What is the impact of divided government on the president’s legislative agenda?
Compare presidential eras through time. How does the modern presidency today differ
from the modern presidency under Franklin Roosevelt? How has the presidency
changed, compared to the era of the traditional presidency? What does it mean for
expectations of the president these days?
In the presidency today, Trump does not have a strong mandate from the nation’s voters, a
majority of whom voted for someone else, but neither does he have the strong support of a
unified party. Trump also does not come in with a strong popular majority and a broad mandate
for change, nor does he face an opposition party determined to thwart his entire agenda.
Although the constitutional powers of the traditional and modern presidency have been identical
in both eras, the interpretation of how far the president can go beyond those constitutional
powers has changed dramatically. Presidents believed that they had inherent powers
(presidential powers implied but not explicitly states in the Constitution) to fulfill their
constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed. The job of the presidency
was seen as a primarily administrative office, in which presidential will was clearly subordinate
to the will of Congress. Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal policies, and his central leadership role
in the war effort, combined with his use of radio to speak directly to the public, transformed the
nature of the office. The president became the central figure in American politics, and politics
became more central to the lives of Americans. The modern presidency has the ongoing trend
toward a higher degree of executive power since the 1930s. The election of Roosevelt in 1932
and his three reelections initiated an entirely new level of government activism. The national
government assumed responsibility for the economic well-being of its citizens on a substantial
scale. In the modern presidency, Americans now look to the president and the government to
regulate the economy, solve social problems, and provide political inspiration. Presidents these
days in order to avoid failure, seek power beyond that which is explicitly granted by the
Constitution, and even beyond what they can claim as part of their inherent powers.