The Political Economy of the Demagogic Presidency

30 Pages Posted: 9 Apr 2021

Date Written: March 18, 2021


Woodrow Wilson’s rhetorical presidency has grown into the demagogic presidencies of Barack Obama and Donald Trump. The demagogic presidency is defined in terms of Weberian charisma, as a secular political prophet with soulless followers. The cause of this development is “lower case c” constitutional evolution in the institutions of American Government, including the normative roles of the President as voice of the people and putative leader of Congress and the institutional evolution of the presidential primary system for choosing party’s presidential nominees, which favors charismatic candidates who can successfully appeal to the public. Wilson’s identification of Congress’s institutional weakness in providing leadership and district-based elections explain why Congress is unable to effectively perform its “upper case C” Constitutional role of acting as a check on the President. Proposed solutions to the increasing danger of demagogic presidents are considered and determined to be either ineffective or unlikely to be enacted. The most likely avenue to change is Constitutional reconstruction following the collapse of the current system.

Keywords: Institutional Evolution, Constitutional Change, Rhetorical Presidency, Imperial Presidency

JEL Classification: H10, H11

Suggested Citation

Hanley, James, The Political Economy of the Demagogic Presidency (March 18, 2021). Available at SSRN: or

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