COVID-19 Information: Brown University continues to closely monitor and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic locally, nationally and around the world. After careful consideration, we have made the difficult decision to cancel all residential on-campus and off-campus Pre-College Programs for Summer 2020. We will continue to offer online courses. Please visit the Pre-College COVID-19 web page for additional information.

The American Presidency

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This course is no longer being offered.

Course Description

Examining the role of the president in the American style of representative government can be an illusive task. We think we are familiar with presidential power, but the divide between a president’s constitutional power and the power he (since only men have occupied the presidential office, to date) uses are vast and wide. For example, does the commander-in-chief's power negate any criminal wrong doing on the part of LBJ’s decision to secretly bomb Laos during the Vietnam War? From a constitutional point of view the president is more of a government clerk than the most powerful person in the free world. In the absence of defined power does that equate to unlimited power? What is the difference between the criminality of what President Nixon did (lie, cheat, steal) and President Obama’s decision to torture suspected al-Qaeda operatives? Some would say there is no comparison, others would argue what President Obama did is far worse than anything Nixon ever did. This is the focus of our study of the presidency – the growth of presidential power and the subsequent implications for the Trump Administration.

The focus of this course is to examine the presidency as an institution with norms and behaviors. It is not a study of individual personalities that occupy the Oval Office. While individuals are certainly a significant part of the study of the presidency, it is important to pull back to understand how the institution of the presidency has evolved and changed since FDR. The seeds of a muscular presidency were planted during President Roosevelt's administration, it is not a recent phenomenon. In addition, we will examine the relationship that the president has had with Congress, the media and voters. These topics and others will comprise our exploration of the U.S. presidency. There will be approximately 3-4 hours of daily readings that will lead to our in-class discussions. Students will also be expected to read and watch major national news outlets (e.g., New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox News and Los Angeles Times).

In terms of learning outcomes, the ability to see past the tweets and daily media coverage to understand the long term trends and outcomes is crucial to our study of the office of the U.S. presidency.

Prerequisites: No course prerequisites.

Course Information

  • Course Code: CEPS0982
  • Length: 1 week

Program Information


Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences, offering over 200 non-credit courses, one- to four-weeks long, taught on Brown’s campus. For students completing grades 9-12 by June 2020.

Program cancelled.

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