BENTONVILLE -- The people of the United States are to blame, at least to a degree, for the expansion of power the presidency has gained since the Constitution was adopted in 1787, according to a University of Arkansas, Fayetteville political science professor.
"We expect too much from government from what government is able to end up doing," Andrew Dowdle, guest lecturer at Northwest Arkansas Community College, said Tuesday. "We basically expect miracles."
Northwest Arkansas Community College has recognized Constitution Day the last few years with lectures relating to the country’s supreme law of the land.
Last year, University of Arkansas Political Science Professor Janine Parry spoke about gender and the Constitution.
Source: Staff report
Dowdle's comments came during a question-and-answer session after his lecture "The Presidential Republic in the 21st Century" he gave for the college's Constitution Day program.
Constitution Day recognizes the adoption of the United States Constitution, which was signed Sept. 17, 1787, at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.
About 80 people attended the lecture Tuesday where Dowdle drew upon the scholarship of Gary Gregg, University of Louisville political science professor, who argues that the presidency today doesn't represent the original intent of the office.
The Constitutional framers' intent was for Congress to be the best representative of the American people because a diverse country would need hundreds of people familiar with different states to represent the country as a whole, Dowdle said. Yet, over the 20th Century it switched to where the people looked at the president to be their main representative.
The brevity of Article 2 in the Constitution, which addresses the presidency, suggests that the framers knew the role would evolve. It was more of a blueprint, Dowdle said, explaining that the country's first president, George Washington, set several precedents for the position, such as creating a two-term limit, creating a small cabinet and creating a ceremonious role for the First Lady.
The president served in several capacities, including chief of state, chief executive, commander in chief, chief diplomat and chief legislator.
Dowdle pointed to 1933 as a key changing point that set the presidency on a path to what it's become today with expanded power and roles with the creation of the Executive Office with several sub-offices.
It occurred around the Great Depression when people started looking to the government to solve "problems so severe, traditional solutions didn't look like they were going to work," Dowdle said, explaining that the economic crisis of that time challenged the country in a way it hadn't been challenged since the Civil War.
People expected the president to do more to push legislation and policies through more quickly, essentially becoming the voice of the people, Dowdle said. In turn, presidents began to use radio and television to gain Americans' support for their proposals.
Dowdle said Gregg has warned that "for presidents to be at the center of the political universe, the language they have to use is over simplified."
The question of presidents using only emotional appeals rather than appeals to reason has been raised prior to the Donald Trump and Barack Obama presidencies, Dowdle said, adding that the framers frowned on appeal to emotions.
Presidential communications to the American people also changed from 15-minute speeches on television to 15-second sound bites over the course of the 1950s through the 1980s.
It can be argued that social media and the Internet have not helped "quality presidential communication," he said. "I think it's unfair to blame one president or one party. This has been a path we have been going on for decades at this point."
The lecture was "eye opening" given the fact the president is such an important topic now, said Carlos Cano, a political science student at NWACC.
"The biggest reason we should know how it's [the presidency] has changed is that we're able to see if a certain part of it can be dangerous to democracy," he said.
Matt Evans, associate professor of political science, said he wanted the lecture to show the key components of the presidency and utilize those features to explain what's happening in the presidency right now.
"Dowdle did exactly what I was hoping for him to do as a political scientist, which was laying out the frameworks for students to learn about rather than spending a long series of narratives of what Trump is actually doing at this exact moment or what Obama has done in the past," he said. "They [students] can fill in those blanks with those institutional analyses."
NW News on 09/20/2017
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