government. Really was most, centrally, located, and that was in the legislature. Not in the executive. And again we're reminded, uh yet again, of, the importance, of that asymmetry. And what the founders thought would be. The heart of government in the legislature.
When We recollect, that down, to the, 1830s. To 1832. To be exact. Uh presidential, candidates, were nominated, by caucuses. In the congress. The first convention. Of a political, party. To nominate a presidential, candidate taking that function out of the hands of a congressional, caucus and putting in the hands of a much more broadly based party. Was a, convention, convened, by, the, so-called anti-masonic. Party. In 1832. And all parties soon thereafter, the whigs the democrats, and so on and right down to our own time. Who went to the nominating, convention. Which was meant to be more inclusive. And more democratic. In selecting, a presidential, candidate. Than the rather, closed, door behind closed door function of a congressional. Caucus so the very first innovation, that we see. Historically. In the evolution of the presidency, as an institution. That is going to nominating, conventions. And. Departing, from the practice of using congressional, caucuses. Was done in the name of more democracy. And more. Inclusion, again a harbinger, of what is to come, in many ways in our political. Culture. So the system existed, for the better part of the first century, of the republic's. History. Down to the late 19th or early 20th century. But by the late 19th, century, a number of people. Were beginning to. Wonder, if, the. Legacy, constitutional. System. Congress at its center and a rather, feeble executive. Compared, to. Parliamentary. Systems where the prime minister. Is also, the leader of the legislative, branch. As well as in charge of the executive, function. A number of people were beginning to wonder if this, system was any longer. Appropriate, or optimal. For a society, now approaching 100 million people. With a modern rapidly, industrializing. Economy. On the verge of assuming, major international, responsibilities. And one of the first people to make a really sustained. Case. About. The. The, limitations. On the legacy, system of the relation between congress and the presidency. Was a young graduate, student, at. Johns hopkins, university. In. The 1880s. His name was thomas. Woodrow, wilson. And he wrote a doctoral dissertation.
With The title simply congressional. Government. And it was later published as a book and to this day. Woodrow wilson's book now 150. Years old almost. Is probably, one of the most incisive, things ever written, about the nature, of the american, congress. And how it functions or dysfunctions. In wilson's, view. It's permissible, i think to read the title of wilson's, word congressional, government. As a kind of oxymoron. Because the burden of the book. Was that congress, by its very nature. Was incapable. Of coherent. Government, of the kind that a modern. Industrialized. World power almost, society. Absolutely, needed. And here. I'll give you just uh share with you one paragraph. From that work, congressional, government by woodrow wilson published in the 1880s. He said the following. In the united states congress. Nobody. Stands, sponsor. For the policy, of the government. A dozen men originated. A dozen compromises. Twist, and alter it. A dozen, offices, whose names are scarcely, known out of washington. Put it into execution. Policy, cannot be either prompt, or straightforward. When it must serve, many masters. It must either equivocate. Or hesitate. Or fail. Altogether. The division of authority. And concealment, of responsibility. Are calculated, to subject the government. To a very. Distressing. Paralysis. Now i think, you really have to pinch yourself, we have to pinch ourselves to remember that those words that i've just shared with you were not written in 2020. But 135. Years ago in, 1885. And many of the problems, or. Issues that. Wilson identified, as, residing, in the congress. Are still with us today it's the place where presidential, initiatives, and all kinds of initiatives. Largely. Go to die. So. The criticism. Of the relationship, between congress and the presidency. And. An increasingly. Articulated. Desire. That the president, become, a more active, and salient. And leaderly, figure in the political, system really dates from the very late 19th century. And begins to become, a some degree of political, reality, despite, constitutional, restrictions. In the early 20th century especially, in the. Administrations. Of theta roosevelt, and of course woodrow wilson. And here i shared with you on screen another. Of wilson's, aphorisms. In this regard, when he said the president, is at liberty.
Both In law and conscience. To be as big a man as he can, there is a very explicit. Declaration. Of the wish that the president, have more. Responsibility. Visibility. Salience, and consequence. In the american political, system. So there are two. Two or possibly, three, innovations. In our political, culture. Largely having to do with the presidency. That began to be visible in the very early 20th century, especially, in the administrations. Of, theodore roosevelt, and woodrow, wilson. The first has to do, with the fact that, beginning with theodore. Roosevelt. And the program that he called and campaigned, on. The slogan he assigned to it was a square, deal. Square deal roosevelt, square deal could be seen as the first instance. Of a president, laying out a coherent. Nationally, scaled. Package, of policy, initiatives. For which he the president would stand as champion. There's really nothing comparable, to that in the 19th century. Various presidents, expressed various aspirations. And so on as they went along but a square deal was thought to be. A, multi-pronged. Carefully, thought out. Program, for a coherent, policy, package to take the country. Forward. And we see successors. To that, initiative. Of presidents, laying out and campaigning, on coherent policy. Proposals. Right down to our own day, woodrow wilson. Campaigned, on something called the new, freedom. Herbert hoover campaign, on something called new era. We have a new deal, in franklin roosevelt, of course fair deal of harry truman. And on and on right down to, what today, some have called. The ordeal. But the the point is, simply. Without any joking around about it that it's only in the early 20th century that the president really steps forward. As the actor in our political, system. Who aspires. To enact. A coherent, policy, package. And. I would say only rarely, succeeds, in doing so so some of the frustrations. That we experience today in our political, system, our polarization. And paralysis. Are in many ways built into the clash of expectations. About what the president, could and should and wanted to do. And the still existing, constitutional. Restraints, that define the boundary. Being, between president, and congress. And it's only on rare occasions. That, the president and the congress, really align, in their aspirations. And, make, for major transformations. Or improvements, or whatever. In our political. System. So that's one innovation that comes to us from the early, 20th century it has to do with the president, standing, up now and standing, forward before the electorate. As the vessel, and the, agent. Of significant, and coherent, nationally, scaled. Policies. Second innovation, has to do with. Technology. We see its origins, here in the late 19th early 20th century it has to do with the. Um. The distribution, of mass circulation, newspapers. Two of the most famous. Um. Actors in this drama were, joseph pulitzer, seen here on the right william randall first on the left. Pulitzer's, world, and her, journal. Became, organs, for, mass distribution, of political, messages, and, news in general. And woodrow wilson, became, arguably, the first president to really, use publicity. As an administrative. Tool or a political tool i should say. When he used. Publicity, through the newspapers. To. End run congress, or browbeat, congress.
Into Passing, major reform legislation. In the. 1913-2017. Period before world war one put a stop. To a lot of that kind of reform, but. Reforms. Affecting the creation of the federal reserve system for example the first income tax. Antitrust, legislation, labor legislation. So on and so forth. And wilson, was an. Accomplished. Publicist. And, used, self-consciously. Used publicity. Appealing to the public at large. As a way to, force congress, to, his will he was also the first. President, since. Thomas, well first president says john adams actually. To go in person, to congress. To deliver his annual state of the union message, for more than a century, the whole 19th century. Presidents had simply sent their state of the union message in writing to congress. Another reminder. That the president did not. Normally, feature himself. As the leader of congress, or as the principal, actor in the political system, that begins to change at least, optically. In the early 20th century and woodrow wilson. In some ways is a shorthand reminder, of that. But i want to stick with this business about communications. Technology, for just a minute. Because i think it's it comes this this the chain of events that begin with mass circulation, newspapers, and their political utilization. In the early 20th century, is a chain that extends, right down. 100 years later in the early 21st, century. All the technologies. Change. But let's just remember what happens, next. Wilson. Uses, newspapers. As mass circulation, or mass communication, devices. To make bend the congress to his will. Franklin roosevelt, uses, the next. Generation, of technological. Innovation, and communication, technologies. The radio. Here he is delivering one of his, 30. Fireside, chats. And on the right you can see, this is a statue, from the roosevelt, memorial in washington dc. Where the designers, of that memorial, correctly, it seems to be memorialized. The fact that roosevelt, was, an innovator. In the dimension, of political, communication. Particularly, utilizing. The radio. As an instrument, of governments. Governance, not just communication. But as a way to mobilize, public opinion. And here again we see. The. Aspiration. Of james wilson to have a plebiscitarian. Character. In the presidency. We see that becoming, a kind of a fact of life. As presidents, increasingly. Turn, to. Talking to the public directly, and trying to mobilize, public opinion at large. Rather than dealing directly, with the president. Probably with the congress. As 19th century presidents. Were constrained, to do not least of all because these technologies, were not available. The next innovation. Along the same dimension, of using mass communication. As an instrument, of. Presidential, political mobilization. Is of course television. And here we see john f kennedy, who, had a stroke. Diminished. The importance, of both, the. Radio, and newspaper, print versions. Of presidential, press conferences. By televising, them live. So there was no need to turn in the evening news, and see what the president had said that morning at his press conference, or to read that evening's newspaper, the next morning's newspaper, to see because, kennedy.
Had Said it all on live television, earlier that same day. And, again, another. Move in the direction, of an increasingly, plebiscitarian. Presidency. That. Mobilize. Direct, mobilize, public opinion directly, for political. Purposes. And of course that brings us down to the world we live in today. Where. So much communication, between president. And, politicians, in general and each other. Uh is done, instantaneously. By communications. Technologies. That were, non-existent, a few years ago. And, uh almost unimaginable. To many of us, in the last, century or even the early years of this century. Now some people have actually if you can believe it, quantified, this. I would not have wanted to do the. The actual, manual labor to do this quantification. But somebody has. And they have calculated. That in the 20th century, as a whole compared to the 19th century. Presidents, on the average. Spoke to the public, directly. Six times, more, frequently. Than they did in the 19th century. And conversely. In the 20th century compared to the 19th. President spoke exclusively. Or directly to the congress. One quarter, less frequently. Than they had in the 19th century, again some numbers that are just, another, uh. Register. Of how the presidency. Despite. The fact that the constitution. Constrained, james wilson's, desire. For a truly plebiscitarian. Presidency, directly elected by the people. That nonetheless. Our political culture has evolved an institution. That, is increasingly, plebiscitarian. In its character the way it deals with. The electorate, and the citizenry, in general. From a president who essentially, dealt mostly with the congress the 19th century. To one that deals, increasingly, directly, and instantaneously. With the public. As technology, has evolved from mass circulation, newspapers. To radio to television. To the internet, facebook, social media and so on. Uh all right, one, a third. Innovation. In our political, culture, that again, has, first appears, on the scene. Almost 100 little over 100 years ago in the early 20th century. That so-called, progressive, era the first couple of decades of the 20th century are a fertile breeding ground for, many changes in our political culture. But another one that has its roots there, and, enormous, consequences. For us today. Is another political, innovation. The primary. Election. The first. Binding. Primary, election that bound. The people, elected, uh or nominated, in the primary election to bound the electors from a state to vote for those people. Was in oregon, in 1910. California, followed suit just a few years later. And briefly, and i doing briefly in the next decade or so. There were many states that adopted, primary elections, to select their presidential. Electors, and other candidates. For office. For reasons, that uh, i won't. Distract, us with here. But there's a well-documented. History, about this. In the late 60s and early 70s. Primary elections, exploded, when john f kennedy ran for the presidential, nomination, of the democratic, party.
In 1960. There were only about a dozen, presidential, primaries. And not all of them were binding, on the delegates, selected thereby. By the time, of the, presidential, elections in the 1970s. Virtually, every, single, state. Had either a primary, or a caucus, which is essentially, the same, uh idea. And, the the whole, purpose of primaries. When they were first invented. In the early 20th century and as they exploded, across the political landscape. In the late 60s and early 70s the whole purpose was to give the people. A more direct voice. In the selection of political, candidates. And here again, we're edging into this very controversial. And uncomfortable, territory. Where we're forced to reflect. On, whether. Reforms. Uh taken, in the name of more democracy. And more. Participation. May have consequences. That in fact result, in increased, dysfunctionality. In our system i know that's a heretical, thought. In the kind of democracy. We live in and cherish. But the history of this institution. And how it has evolved, in relationship, to the society. Over which the president presides. Uh does i think give rise to that. Kind of thinking. Uh so i want to shift gears now and. Bring us right now to the present moment. And i've tried to talk here about the several. Several. What the, evolutionary. Factors, in our larger, social existence. That have affected the presidency. And i'm going to use a fancy word here when we talk about. The, decline. Of. Political, parties. As, entities, that select. And vet, and train, and. Groom, candidates. For electoral, office. Now that that function, has been displaced, by primaries. Which is why, you can get uh situations, today where. 2016. There were 17, candidates. For the republican, presidential. Nomination. Many of them able to rent the trying to rent a party, as their vehicle for their own political aspirations. Why we had such a large democratic, field in more recent months. Because the parties. Have really yielded. Their traditional, functions. Of. Identifying. Grooming, and bringing forward. Candidates. To the primary, process. And again it's a familiar, reframe by now as we all know primaries. Are. Justified, in the name of more, direct, and simple, democracy. But in practice. Primaries. Are the, venues, in which the, most. Ideologically. Motivated. And some would say. Most, extreme. Factions, in either party, or any party, actually mobilize, and take part. And the primaries, have the practical, effect, therefore. Of selecting, for candidates. Who do not necessarily, command majorities, in their respective, parties. And represent, some of the most extreme. Elements, in their respective, parties that's the practical, effect.
Of Primary elections but not their original philosophical. Justification. By. Any manner, or means. So. We have, the primaries. Here's the fancy word i'm going to use. Primaries. Disintermediate. As to say. They. Reduce, the mediating. Function, of parties. As institutions. That. Gather. And, resolve, differences, between. Various citizens, and unite them for, around a common political purpose. The. Fragmentation. Of the media. As we've seen particularly. In the explosion, of social media devices. Also, disintermediates. That is to say. It reduces, significantly. What used to be the authority. And the legitimacy. Of the main so-called, mainstream, media. To, report the news. In, objective, ways. And if you combine, the fragmentation. Of the media that the social media. Environment, gives us. With what we now understand, to be, the insidious, workings, of something called confirmation. Bias. Where all of us, are more much more prone to believe. News reports or items of any kind that confirm. Our pre-existing, worldview. You combine, the pred the psychological. Predilection, for confirmation, bias, with the hyper fragmentation, of the media. And you, have disintermediated. The, function, of the traditional, media. To, create consensus, around an agreed body of data or facts if you want to use that now loaded work. All right. I want to rather quickly here in the last few minutes before we go to some q a. Bring us down to the present, and talk just a teeny bit about. The 2016. Election, and then about the political environment we're in today. Now this is a familiar map to anybody who's followed, our political. Uh. Life in the last. Few years. It shows that, the results of the 2016. Election. It's a little bit gross, because it reports, visually, on the basis, of states. I think we get a little better sense, of what our society, really looks like and how it voted. If we reduce, or or shift i should say. To county level results, of the 2016. Election, and this gives us the result by county. And again there's a lot of small, counties, particularly, in the midwest, and eastern parts of the country. Counties tend to be larger in the far west. But this gives us a much more you might say granular, view. Of where. Voters, were, people in the red areas of course voted, republican. And people in the. Blue areas voted democratic. And here here's a correlation. That, i think is actually quite instructive. Because of the, movement of population, over the last two centuries. In the increasing, urbanization. And suburban, suburbanization. Of the american people. Half the american population. Lives in just 146. Counties. And here they are these are the counties that contain, 50 percent of the american population. There are more than 4, 000, counties in the united states. But 50. Of the population, lives in just 146. Counties. And here is a way to correlate, that this is not a perfectly visual correlation, by any means but it's highly suggestive. If you look at the blue vote. Up there on the upper left and the concentration, of population, those, 146. Counties that account for more than 50, of the population.
The Correlation, is pretty strong it's not absolute but it's pretty strong. And it tells us something we already know or reminds, us that uh. Urban centers or metropolitan, centers, connervations. Uh, vote more. Um, uh. Democratic. Than do, rural and, uh other areas. Now this, the next, slide i'm going to show you here is actually a little difficult, to, understand, just uh, at first glance. But it tells a very dramatic story. The 400, roughly 480. Counties. Of the 4000, or so that voted, for, hillary clinton, in 2016.. Account for 64. Of gdp. So if you look on the left the blue counties, many of those counties are populous, enough. The the size of the cell represents, the, relative, size of the county so there's los angeles county new york county up the upper left. Size of those cells are big enough you can actually label them with names. There's enough room in the graph of the chart i should say to. Actually, put the name of the county in there, if you look to the right hand. The graph the red counties. They account for a minor, share of gdp. And most of them are so small that you couldn't possibly, put the label in there because there's just not room. Given the scale of the of the visual. Representation, to do so. So this is a reminder, of one important, aspect, of our present, circumstance, and that is that. The parts of the country that we're doing reasonably, well, producing. The lion's share of gdp. In 2016. Voted democratic, and the parts of the county that were doing much less well, did not. So that's one kind of, you might say materialistic. Or economic. Dimension. Of the election, that we just saw in 2016.. But again, i'm aware, or sensitive to the amount of time i have left here so i'll try to do this. Quickly but i hope not confusingly. There's another dimension, to this, that i i find particularly. Disturbing. And it has to do, with the fact. That we as a people. Have lost, trust, and confidence. In a broad array of our institutions. Including, the presidency. And including. Government, and this is not just because of the current president of the united states, it goes back a long way. Here is a graph that. Tells us from good research, data. The kind of confidence, we've had in government. Going back to the 1950s. And again there are some ups and downs in this. A long decline, in conference, in federal government from the late 50s down through the. Late 1970s. Some uptick, and again a little bit uptick, around. The events of 911, but a long-term. Secular, trend. Where we lost confidence, in government. Uh here is, the confidence, in the federal government's ability to handle problems, again. This is dated just from the 1990s. Forward but again a. Obvious, long-term. Secular, decline. Uh here this traces. Confidence, in the three branches, of the federal government. All have lost, confidence to the american people the legislature. Most of all but the presidency, included. These are people who have a great deal of confidence. In the federal, government. As you can see a party in congress, i'm sorry. And we're down to the single digits of people who have confidence, in congress. This is people who have hardly, any confidence, in the federal executive. It's a strong majority, by now in the 2014. These data. And, that. That's bad enough. That we've lost confidence, in the executive, in the congress, and the judiciary. But as these data show we've lost confidence, in virtually, all of our major institutions. Uh these data, go down to, 2015. And you'll see that there are only, three. As of 2015. Only three major institutions, in our society.
That, In which a majority, of people have confidence. Once you get, past the police. There's not a single institution, in which a majority of americans have either a great deal, or quite a lot of confidence, and i dare say that today. In 2020, the police probably wouldn't. Figure it quite as strongly, as they did here. Confidence in the news media, at historic, lows down into the single digit range. Confidence, in press and television, down, clearly in the single digit range. Now that's bad enough, it seems to me that we don't trust our. Major institutions, of governance, or, communication. But it gets the story gets even worse. Because, as these data show. We don't trust one another, the way we once did. So these are data from various, sources, as you can see here general social survey, pew trust. Data and so on. But the people who, increasingly. Going back into the 1970s. Here as you see in the upper left. The green lines. Traces, people who say. Most people can be trusted that's declining. You can't be too careful that's ascending. And, if you do it by region the southern, region. Is the most distrustful. If you do it by education, though. People with least education, are the most distrustful. If you do by race non-white, people are more distrustful, than white people. And then the one that really. Makes me worry, at night wakes me up at night with worry. Is if you break it down by age. The younger you are the more distrustful. You are not only of institutions. But also, of other people, your fellow, citizens, you look down here in the lower left. People, so-called millennials, born after the mid-1880s. Are the least trustworthy, they think most people. Cannot, be, trusted. Uh here's, some more recent data from 2020.. Again the part to pay attention to here is the left-hand, column. U.s adults. Overall. A near majority. Part of a slight majority, think that most people can be trusted. But if you break it down by different ethnic groups and especially, by age groups. You, uh, it's, it's a pretty grim picture people, the 18 to 29 year olds. Two-thirds. Essentially. Think that most, people, can't be trusted. And to bring it right home to our own moment in time. Here's some very recent data from june of 2020. About how people thought various institutions, could be trusted to handle the coven 19. Outbreak, and again in every instance, without a single exception. Including, hospitals, and doctors, although they remain high. But every institution. Lost confidence, lost the public's confidence when it came to addressing. The uh. The pandemic. Pandemic, that we're now. Facing. Uh and this is the final bit of data that i will share with you this has to do with confidence, in the, integrity. Of the 2020, election the one coming up. And these are some, recent data from the monmouth poll a reliable. Polling, source. And again the first question is how confident, are you that, the november election will be conducted, fairly and accurately. 36, percent a third roughly of americans, down here think that. Probably, not. And then if you ask a more specific, and focused, question here number 19. How likely is it that the trump campaign will try to cheat. Uh a majority. Of people think it's likely or somewhat likely. And if you ask people, how likely is it the biden campaign will try to cheat. Uh, about, uh. 49. A near majority, of people. Think the same. There. Permanently 39. So a little over a third. So, this, this to me is, is deeply disturbing. And how much of this lack of confidence. In our institutions. Has to do with the fact that the presidency. For a century and more. Has been over promised, and underperforming. The presidents, have presented, these ambitious. Aspirational. Goals. But because, of the constitutional. Constraints. Congress, is still the place where presidential, aspirations, go to die.
That Our system, is built in a chronic. Kind of frustration. With the inability, of the system to deliver. On the kinds of promises, that candidates, routinely. Make and what's more. We as a people not only distrust, our institutions. But for reasons that are still puzzling to explain, exactly how we got here we distrust, one another. But i'll leave you with this. A remark, from. Alexis, de tocqueville's, democracy, in america, published. Well over a century, two centuries ago but still to this day the most incisive, and insightful, thing ever written. About the character of democracy. And he talks about the prospects. Of despotism. In democracy. And he said it is never more secure, of continuance. Than it would keep then when it can keep men asunder, and all its influences, commonly, exerted. For that purpose a despot, easily forgives his subjects for not loving him. Provided, they do not love each other. If you. Substitute, the word trust for love or loving. I think you have a, warning. About the dangers, in our own political, time. Including, the dangers, that attend. The evolutionary, character, of the american. Presidency. So i'm going to stop there and i think if i understand, the way we're going to proceed. Emily is going to come back on and do some fielding, of questions. Thank you david, that was just, fantastic. A lot of people have been, asking, about, questions about, the electoral, college, and. Um. They're wondering, if, uh. About, um you know would it be, possible, or likely that we'd end the electoral, college and go direct to popular vote, um if there's arguments. Against this or risks associated, with doing this. We need another few hours to do justice to that question it's a great question. Um i think the the prospects. That, uh, we will get rid of the electoral, college i think are very very slim. Uh it's embedded in the constitution. And, the pros the the process. The mechanism, for constitutional. Amendment, is such. That you need a super majorities, of the individual, states. Eventually, to approve, a proof of any amendment. And enough states are actually, at the margins, advantaged. By the electoral, college that is very very difficult to see how that can change. Now there are two states, today, maine and nebraska. That do their electoral, college, business a little bit differently, than others. They don't do a winner take all system, instead their electoral, college votes are awarded, at least in part. On the basis, of how their individual, congressional, districts, voted. And a number of states have. Have signed something that can i forget the name of it but it's the interstate, congressional. Electoral, college compact, or some name like that. Where they pledge that if enough states. Pledge to give their electoral, college votes to whoever, wins the national, popular majority. They will cast all their electoral college votes. For that person regardless, regardless of how their individual state voted. As yet not not a sufficient number of states have signed up for that but go back to the prior point i was trying to make. If states started awarding their votes, on the basis, of how. They're. They they allocated, their electoral college vote, on the way, the basis of how their elect their, congressional. Districts, voted. You'd get a much more granular, account it would start to approach. A kind of plebiscitarian. Electoral, mechanism. And there may be some possibility, for change in that direction. But abolishing, the electoral, college all together, i just don't see it happening in my lifetime. Okay thank you for that. Um and then there have been uh, many questions, about, uh the use of executive, orders. Well yeah the the the increasing. Use of executive, orders in the last several presidential, administrations. Uh is an indication, of exactly the kind, of structural.
Obstacles. To unified. Vigorous. Government, as alexander, hamilton might have said that i was talking about. When you can't get, congress, to align. With the president's, ambitions, and aspirations. The only, mechanism, left essentially, to get anything done the president is an executive order. And even that is not, universally. Uh successful, and can easily, be overturned. By the next, or some succeeding. President, the. Executive, orders don't have the kind of legal and constitutional. Standing. That statutes, have. They're much more labile, and volatile, so. But but the fact that we, we see increasingly. Increasing, reliance, on them it seems to me is yet another. Proof of my theorem. That we as a culture, as a people we've invested, increasing. Hopes and aspirations, and ambitions. In the presidency, we've fetishized, the president, as, the person who's supposed to be. All of our representative. The the single national, actor in our system, but the constitution. Constrains, the president from actually, fully exercising, that function. In the event of a contested, election, what are the steps to resolve the conflict. I can see that, this presentation, has done nothing to allay people's anxieties, about, the immediate, future. Again i don't know what to say about that. In any detail. I think the prospect. Of. A. A. Whole, set. Of, problems, like we saw in florida in 2000. Occurring, in more than one state. Having to do with the technology, of mail-in, ballots, and with the contested, and polarized, moment in which we live. Just the technical, and mechanical, difficulties. Of voting in person and coveting. And, the inability, of individual, states. And the postal, service, to handle the volume, of mail-in ballots that are necessary. I'm not going to make a prediction, but i'll just say the probability. Of. A dozen floridas. A dozen florida 2000s. Occurring. This coming fall, the probability, is not trivial. And i, personally, don't know what to say, by way of uh what's a. Preemptive, remedy how we can avoid that other than simply sounding the. Toxin as much as we can right now. That. We should not, be surprised. If on election, night in november. The result, is not definitively. Clear. And there will be a period, of contestation. About what the actual result, is. And the fact that it will be contested, does not mean it's illegitimate. Um. Mail-in ballots in many states are going to take weeks to count. And to legitimate, and, authenticate. So i think we should all brace ourselves, for a period of unprecedented. Uh disruption. And doubt, and. Argument about the legitimacy. And authenticity. Of the electoral result. What worries these the most about the modern presidency. And what gives you the most hope. Well, look. If if. If you, stuck with me through the argument i've tried to make here i think. A lot of the problems with the presidency. Are structural. They they go way beyond the personality, or the character of any individual. Person. And you know i know it's heretical. To. Challenge, the. Assumptions, that underlay our underlying our constitutional. System. But it's also a fact of life that. To the best of my knowledge of the countries, that have. Written their constitutions. In the last, three quarters of the century or so in, the post-colonial. Era when many. Once upon a time colonial societies, became fully independent, and sovereign, and had to draft constitutions. To the best of my knowledge few if any. Have taken the american constitution, of 1787. As their, model. Many more have taken the, some version of the british system. In which the legislative, and executive, functions, are fused. In a prime ministerial, system. Uh i don't want to be misunderstood. As standing on the soap box here and advocating that we, change our system to, a. Parliamentary, system. We have the system we have, but the fact is, other other peoples and other societies, have recognized. The built-in. Difficulties. In our system. The founders, in 1787. Were animated, by many things, but among their their greatest fears. Was the fear of power. They feared monarchical, power, and they feared presidential, power they knew they needed an executive, function. In the federal system. But they jacketed, it about with all kinds of constraints. We learned them in, grade school or high school as checks and balances, which, at least the year i grew up checks and balances were thought to be one of the great wonderments, of the american, system. But checks and balances, also, are a formula, for. Stasis, so i dare say paralysis. So, i think that the problems with the presidency. Go way beyond. Any problems, that. We might have with any individual, person it's just it's just the nature of our system. What are your thoughts on having the election, of.
President, The, totally national, election, and not run by individual. Counties. By individual. Counties. Well yeah, that's right it is that granular, i just listened to a broadcast, yesterday. From texas where. To my amazement, they were talking about major, differences. Between different texas counties, and how they, conducted, their electoral. Machinery. So. Yeah i mean this is a special case, a very important special case of a more general issue another, one of our. Structural. Uh characteristics. In the society, of federalism. Uh there's a lot to be said for federalism, about distributing, government, power and authority, down as close to the actual operational, level as possible. But it also means that in moments, of truly, national. Mobilization. Or crisis. We have great difficulty, behaving, in a uniform manner. Another example of it again is controversial. You can argue it either way i suppose. Is our educational, system. There are thousands, of individual, school districts in this country. Which make any aspiration. For, uniform, standards. Of educational, achievement, and performance. Very very difficult to implement. And we have as you've just said to. We've just been reminded. County level administration. Of things like. Voting mechanisms. So. Yeah, some mechanisms. Some. We could move in the direction, of more uniform. Practice. Both educationally. And in terms of election machinery, i think that would probably be a healthy development. Is the la the relative, lack of restraint. Of the powers of the president, in the constitution. Compared to the powers of congress, a factor in the growth, of the power in the presidency. Versus the congress over the last 150, years. Well, yes but let me take the occasion of that good question to make another point. It's related, to what we've been talking about but it's, a little bit fresh in terms of our discussion here this morning. And that is the, the division. Of, responsibility. For foreign affairs especially military affairs. Between. The legislature. And the executive. Article one. Invests. The the. Um. The right or the responsibility. To declare, war. In the congress. Article, two. Defines, the, president as the commander-in-chief. And that distribution, of responsibility. For the conduct of foreign especially military, affairs. Has long been as the great. Constitutional, scholar edward coron once said, an invitation, to conflict conflict, between the president and the congress. The fact is that the congress, has exercised. Its um, responsibility. Its sacred responsibility. To declare, wars. Scarcely, any government function, more. Consequential. And full of gravity, than that. Congress has exercised, that function exactly, five. Times, in all of american history. War of 1812. Mexican war. Spanish-american. War world wars 1 and 2.. But by actual, count the congressional, research service did a study of this a few years ago. So even these data are a little bit out of date but as of approximately, 10 years ago. There have been well over, 300. U.s military, actions overseas. So again there's a huge asymmetry. Five former declarations, of war with 300. Deployments, and military, actions overseas. So the, point is simply, the president has great discretion. In the realm of foreign affairs especially military, affairs much greater than with respect to most, domestic, matters. And. That's an invitation, not only to conflict, but to adventurism. And to. To a certain degree, unfettered, and unrestrained. Presidential, initiatives, in the realm of foreign policy. And we've struggled as a society, as a country for more than two centuries to find the right balance. Between. Democratic. Deliberation. Over the decision, to resort to arms. And the necessity, sometimes, to do it in a hurry. There was a constitutional, amendment proposed, in the 1930s. Uh that would, would have had it passed it would have required, a national, referendum. To declare, war. Take the power away from congress and invest in a national referendum. And franklin roosevelt, among others but franklin roosevelt opposed it and he roosevelt, said. It would make as much sense to require. A. Meeting, of the city council. Before the fire department was authorized to put out a fire, there are times when you simply, can't afford, that sort of deliberation. So that's an extreme case of the effort to bring deliberative. Democratic, process to bear. In foreign policy. Uh, that one clearly i think is, not on the table it shouldn't be. But i think we still need to think hard about how we can. Somehow, better. Bring. Deliberative, democratic, processes. Into. The realm of presidential, initiatives, and foreign policy. How would you rank the presidents, as having the greatest.
Impact On the us, and, maybe. Make your top three. Well. Um. I'll. Recollect, a uh. Two things. Periodically. Uh the american historical. Association, or the organization, american historians. My two principal professional, associations. One or the other will conduct a poll, of. Card-carrying. Professional historians, about who were the. Most. Positive, effective, consequential. Good. American presidents, and consistently. Over many decades. Two presidents, appear at the top of those polls abraham, lincoln. And franklin roosevelt. They both change the, american, landscape, socially, economically. Constitutionally. Attitudinally. In ways that are lasting, and beneficial. I think there's very little argument about that. After you get past those two then there's a lot of argument, thereafter, about who else, deserves, to be in that pantheon. Uh. More recently, or actually most recent. Survey of this sort i. Saw, actually. Participated. In and witnessed the final version of was at a, meeting of the organization, of american historians, in providence rhode island about three or four or five years ago. In which there was a, panel discussion, about who was the worst american president. And there were several hundred people in the room all of them professional, historians, of some sort, and a vote was taken at the end. And it came down. People usually show up in the basement in those polls. Are. James buchanan. And andrew, johnson. The one failed to prevent the coming of the civil war. And the other andrew johnson did a bad job of administering. Reconstruction. At the end of the civil war. No surprise, there that's the, to date the civil war the biggest trauma in american history. So, uh those are the two usual inhabitants, of the basement but in this. Poll in. Discussion. Uh at the organization, of american historians. Meeting. The. Final two candidates for worst president, ever. Reflecting, i'm sure the moment we all were living in, were george w bush. And richard nixon. Now they would not have been necessarily, my candidates but that's, what came up at the end and then there was a vote taken. And by a pretty large majority. Richard nixon. Won, if that's the right word. Why. Because he had done the most damage, to our political, culture. For reasons, not unrelated, to what i was just talking about earlier in this hour, that he undermined. Confidence. In the authority, and legitimacy. And honesty. Of a major political, institution, the presidency, of the united states. And the vietnam, war over which he partly presided. Did a lot. To undermine, people's, trust, in the. Rectitude. And legitimacy, i dare say the morality, of government. So. Yeah i i again i'm not sure i want to cast my ballot again here on this screen this morning. But, it's a reminder, that. Damage to our political institutions. Can get a president, or any political actor, a pretty low ranking, in the judgment of history. David, thank you again for joining us today, and, sharing your knowledge, and, insights. Has been so informative, and fascinating, and, we're just grateful for your time thank you. Thank you emily and thanks to all of you out there wherever you are.