AMERICAN POLITICS & PUBLIC POLICY WORKSHOP
Abstract: Presidents possess broad power to effect sweeping change with the stroke of a pen, leading many to decry the rise of an imperial presidency. But given the steep barriers that usually prevent Congress and the courts from formally checking unilateral power, what stops presidents from going it alone even more aggressively? The Myth of the Imperial Presidency reveals the extent to which domestic public opinion limits executive might. Although few Americans instinctively recoil against unilateralism, Congress and the courts can sway the public’s view via their criticism of unilateral policies. Anticipating this, presidents respond accordingly. Presidents are emboldened to pursue their own agendas when they enjoy strong public support, and constrained when they are down in the polls. Checks and balances remain resilient; but other actors check the unilateral executive primarily through political means.
Doug Kriner is the Clinton Rossiter Professor in American Institutions at Cornell University. His research interests include presidential and congressional politics, separation of powers dynamics, and military policymaking. He is the author of five books including (with Dino Christenson), most recently, The Myth of the Imperial Presidency: How Public Opinion Checks the Unilateral Executive (Chicago: 2020).
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