fbpx Presidents, Politics, and Economic Growth: From FDR to Donald Trump | Harvard Kennedy School
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Richard Parker

Lecturer in Public Policy

This November, voters will pass judgement on Donald Trump’s presidency--four years that have often seemed a story about one man even though he’s only the latest of nearly four dozen men who took office imagining themselves “transformative” figures.

Very few have succeeded.  Of 44 presidents, historians count just six authentic “transformers”—but what allowed them to succeed while most failed? And will Trump be one of few or the many?

To understand the Trump presidency and the paths leading up to it, you’ll read about how America’s “modern presidency” emerged under Roosevelt, why these “long cycles” exist and the ways they’ve evolved from Roosevelt to Trump—how, for example, they determined when the Roosevelt Era would end and a new Reagan Era would emerge; why Eisenhower and Nixon look like Democrats by today’s GOP standards, and Clinton and Obama resemble liberal Republicans  of the Roosevelt era; why Truman and George H.W. Bush ended up one-termers; why George W. Bush invoked Reagan much the way LBJ invoked FDR.

You’ll also learn how these cycles have redrawn our ideas about “democracy” and our “rights” here at home, about economic growth, opportunity, and equality. You’ll see how different cycles have tried to sculpt, balance, and sometimes simply react to powerful demands of ordinary citizens and of concentrated economic and political interests. 

You’ll also see how the roles—political and economic, cultural and financial, military and diplomatic—that the US took on as the new “global hegemon” after World War II intersected those ideas of democracy, equality, rights, and power as the country faced seemingly-novel but in fact deeply recurrent challenges. 

By semester’s end you’ll have a large and informed new way to view not only the world today but the world that lies ahead—and, most important what you can do to change it.