Kenneth Lowande | The Presidency for Realists

Apr 11, 2024, 12:00 pm1:30 pm
Faculty, fellows, and graduate students only



Event Description

Border walls, school bathrooms, student loans, gun control, diversity, abortion, climate change -- today, nothing seems out of reach for the president’s pen. But after all the press releases, ceremonies, and speeches, shockingly little gets done. The American presidency promises to solve America’s problems, but presidents’ unilateral solutions are often weak, even empty. 

This is no accident. There is no other elected official better positioned to attract attention by appearing to govern. Though conventional accounts of the presidency argue presidents seek durable and effective policy, like any politician, presidents are acutely aware that their symbolic behavior matters as much as their substantive accomplishments. As a result, they pursue executive actions, even when they know these will fail, because doing so allows them to put on a compelling show for key constituencies. Drawing on thousands of executive actions, news coverage, interviews, and presidential archives, I show that the real root of presidential power is in what presidents can get away with not doing.


Contributions to and/or sponsorship of any event do not constitute departmental or institutional endorsement of the specific program, speakers or views presented.

Center for the Study of Democratic Politics (CSDP)